|Posted by Kristen Hamilton on April 13, 2019 at 2:00 AM|
When it comes to all the elements that go into a successful novel—good pacing, character development, plot progression, and the story itself, for example—there’s a lot that can go wrong. And while you can always hire a professional book editor to help strengthen your story, it’s always a good idea to enlist beta readers (one of my 3 crucial tips for self-editing your book) before reaching out to a book editor.
Since beta readers are crucial to your book’s well-being and development, it’s important that as an author, you’re taking advantage of this free help as much as you can, right? Let's talk about how to work with beta readers.
I'm a woman of my word, and in order to back up my claims I usually like to bring in others' input. For this post I talked with my client Christine Meram, author of the forthcoming An Unlikely Tale, who commented on one of my Facebook videos about how helpful beta readers are. Christine shared that she gets coffee or trinkets for them as a way to say thank you. What a great idea! I reached out to Christine to ask her about beta readers, and am sharing some of her experiences with beta readers here.
First things first: Are beta readers even helpful?
You betcha! At this stage in your writing process, it's super important to get as much feedback on your story as possible. Whether this is something minor (such as "I was bored in the middle") to specific, high-level feedback (like "Your main character's motivations needed more development during that scene on page 24), you're sure to get something good out of recruiting beta readers.
Beta readers often give authors valuable feedback that drastically improves the story. According to Christine, “My beta readers provide wonderful input and comments during my rewrite/revision process. A while back, I was working on a scene between my main character and antagonist. My beta reader suggested that I should throw one more or two more jabs between the characters to really get the tension across and how badly the relationship has crumbled. I tried it out, and it worked.”
How to find beta readers?
When you're searching for beta readers for your book, try to recruit people from your book's target audience. They're likely to have read a lot of material in your book's genre, and will provide you the best feedback to what your book is missing compared to others on the market.
How do you find these beta readers? They're everywhere! If you're a part of a local writer's group or even an online writing community, that's a great place to start your search. If nothing else, you can look elsewhere for beta readers. Paid services like The Spun Yarn offer 3 beta readers for $99.
While you can recruit friends or family members to read your work and give feedback, be careful with this. Beta readers need to tell you the truth about your book, so...sometimes it's best NOT to recruit your close friends and family members to beta read your work, especially if they're afraid of hurting your feelings. A beta reader's feedback is worth nothing if they're not honest. (Ironically, that's why a lot of authors come to me for a manuscript critique: they fear that the feedback from their friends and family isn't 100% truthful.)
How many beta readers should you have?
Ideally, you should have a range of beta readers—at least 10 to 20. This way, you’ll have a better idea of the general consensus on your book. Your beta readers should not be able to talk to each other about your book—remember, you just want everyone’s individual opinion.
Still, a handful of beta readers is better than none at all. Christine has three beta readers: “Two from work and one is a college friend,” she says. These three beta readers have given her great ideas and feedback for improvement.
How should you send your manuscript to beta readers?
This is up to you! Because at this point your book is not published, most beta readers will read your manuscript as an electronic file. So, sending your manuscript to readers as an email attachment ususally works fine. You can also print out paper copies of your manuscript, but this is usually considered as less secure (see my article on book plagiarism and copyright infringement).
Most authors prefer to send their entire manuscript to beta readers to allow them to get the full effect, whereas other authors like Christine opt to send their beta readers a few chapters at a time. “I’ve learned giving too much of the manuscript at once is overwhelming. So a few chapters at a time works really well. Plus it gives my beta readers something to salivate for later.”
How should you thank beta readers?
While reading a new book is a pleasure, for beta readers, it can also be a bit of work—so if you are recruiting beta readers, a little thank you goes a long way.
Some ideas? From Christine: “I usually treat my beta readers with coffee, candy, Arabic tea and/or little trinkets as a little thank you for taking the time to read the manuscript. It's their reward for helping me out a lot. I always tell them they give me the reader's perspective on the manuscript and that is priceless.”
Final steps: What's next?
After you get feedback from your beta readers, take some time to carefully consider their recommendations. If several of your beta readers are pointing out similar issues (i.e., “Chapter five went on too long,” “I didn’t like Troy’s reaction to Aqua after she revealed her secret to him,” or “I don’t feel like the story really started until page 30" ), this is a good indication that you should change something.
As always, keep in mind that you won’t be able to please every reader—but as an author, it’s your goal to write for the majority. If several of your beta readers are pointing out areas in your manuscript that need work, that’s a good indication that those areas need some work.
Your next step after the post-beta readers revision? Work with a book editor!
Want to learn more about how to build your author brand
and become a self-publishing pro?
Book editor Kristen Hamilton is the owner and sole employee of
Kristen Corrects, Inc., where she provides manuscript editing
services for traditionally and self-publishing authors. Several
authors whose books she has edited have won awards and have
Reading is Kristen's passion, so when the workday is over, she
can usually be found curled up with a good book alongside her
four cats. She loves watching cat videos and scary movies,
eating pizza, teaching herself French, and traveling, and she is
likely planning her next vacation. She lives outside of Boise, ID.