What are beta readers?
Beta readers are people an author asks to read their book and give feedback on it before it’s published or sent to an agent.
How important are beta Readers in the development of a novel?
The main point here is that authors can get so close to their work that they don’t see the holes in it. They think their book is ready for publication, but they can’t see it the same way as someone who has never read it before, and all readers who purchase the book are in that category, so it has to work for them. Authors need others’ opinions to help them see their book from a reader’s perspective.
It’s better to get feedback while you can still change the book than either have poor reviews after self-publishing or an agent or publisher stop reading and discard the book because the author has not had the perspective of other opinions on their work.
An agent or publisher will not tell you what’s wrong with your book; they will just discard it. Readers, however, will tell you if the book has plot holes and they’ll do it publically in reviews that don’t get taken down after you fix the issues. Intelligent negative reviews (as distinct from stupid ones) will result in a lack of sales, and that’s something that could be avoided if you have people read your book and feedback on it before publication, and before editing.
What kind of people make good beta readers?
Other authors are good because they should know a bit about writing and what elements make a good book. Editors are the very best, but unless they’re close friends, you should be paying them for their professional opinion. Other than that, avid readers are also good, but don’t ask your family and friends who will only say nice things; you need people who will be honest, even if it hurts, and who read enough in the same genre to be able to compare your book with others.
The wider range of people you can find the better.
Where do you find beta readers?
Author groups are good for this purpose, either face to face or online. Participate in the group first before asking for beta readers, because people need to know you a bit first or they won’t want to help out.
What if you can’t find anyone suitable?
Get a manuscript appraisal from a professional editor. They range in price, depending on who you choose, but they don’t have to be expensive. Mine aren’t.
How many beta readers do you need?
No more than 10. I find it hard to get that many these days. I have a couple of people whose opinions I really value for my fantasy and literary books, but for the romance I’m writing now, I’ve put my feelers out for beta readers who specialise in the romance genre. I’ve found 5 and are happy with that.
I hate waiting to hear back, but the waiting time is good for getting some space between me and the work.
What do you ask beta readers?
Click here to see a handy beta reader checklist to give them.
When don’t you need beta readers?
When you have employed a professional to appraise the manuscript. It’s always good to have more than one opinion, however.
Do experienced authors still need beta readers?
Yes. This is a really important point. After you’ve published a few successful books, it’s tempting to just write one and publish it straight away without waiting for feedback from readers, but that’s a really dangerous thing to do, especially if you only employ a copy editor—as distinct from a structural and line editor—rather than get a full edit.
A full edit will reveal weaknesses in the big picture, so if you get a full edit, you should be okay without beta readers, but I’m pretty sure that experienced writers who self-publish try to save money by skipping the structural and line editing level of editing and just get a copy edit and proof read. For any author in that situation, the beta readers are vital.
How beta readers can save an author’s career.
I’ve found books by authors whose early work has been good, but the second in the series, or further books have huge plot holes, really poor pacing, unnecessary scenes or scenes that go nowhere and other things that would have been picked up by beta readers. It’s a bad mistake to make because once you’ve lost a reader, you won’t get them back.
I’ve written a couple of books that when I got the feedback back, I realised they were a lot further away from being ready for publication than I thought. They had major issues that I simply hadn’t seen. I see them easily in other people’s work, but I missed them completely on mine in these instances. I was just too close to see properly. I shelved both books, but I plan to return to one of them one day. The feedback I got—though it was depressing at the time—saved me from publishing something not up to my usual standard, and for that I’m very grateful to those readers.
So authors, don’t miss the beta read or, if you can’t find any, don’t miss the structural level of editing. Doing so could mean the death of your career as an author, simply because you can’t see what a reader sees.
Do you use beta readers? Where do you find them?
Want to read more posts like this? If so, subscribe to new content delivered by email (see the button on the right side bar).
If you’re an author, you’ll find my book on writing, The Elements of Active Prose: WritingTips to Make Your Prose Shine, very helpful.
If you like stories with action, romance and a contemplative element, you’ll enjoy my fiction, so take a look in my bookshop before you go.
You can also follow me on all sorts of social media by clicking the buttons at the top of my website.