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Utilizing Beta Readers

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Whether you’re polishing up that NaNoWriMo manuscript or have a New Year’s resolution to get that work in progress to press, you need reliable feedback. Beta Readers are a great way to discover what the average reader’s response will be to your book and to find out if there is any dissonance between the author’s intention and the readers’ experience.

Here are some tips on how to utilize Beta Readers to improve your manuscript and get it ready for publishing.

Job of Beta Reader

The job of a Beta Reader is to read and provide feedback of an unpublished work from the standpoint of a typical reader. It is not to edit the manuscript. Beta Readers share their emotional reactions to the characters, plot, settings, and themes. They help find problem areas in the manuscript, but you should not expect them to offer solutions.

Beta Readers are generally unpaid, but it is customary to send the reader a free copy of your completed book (e-book or print). To make it special, you may provide a signed copy or add their names to the acknowledgement section.

Choosing Beta Readers

Choose 3 to 5 Beta Readers who have read a lot of books in your genre. When they are familiar with your genre, they can more readily spot problems that are not on par with similar published works.

Choose readers that can be honest about your manuscript. That might mean to stay away from family and close friends who may shy away from difficult critiques to spare your feelings. Find readers who can be impartial and genuine in their feedback.

Other writers can make great Beta Reader candidates. Look for them in writer’s groups, online forums, or critique groups.

Fans and followers from your author website and social media platforms can also make good Beta Readers. Create a post asking for volunteer readers and offer an advanced copy of the book.

Hiring professional Beta Readers is also an option. Freelance readers have a passion for good stories and will offer unbiased and attentive feedback. Fiverr, Upwork and Goodreads provide extensive lists of freelance Beta Readers for hire.

Sample Questions to Ask a Beta Reader

Providing a list of questions will help guide the Beta Reader in their feedback. Be specific. If there is a scene you are uncertain of, ask a question regarding it. Here is a general list of questions to get you started.

  • What did you like?
  • What didn’t you like?
  • Did you ever get confused, or is there anything you didn’t understand?
  • Did anything frustrate you?
  • Did you get bored? At what point specifically?
  • At what point did you feel invested in the story? The characters? Or when did the story grab your attention?
  • Does the first 10-20 pages make you want to keep reading? Why or why not?
  • Can you relate to the characters? How?
  • Did the setting interest you and did the descriptions seem vivid and real to you? 
  • Was there a point at which you felt the story lagged or you became less than excited about finding out what was going to happen next? Where, exactly?
  • Did the setting interest you and did the images appeal to you? What specifically?
  • What was the tone of the manuscript/story?
  • What genre do you think it is?
  • How did you feel reading it?
  • Does the ending feel right to you? Does it make sense? Why or why not?

Deadline and Follow Up

Stipulate a deadline for your Beta Readers to submit their feedback. Be conscious of the time and effort needed to read the full manuscript and plan accordingly. If you need the feedback in four weeks, give a three-week deadline and allow some buffer time.

Following up just before the deadline will give a little nudge to your readers and remind them to get their feedback in on time.

Beta Readers are a great resource in improving a manuscript. Their additional perspectives will help eke out the problem areas in your manuscript and help you improve the plot, characters, and emotions of your story. Following their pertinent feedback will improve the reader’s experience and make your book better. And what author doesn’t want a better book?

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