Use Beta Reading

What is Beta Reading and How Does it Help Your Book?

Last Updated on by Michael Brockbank

Whether you’re self-publishing your book or have an agent waiting, polishing up the manuscript is of utmost importance. Finding others for beta reading can vastly help you improve the quality of that manuscript. Especially if you’re unsure if your audience will be receptive to the story.

While you might think you put together a masterpiece, you’re not the one you’re trying to engage with a tale.

What are Beta Readers, Exactly?

Beta readers are those who read through your content for story clarity and entertainment value. They’re not the same as editors or proofreaders, although some may provide grammatical suggestions or fixes.

The term is loosely derived from “beta tester,” which software companies hire in order to test apps, websites, games, and more. It is their goal to ensure the product is finished without the need for future updates or patches.

Beta readers do something similar; they “test” out your story to make sure it makes sense and is enjoyable. After all, the last thing you want to do is bore your audience to tears.

Instead of purposely trying to break software, a beta reader will tell you what’s “broken” with your storyline.

How Beta Reading Works

The idea behind beta reading the story before handing it to the editor is to gain feedback and suggestions about how you can improve the manuscript.

For instance, a beta reader can help identify problems with:

  • Dialogue – Is it realistic and does it make sense in the story?
  • Story Flow – Does the plot stay interesting throughout the entire book?
  • Plot Holes and Confusion – Where are points in the book that don’t seem to make sense?
  • Continuity – Are people, places, and things correctly represented throughout the piece?

These kinds of readers are not strictly trying to fix spelling and grammar. Their main purpose is to make sure your story is solid, entertaining, and enjoyable. Proofreaders and editors fix all of the technical mistakes.

By getting suggestions from your readers, you can make changes that may improve how the story is told. As such, you want to make sure you have a series of questions to ask your readers once they’re done.

Once you’ve polished up the story, there may be less for the editor to pick apart.

How Can Beta Reading Help Your Book?

Many authors believe their works to be simply amazing. But like most things in life, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The trick is to make something as beautiful for as many “beholders” as possible.

It’s the same reason why writers should never edit their own works. It’s too easy to gloss over problems as the original creator. In your mind, everything makes sense.

Even what you believe to be a simple sentence could be confusing to your reader.

May Reduce Editing Time

One of the more common reasons why a lot of authors use beta reading is to help reduce how long it takes to edit a book. Though, this has probably more to do with the editor than the readers.

Some editors are going to pick your manuscript apart no matter who reads it.

In any case, straightening things up before handing the manuscript over can potentially make the editor’s job a bit easier. This could lead to lower costs, but again, it’s all about who is doing the work.

May Help Keep Ratings Up

Regardless of what an editor thinks, your primary focus should be your target reader. If someone enjoys the story, that’s really all that matters.

Having beta readers, whether for free or for hire, can help you deliver a better story. This is because they’ll help you plug any plot holes or remove confusing sections to make for a better read.

The end result is a more promising star rating and review to sell copies of your book to more readers. No one is going to rate a book at 5 stars if it’s a confusing, jumbled mess.

Beta Reading May Influence Word-of-Mouth

Word-of-mouth advertising is still among the best around. If your betas really enjoyed the story, they may suggest it to others. Seriously, consider how effective ratings and reviews are for books.

In a way, that’s just another form of digital word-of-mouth advertising. It’s also why the majority of people trust reviews before buying a product.

The point is to get your name out there as often as possible so that readers can recognize you. Those who will help with beta reading are just the first step to something that may pan out quite well.

Can Make for a More Successful Novel

In the end, it’s all about putting out your best work. The more people you entertain with your work, the more likely your audience will grow exponentially.

Beta reading helps you tighten the book before editors poke their holes. But as long as you get a good sampling of your ideal reader going over the material, it’ll vastly improve your chances of putting out something your audience will like.

Also, keep in mind that a single editor isn’t always the best judge of good content. I’ve had plenty of clients think I wrote the most amazing article ever while the editor tore it to shreds.

As long as the reader enjoyed the piece, that’s all I really care about.

7 Things to Consider for Beta Reading

So, having a beta reader sounds great, right? Well, it all looks good on paper. However, there are several things you need to consider before offering your novel to anyone who is curious.

For example, you want to:

Give a Time Limit

You don’t want your book in limbo indefinitely. Give the beta reading process a time limit of when you’d like feedback. Remember, you still need to do rewrites, fixes, and other adjustments before handing it over to your editor.

All of this is going to take time away from when you will actually see your book published.

Use Readers Who Are Into Your Genre

When looking for betas, try to find people who are already interested in your niche. As they read the style of writing already, they’ll have unique insights that others might not have.

For instance, you wouldn’t hand over a self-help book to someone who primarily reads horror. Although, it would be kind of fun to see Jason Voorhees sit down with Dr. Phil to discuss his habitual slaying of teenagers.

Have Questions for Beta Reading at the Ready

You want to go beyond replies such as “I liked it.” Have some drilling questions that require more than a yes or no answer.

For instance:

  • what characters did they like and why
  • what were the low points of the book, ie. when did they get bored
  • how did the ending make the reader feel

These are just a few questions you can toss in. However, you’ll get more actionable info if you have at least 10 your betas can fully answer.

Some authors will go so far as to have a meeting with everyone to discuss the book in greater detail. And thanks to technology today, that wouldn’t be too difficult as everyone can video chat remotely.

Don’t Implement EVERY Suggestion

The idea of beta reading is to help you polish up a story. However, not every suggestion is going to be golden. Remember, everyone reading your book has their own likes and dislikes.

Consider the suggestions, but don’t immediately jump in to rewrite the entire novel. If it makes better sense to do so, then, by all means, write away. But remember that not all suggestions are going to be good.

Consider the Source

Try not to surround yourself with “yes-men.” These are the people who are going to like anything you put simply because you wrote it. While it helps the ego, it does nothing for the quality of your manuscript.

To get a more grueling review of your book, find a couple of complete strangers to beta read. They have nothing invested and are more likely to give you honest feedback.

Grow a Thick Skin

Having a thick skin is required if you’re trying to put yourself in the public space. And yes, writing your first book is essentially turning you into a public figure.

When handing over what you think of as a masterpiece for beta reading, you could hear all kinds of things that you probably don’t want to hear.

Consider an NDA

For those who may be worried about someone stealing your work, consider a non-disclosure agreement. Although making betas sign an NDA might be a bit of overkill, it can vastly keep your intellectual property safe.

In fact, a lot of testing environments enforce NDAs to prevent theft in this manner. Movies, music, video games…so, it’s not something completely unheard of.

Where Can You Find Beta Readers?

Alrighty, you’ve weighed your options, considered the practice, and now you’re ready to find your beta-reading cohorts. Where can you find these people?

Actually, it’s not nearly as difficult as you might think.

Freelancing Sites for Beta Reading

A lot of freelancing sites have beta reading professionals available. Though, this will cost you a bit of cash.

For instance, Fiverr has beta readers for hire, and some can charge up to $160 for a 150,000-word novel. Many will also show how long before delivery, which could take up to a month.

Goodreads Groups

If you need free beta readers, you can always create an account on Goodreads and visit the beta reader groups. Some will be rife with information about the best places to go whether you’re looking for free or paid readers.

Though, if you have a book published, it’s not a bad idea to create a Goodreads account as an author. It’s a social site that can connect you with fans and followers.

Social Media Presence

I see people offering free beta reading all the time on sites like Twitter. By offering a free copy of the finished product, you could entice all kinds of people to put in their two cents.

Of course, you also want to be careful when interacting with strangers on social sites. Not everyone is going to have your best interest in mind.

How Many Beta Readers Should You Have?

The rule of thumb is to have no more than five beta readers for your manuscript. This is to cut down on time, communication, and make things less hectic.

Using apps like Zoom, Discord, or Google Meet can let you host a group where you and the beta readers can take an evening and discuss the book. The fewer you have in these meetings, the easier it is to go into greater detail in a shorter amount of time.

The more people you add, the more suggestions you’ll have to sift through. Remember what I said about everyone having their own likes and dislikes? If you were to collect 20 people for beta reading, it could turn your manuscript into a completely different book.

Keep things simple. You just want to polish up the story before handing it to the editor. Three to five people can help you do just that.

Get the Book as Polished as Possible with Beta Reading

While in many cases your editor is going to act like a beta reader, it’s often better to get a slightly larger sampling of how people consider your work. And while you may not want to use every idea and suggestion, someone may have that golden nugget that makes your story even more amazing.

Beta reading can help with everything from character development to world-building. Perhaps someone has an awesome idea you hadn’t thought of. Sometimes it’s easier to see the details when looking from the outside.

Michael Brockbank
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