Understanding Beta Readers.
by Cassandra Belka
What is a beta reader and how do you know if you’re ready for one? Maybe you don’t
even know what exactly a beta reader is. A beta reader is somebody who reads your book and
gives you their feedback, before your final draft. This can be general feedback or detailed
feedback, depending on what you and your beta reader agree on.
So when is it time to hand over your beloved manuscript to a beta reader? If you’ve just
finished your first draft, it’s probably not time for beta readers yet. Generally, in the earliest
drafts, it’s best to enlist a critique partner to help you catch big issues with structure, plot, or
character arcs. For me, the right time for beta readers is when I feel like I’ve already addressed
any issues that my CPs and I have noticed. Basically, once you feel like your story’s structure,
main plot, sub plots, character arcs, and themes are exactly how you want them to be, and you
can’t think of any more fixes to make, that’s when it’s time for beta readers. Just make sure your
manuscript is tidy and spell-checked first.
Once you’ve decided it’s time for beta readers, how do you find them? You can ask
friends to read your work, and they may very well provide some helpful feedback. But generally,
a friend will not be honest when they dislike something. It’s usually better to have people you
don’t know in your personal life read your work for you.
The easiest way to find such people is through social media. Both Twitter and Instagram
have thriving writer communities, which you can become part of by posting with the hashtags
readers I have ever used, I have found through Twitter and Instagram. Fellow writers make great
beta readers, and these relationships can be some of the most supportive you will ever have.
All you need to do is share (via tweets, Instagram posts, and/or Instagram stories) that
you’re looking for beta readers, and usually at least a handful of people will volunteer. It’s
helpful post about your story at least a few times leading up to when you’re ready for beta
readers. That way, your followers already have an idea about what kind of book you’ve written.
When you share that you’re looking for beta readers, it is helpful to share some details
about your story, such as the genre, age category, general themes, tropes, and any interesting
tidbits about the main character(s) or the world. It is also good to share the timeline you’d like
your beta readers to follow in finishing your book. Generally, four to six weeks is considered
Depending on how many beta readers you’ve enlisted, you have a few different options
for beta platforms/methods. The simplest is usually just emailing your manuscript in a Word
document. Most people can access Word documents, and Scrivener even allows writers to
directly export their manuscript as a Word document. Sharing through Google Docs can work
well, too – but it can sometimes be difficult to copy and paste your manuscript into a Google
Formatting doesn’t always translate well from Word or Scrivener to Google Docs. Another
option is the website BetaBooks. This platform works well when you have a lot of beta readers
(more than five or so), because it compiles beta feedback from all your readers. That means you
don’t have to sift down through your entire manuscript ten times to get the feedback from ten
beta readers. However, it is a bit more work up front, because you must upload your manuscript
one chapter at a time. There are other options, as well, but these are the ones I have personally
used and are the most common.
When the feedback comes in, you might find yourself a little shaken. Your beta readers
will undoubtedly point out flaws you didn’t even notice – but remind yourself that is why you
enlisted them in the first place. The challenge comes when it’s time to figure out what exactly to
do with the feedback.
I recommend reading your feedback slowly and letting it digest for a week or so. Once
you’ve let it settle, sit down and tease it out. Using the comments or notes function in whatever
word processor you like, compile the feedback into your working document. Leave notes where
they are applicable, rather than keeping them in a separate document. Don’t feel like you need to
include feedback at this stage that didn’t resonate with you – you can choose which beta
feedback to consider and which to toss.
If only one beta reader out of ten noticed a particular issue, it may not be a very important
thing to fix. If multiple beta readers point out the same flaw, it is most likely something you need
to pay attention to. And keep in mind that the flaw they are pointing out may be important, but
any advice they give for fixing it should be taken with a grain of salt. This is where your intuition
should reign. Take the feedback and create solutions to it that resonate with you – not necessarily
the solutions your beta readers offer. It is your book, and you know the bones and the feel of it
better than anybody else. Perhaps the solutions they offer do resonate with you – that’s great, go
with it! But if they don’t, give yourself permission to let the issue simmer until you’ve discerned
the right path forward. Most importantly, don’t rush.
When you’ve completed the beta stage and you’re sorting through your feedback, it can
be really tempting to want to rush through the next revision because you feel so close to the
finish line. But be sure to give that round of revisions as much care and time as it needs. Give
yourself room to make the beta experience pay off for you as much as possible. It will absolutely
be worth your time.
Lastly, in short, you’ve got this, Writer.
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