Beta Reader Bandwagon
Last week’s post was about Critique Partners, so this week I wanted to talk about the Beta Reader (BR). It was another one of those terms that I hadn’t heard of before I started writing seriously. Now some people might consider this the same thing as a Critique Partner, but I have them separated for reasons that I will discuss with you today. I will also discuss why I think it’s important to have them along with a Critique Partner (or group).
Differences between Beta Readers and Critique Partners.
CPs are usually other writers or editors who understand the rules of grammar and/or other technical aspects of writing. Beta readers on the other hand, are non-professional readers who read your work for the purpose of finding out whether it’s an entertaining read. They can also help you spot any inconsistencies in your plot or character motivation, or any other holes really. They will give you an idea of how a typical reader might respond to your work.
I like to separate CPs and BRs in this way: CPs are editors and fellow writers, BRs are people from my “ideal audience.” So first you have to determine who your ideal audience is. For me, it is young adults who enjoy science fiction and action with some relationship stuff in there too. So when I look for beta readers, these are the people I’m looking for.
You need to figure out who your ideal reader is. Be specific enough that you haven’t included every single person who has ever read a book, but generic enough that there are more than 10 of your ideal readers in the world. When you finally publish, you want a decent sized readership base if you’re hoping to make any of the larger best-seller lists. For example, I will target my book towards all young adults, not just those who read science-fiction because it gives me a larger readership base (plus I believe most YA readers will find it enjoyable). But when I look for BRs I’m first going to try to find young adults who enjoy Sci-Fi just because they know the genre better.
*If you don’t care about making a best-seller list and want to write your book for a smaller audience, that’s awesome too! You’re just going to want to go the self-published route (unless you can find a publisher that works with manuscripts in that niche) because the larger publishing houses are looking for a book they can market to very large audiences.
Some other things I look for in my BRs:
- Someone who reads a lot IN THE GENRE I’m writing in.
- Someone who has the time to read my manuscript.
- Someone who will be honest with me.
- Someone who isn’t related to me.
- Someone who doesn’t think the sun rises and sets out of my, well, I’ll keep this G rated. *This was a tough group of people to find, let me tell ya. 😉
As I mentioned a few times now, I want someone that really knows the genre I’m writing in. This is important because there are differences in how books are written for each genre. Again, take the example of Science Fiction. If I get a BR who doesn’t really read Sci-Fi, they won’t be use to the nuances that dwell within the genre. In Sci-Fi, there is often a lot of world-building that needs to happen that you don’t really see in say mysteries or romance. I want someone that has read a lot of well-written Science Fiction so they can spot the things in my book that don’t work for this genre.
You also want to make sure, up front, that they will have the time to devote to reading your MS. I have had my fair share of readers who told me after weeks and weeks of having my MS that they just didn’t have the time to read it and I had to start over from square one with a new BR. So make sure they have the time to read it.
The last three criteria go hand-in-hand. You want someone who can be objective and honest with you. You also want someone that can give you helpful comments on your work. This isn’t a cheerleader who thinks everything you do is the most amazing thing to happen since someone combined peanut butter with chocolate. It’s someone who will let you know if they see a problem somewhere in your story.
A BR is important because they are looking at your work in more of a big picture kind of way. They aren’t looking at the technical aspects of your work. They aren’t reading it like a writer, they’re reading it like a reader (which is sometimes hard for a writer to do, even when it’s someone else’s work). This is why I suggest finding BRs that aren’t writers. Chances are, once your book is published, most of your readers will not be writers. So you want to get the POV of someone who isn’t a writer. Their feedback might be more general (i.e. “The beginning didn’t really work for me.”) but it will point you towards the parts of your story that need some tweaking.
I know this all seems like a lot of work, having both a CP and beta readers, but I want to see you all putting your best work out there. This is especially important if you are self-publishing. You won’t have the same kind of oversight of your work like you normally would if a traditional publisher is helping you get your book out there. This is how self-publishing got its bad rap in the first place. So many people rushing to get their work out there that it’s riddled with typos and horrible plot gaps the size of the Grand Canyon. But we are going to vow to do better right? Right. So put the extra work in now and have both a CP and some beta readers and make sure your story is the best it can be!
For those of you I have convinced to jump on my beta reader bandwagon (I’m coining that phrase now haha feel free to show some love on Twitter, FB and Instagram #BRBandwagon!) you are probably wondering what to do once you’ve found the holy grail, aka a BR who fits all the qualities you were looking for. Well, a good place to start, is to ask them how they would like you to send your MS. With the different operating systems (MAC vs. PC) and all the online data sharing options, you will want to find out what format works best for them, i.e. docx, pdf, etc. Remember, they are doing you a huge favor! Unless you’re J.K. Rowling, the beta readers you have chosen probably aren’t dying to sit down and read your MS. Make it as easy on them as possible and don’t make them read it in a format they don’t know or like.
Also, you want to give them guidance on what feedback you’re looking for. If they’ve never done beta reading before, you’ll want to explain what a beta reader is first. But you also want to tell them what kind of feedback you want. For example, if I’ve had my CPs look at it already, I will usually tell my beta readers not to focus on the grammar and punctuation, but to look at the pacing and story line. It’s not that I don’t want them to catch typos, but if they are reading it worrying about grammar, then they might miss the stuff I really want them to concentrate on. And ideally, your CP will have caught most of those other errors already. I have them really just focus on reading through the whole thing and giving me their thoughts of it after they’ve read it all the way through. That’s the way a reader will go through my book and that’s the kind of feedback I’m usually looking for. You may be looking for different feedback and that’s ok too, just be sure to tell your BR beforehand so they can be focused on that.
Finally, note that reading enjoyment is a matter of taste. I have more than one BR because I know there will be some people out there who just will not like my book. As hard as that is for me, I have come to accept that fact. 🙂 The same will be true for BRs, just because one may not like it, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s horrible and you should burn every last letter of it that you wrote. Try having a couple other people read it and see what they think. On the other hand, if you have a bunch of BRs and they’re all saying the same thing (i.e. “that part where the mushroom comes to life and eats everyone was really out of place and completely ruined the ending for me”) then you should probably listen to them.
Well my lovelies, this concludes our post for this week. I hope you found it informative and that it motivates you to use beta readers. If so, I hope you’ll share this post with other authors you know. There are easy social media share buttons right below this. If you’d like to view my other topics for writers, please check out my Resources for Writers page. If you have a topic you’d like to see covered, go ahead and jot it down in the comments section or shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. And don’t forget, new resource posts go up each week so be sure to tune in!
Until we meet again.