Let’s get real about beta reading…

Lots of writers have asked about beta readers lately, and we’ve come to realize that not everyone is on the same page as to what a beta really is (or should be) and what their role is in getting a book ready for its journey into the hot little hands of readers. Here are a few tips from Becca about betas and some advice that might help you improve the feedback you’re getting (or not getting!) from yours.

What is a beta reader and what should they do?

A beta reader is someone who basically does quality control for your story. They help find the plot holes, the glaring character flaws, etc. They help make sure you’re putting out the very best version of this story that you can.

A good beta reader is going to look at your manuscript from a totally different perspective from your own (especially right after you’ve finished writing, rewriting and rewriting). They are going to separate the art and the artist and read with a critical eye. (In case you were wondering, being an asshole does not equate having a critical eye.) You want someone honest with you. Someone who wants to see you succeed. Someone who gives you the hard news with good news too.

 

Where do I find a decent beta? Can I recruit my family or my friends? What if I don’t have family or friends that I want to read my manuscript?

By all means, let your family read your work. They’re supposed to have your back. BUT! It helps if they are familiar with the genre in which you’re writing. If your aunt reads romance like I eat donuts (with frequency and gusto!), let her give you her best and most honest feedback. And with friends, the same rules apply that do for family.

And if your friends and family are not your target audience and you don’t think they’d make good betas, that’s TOTALLY cool. Do you have any book friends? You can message them, even if you don’t know them well. Even a book blogger that you follow is worth messaging. If you don’t know the person you’re asking well–or at all for that matter–be sure to be polite and respectful in your messages. If they blow you off, that’s okay! They aren’t bad people, they just don’t know you yet! Another great option is asking for recommendations or volunteers in forums that are appropriate to ask in or from someone that may have a good suggestion for you.

Is beta reading a job? Should I pay my beta readers? How many do I need?

Typically, no. In all of my time that I beta read, I got paid once (by paid, I mean I got a $10 gift card). IT WAS AMAZING. I totally felt appreciated by said author. The fact of the matter is that beta reading is a labor of love. Seriously. It can be and often is a lot of time and work, but it isn’t usually a professional service. So what that generally means is that people flake out.  It sucks, but it’s totally par for the course. Life happens!

There is such a thing as a professional beta reader, but I’ve never used any.

And in term of how many you need, that’s up to you. I prefer a team of about 3-7ish. Some people like to have 20 beta readers. Some people like to have 3 and a trusted content editor.

What’s the difference between a content editor and a beta reader?

Beta reading is totally and completely a volunteer situation. You are asking for someone’s time and opinion. Sometimes it’s a trade where they read for you and you read for them in turn. Sometimes, it’s really a favor that is reliant on someone else’s schedule.

But how does that differ from a content editor other than that you’re paying them? A content editor is (hopefully) a professional. This is someone who’s done this a time or thirty. This is a person who knows this industry as well as storytelling. An editor should be consistent in their feedback. It shouldn’t be like a quick three things you could fix and then a bunch of messages talking about how great it was. (I’m sure it really was great, though.) I sometimes call those kinds of people cheerleaders which I will address in a minute. An editor is someone you are paying. They shouldn’t flake out. Their feedback should be critical and consistent. They should know what they are talking about. Ask around for a recommendation for a reputable editor. Everyone’s experience is different, but you’d be surprised by the difference a good editor can make. Just remember, you’re paying someone for their opinion, and it isn’t always a magic wand.

Be on the lookout in the coming weeks for a post of what we define as a content editor and what one does.

Does a beta reader replace a good content editor?

Honestly, it depends. Some beta readers are incredible. Some content editors are not incredible. It’s such a case-by-case basis. There is no industry standard of what a content editor does or even how a content editor can be defined. But from my experience, a beta reader does not fully replace a good content editor. In fact, they work best together. You can send it to your editor first or your beta readers. Whatever works best for you.

If you can’t afford a content editor right now, don’t sweat it. Find your betas. Take a chance on a stranger. A solid team of excellent beta readers can sometimes be a stand in for a really good content editor.

My beta reader essentially only had good things to say! What now?

I have no doubt that they were telling you their honest opinion. But a beta reader should have more feedback than a small handful of things to tweak and to sing your praises. An author I know, Kandi Steiner, calls those people her cheerleaders. You need a cheerleader. You need someone who is in your corner reminding you not to give up. They are an incredibly important part of the writing process. They just aren’t a beta reader for you. I have a friend who knows that she just isn’t a critical reader, but she will tell you everything she loved about your story to remind you of all the positive parts too. So, congratulations! You found yourself a cheerleader! I would suggest that you resume your search for another beta reader.

How do I help my beta readers give the best feedback?

Ask them questions after they read. Sometimes you have to pull information from them that you need. Ask them to be aware of what you think the weak spots in your manuscript are.

Example Questions from a bestselling author:

1- Are there any points where the story slows down for you? Parts that you wanted to skip past or rush through?

2- Was there anything that didn’t make sense or bothered you?

3- Was there anything that you wanted more/less of?

4- Was the end satisfying? Believable? If you could rate it 1-10, with 10 being completely knocked it out of the park, where would it fall?

5- What was the best/strongest part of the book? What was boring?

6- Thoughts on JANE – Did you like her? Why or why not? What would make you like her more? Did she (at any time) behave in an inconsistent, unbelievable way?

7- Thoughts on JOHN – Did you like him? Why or why not? Was he consistent?

8- Did you find anything unbelievable? Contrived?

9- Additional thoughts?

 

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