Everything you need to know about beta readers.
The phrase ‘beta readers’ gets thrown around a lot in the world of writing and publishing. There are so many different things to do once you’ve written the first draft of your document that you might be lost in a sea of different options. Proofreaders, copy-editors, developmental editors, line-editors, beta readers, and probably a load that I’ve missed. Beta readers are people you provide your unpublished manuscript to, in order to gain feedback from an average reader, rather than a professional. Is it something you need to do? No, definitely not. Is it something that can help you gain insight into your novel? Yes.
What is the definition of a beta reader?
Just so we’re all on the same page, let’s take a look at an industry recognised definition of a beta reader. A beta reader is a test reader of an unreleased manuscript, whether literature or otherwise. They are the writer’s typical (or aimed) audience and provide feedback from the viewpoint of an average reader.
What does a beta reader do?
A beta reader will read the manuscript in full focusing on plot, pacing, consistency and the like. They can also act as a sounding board for the author to ask questions or try ideas out on. It provides additional insight into how their book will be received when/if published. Often, the beta reader will fill in a questionnaire about the book and send this back to the author.
What doesn’t a beta reader do?
They do not edit. They do not proofread. They offer suggestions as readers on what they thought about your manuscript. That’s it. They are an incredibly valuable aspect of the writing process in terms of the feedback offered, but your manuscript will be returned to you looking exactly the same as when you sent it to them. They may well point out typos etc, but this isn’t an expectation.
Where can I find a beta reader?
Beta readers can be tricky to find. My first point of call, would be willing family members and friends (as long as you can trust them to be honest). Additionally, if you have already published a book before, previous readers are a good shout and would often jump at the chance to read your unreleased manuscript in exchange for honest feedback. I’ve seen the Goodreads Beta Reading forum suggested multiple times (https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/50920-beta-reader-group). I don’t have any experience using this platform for beta reading, but thought it was worth a mention. Alternatively, you can find beta readers on freelancing platforms such as Fiverr. If you’re choosing to use a freelancer, be aware they will ask to be paid (as is their right). My advice is to take a look at their reviews before choosing a freelancer, or a few freelancers, to work with.
How much does a beta reader cost?
How long is a piece of string? Some are free, and simply love beta reading books. Others charge for the service. Do you get what you pay for? That depends on who you drop on. Some freelancers are incredibly thorough and provide an in-depth insight above what you could ever have hoped for. However, so do some free beta readers. A piece of advice would be to put feelers out amongst your friends and family to begin with, before exploring other options. You can then move onto freelancing platforms, or even put a plea out on social media for beta readers. There’s no right way to go about it.
Where do I find beta reader prompts and questionnaires?
A quick Google search will give you plenty of options. This page from the Writing Cooperative is a personal favourite of mine: 15 Questions to Send to Beta Readers. The Author Learning Centre also has a great questionnaire to send to beta readers: Questions to Ask Beta Readers. Stoney deGeyter has a blog post with loads of questions you can choose from: 51 Questions to Ask Beta Readers. My suggestion would be to go through the lists of questions and choose the ones that work for you. I would aim for around 15-20 questions, definitely no more. You don’t want to put too much onto your beta readers, they’re only humans after all, and will likely be doing it for free. These six fundamental questions, from Write Up Pro, are super ones to include: Six Fundamental Questions.
My top questions to ask beta readers:
Below is a culmination of the questions I plan to send beta readers for my current manuscript (a thriller novel). The questions were gleaned from the sites above and I’ve chosen the ones that I think will benefit me the most.
- Were there places you were bored or confused by the story?
- What are your thoughts about the characters?
- Who was your favourite/least favourite character and why?
- Were the characters believable?
- If you could describe the tone of the story, what would it be?
- Was there a particular point where you felt hooked? Did the story hold your interest from the beginning? If not, where did you feel your attention slipping?
- Did you notice any discrepancies or inconsistencies in the plot, time sequence, character details or other details?
- Did the dialogue sound natural and did it keep you interested? If not, which parts sounded artificial?
- Was the ending satisfying and believable? Did you predict the ending?
- Would you recommend this book to others and how would you describe it to them?
- What would you do to improve the story?
- Do you have any final comments, questions or points for discussion?
- If you had to describe the book in one sentence, what would it be?
My aim is to keep the questions/prompts short and sweet. I plan to have a nice long chat and a coffee (or a cocktail, at their suggestion) with my beta readers once they’ve finished reading too.
What do you do with the feedback from beta readers?
Use the feedback from beta readers to reflect upon your manuscript. Make any changes you think are necessary. There may be some comments that you disagree with and that’s totally fine. You don’t have to change everything a beta reader suggests. They’re just that, suggestions. Try to take everything constructively. It can be difficult when people are critiquing your baby, something that you’ve put your heart and soul into, but beta readers should provide feedback with the best intention. Their aim isn’t to put you down, but to help you be even more successful.
You’re not alone!
As of writing this, I’m sending my manuscript off to two beta readers. It’s a nerve-wracking thing to do, but I know that it’s for the best. Please do share your experiences with me. I’d love to hear about your experiences with beta readers.
As always, wishing you love and books that make your heart skip a beat,
Sarah Jules x
For further reading, check out this blog post from The Write Practice: https://thewritepractice.com/beta-readers-definition/.
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