In the midst of all this editing your book, there’s another, less well-known step. A step that can not only really improve the quality of your book, but also give you a great deal of reassurance and confidence as a writer. That step is using beta readers.
What’s a beta reader? A beta reader is a very vital part of the editing process, but in an entirely different way from the grammar and syntax input you get from an editor. Where an editor combs through your book with a technical microscope, a beta reader looks at the bigger picture of the book from a pure reader perspective. They’re the ones who read your book to give feedback on the story, if it all flows, what works, and what doesn’t. So all in all, they’re just a little important.
But how do you go about the process of finding and using beta readers? Ideally, we’d love to live in a world where beta readers are readily available en masse, but that’s just not a reality for first-time authors. We have to get more creative in the book writing process. It can be a steep learning curve if you’re not prepared, so here are my top three tips for finding and using beta readers.
1. Make sure you get the right readers
It goes without saying that there are a lot of different genres of books. Not everyone out there is going to enjoy your book and that has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of your writing. It’s just a matter of taste. Your book just isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea.
So when finding beta readers you need to make sure you’re not just finding any readers, but ones who enjoy the genre you write in or are at the very least knowledgeable in it. If you write children’s books and ask someone who only reads mysteries and thrillers, you’re not going to get the impression and feedback that can help you improve the quality of your book. They may be enthusiastic and helpful, but it just won’t be as in-depth as if you worked with someone well versed in your genre.
When I got beta readers for The Fantastic Adventures of Captain Acorn I asked several adults who know the children’s genre well, but I also asked kids of my target audience to read it too. All the feedback from other readers wouldn’t do me much good if my target audience didn’t enjoy my book. I needed to know that it was working for kids and if it wasn’t I needed to know how to fix it.
So make sure the beta readers you use are ones that can give you an accurate picture of how your book would be perceived by its actual audience. Your book will thank you for it.
2. Get more than you think you’ll need
People tend to be very enthusiastic when you first ask them to beta read for you. Can you blame them? It’s not every day you get to read a book before it is officially finished. There are people who even make beta reading part of their freelancing career.
There’s a catch, though. If you, like I was with my first book, are not able to pay for a service like beta reading, then you need to rely on people you know, people who likely have lives outside of you writing a book (shocking I know). So while these people may be very enthusiastic about reading your book, life happens. Things get crazy, and people get busy. Not everyone you ask may be able to actually finish going through your book.
If you’re working with a very open-ended timeline for your book, this isn’t a problem at all. You have time to wait for feedback to trickle in when it’s ready. If, however, you’re working on more of a deadline for when you want to have your book produced, you’re going to need responses back on a more specific timeline.
I was fortunate enough to have some amazing beta readers who were incredibly fast in their turn around time for feedback, but even then life very understandably happened for others. So ask more people than you think you’ll need and you’ll get a good amount of complete responses back. You want a large sample of feedback and you don’t want to have to chase people down for their thoughts on your book. Asking a larger crowd increases the number of responses you get back while giving you some breathing room for the ones who are unable to get back to you.
3. Protect your book
While we should absolutely use beta readers to improve the quality of your book, it’s also vital to make sure you’re protecting your work. Beta readers naturally being book enthusiasts who wouldn’t hurt a fly is not always enough of a protective buffer for your work. Accidents happen, well-meaning or otherwise.
Fortunately, there are a lot of ways you can protect your book when sending it to readers before it’s published. With The Fantastic Adventures of Captain Acorn, I made sure to watermark all my beta reader copies in some way before sending it out. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, just make sure your ownership of the document is splashed thoroughly throughout the pages.
Also, make sure your beta readers are well informed of the privacy of your work. My beta readers got used to my written speech about what was and wasn’t ok to do with my book. I outlined my rules about what they did with the document and who was allowed to see it very clearly so that there wouldn’t be any confusion between us. In the case of my underage readers, I made sure to talk with their parents so a responsible adult could vouch for the safety of my work. You can even draft a contract between you and your beta reader if you feel the need, which ultimately not only protects you and your book but them as the reader as well. It’s not about not trusting your beta reader, but looking out for your book in a world where accidents can happen.
At the end of the day, using beta readers is an invaluable source for any writer looking to publish their book. It gives you a big-picture kind of insight directly from your audience that acts as a compass in the writing process. Either you’re heading in the right direction and can breathe easy, or you’ve been given the coordinates for how to reach your destination successfully. There’s no greater feeling in writing a book than knowing you’re on the right track.
So don’t be afraid to use beta readers! Trust me, they’re going to become your best friends. As long as you make sure you’re using their wonderful skills to your greatest advantage, you’re one step closer to having a well-rounded book on the path to success. That’s not such a bad thing.
Let’s find some joy,