Updated: Jul 10, 2022
Ok, so we've discussed Pen Names, and we've celebrated by writing 'The End' but what comes after that? First of all, edit. Read it again, edit it again. Read it, edit it, read it, edit it, and when you think you're done, take a break for a few weeks and then do it again. We'll talk about my process for editing in a meaningful way in the future, but today I'm skipping ahead and assuming you did that. If you think your book is in pretty good shape, now it's time for beta readers.
What is a beta reader? Well, first let me tell you what it's not. It's not someone who fixes major grammar, spelling or punctuation errors. A few are still ok, but for the most part, you (or a line editor if that's your choice) have done that already. If you haven't done that but you still want someone to read your very rough draft, then what you're looking for are alpha readers. When you're out there in the world looking, this is an important distinction. I personally love to beta read, but I can't alpha read. If a book has too many mistakes, I can't stop myself from correcting them and ain't nobody got time for dat! (ok not nobody, but not this body!)
Anyway, I love beta reading. I love helping other writers fix their work, plus, I just love reading so why not get the first look at something a ton of people haven't read? It's fun to me and if you're ever looking and can't find any, I'm your girl! (Hit the contact me button on my website and email me).
Anyway, the point of that rant is if you're looking for a beta reader, you've already edited. Usually a lot. You should feel ready to put your book on the market. You should think you've closed any plot holes, you feel your characters are believable, your story ends the way you think it should, etc. Beta reader's number one job-and I want you to read this part carefully-is to do that--READ IT. They should read your book as if they are buying it from Amazon, and give honest feedback on what they think of it.
Ok, on to picking YOUR beta readers. Identifying good beta readers can be hard. But, ideally, beta readers either read and/or write in your specific genre. Your mom is not a good beta reader, even if your mom is brutally honest. I'm not saying you can't show your mom, but you should not take that as the only feedback-and your mom is not a beta. Same with friends, spouses or other family. They are automatically predisposed to like it, even if they are very honest. They wouldn’t be in your circle if that weren’t true. Join some writing groups, ask for help, it's the best way. It’s ok to make other writer friends and use them as betas, but just make sure they are able to put the work ahead of your friendship, it’s the only way to get good feedback. I don't suggest paying for betas either, because I don't think the feedback you get is as honest (you're their customer after all), but to each his own, do whatever you want, just do it with caution. Spend time asking questions before you share your work, ask what types of books they read/write, ask what authors they like, make sure they are your target audience. Don’t waste either of your time if they aren’t your reader or you determine up front there is something about their personality that clashes with yours. It's okay to not accept help if you don't think you match... Just move on and look for more.
So what should you ask for? If you have any specific concerns (i.e. you think one of your characters is unbelievable, dialogue in a certain scene feels weird, you worry you're missing something major, etc) you should tell your betas about these things–I usually leave a list of questions, but make sure you let them know they can do whatever they they want. Also, if you have specific deadline, lay that out in the beginning and don't count on just one person. I would say from experience for every three or four betas you get, maybe one or two of them will actually finish your book, and maybe one of those will give you helpful feedback. Ultimately, their number one goal is to give you feedback on if they like it or not, and if not, what they wish you had done differently to make it so they did. I said it before, but let me just stress, make sure your beta likes to read the genre you write in, because if they don’t, they probably won’t like your book either. You probably aren’t going to convert someone who only reads horror books to love romance if they don’t already–No offense, that’s just a fact.
Ok, so moving on… You’ve picked your beta reader, and you sent them your work. Quick side note, I recommend sending in Google Docs– Share it with them, make them a commenter and they can easily leave notes as they go along. Not everyone will like that, so just do whatever makes sense for both of you, that’s just my two cents.
Anyway, earlier I said 'you think you've closed the plot holes,' 'you feel your characters are believable,' etc., because here's the rub-sometimes people won't agree. And, the even bigger rub, some people just won't like your work, and that can be demoralizing. I had a beta that completely ripped my male character apart, and I've said this before, he's loosely based on my husband, so you can imagine that was hard to hear. But here's the thing... This is your best chance at moving your work forward. My beta's comments were warranted and after taking them in, I realized she wasn’t criticizing my male character, just the way I wrote him. My writing didn’t portray what I intended, and that’s ok, that’s what beta readers are for! None of us are perfect, writing is an artform and we can learn so much from each other if you just allow yourself to be open to criticism. So if you're ready to put your work out into the world, prepare yourself to be criticized. Not sure you can take that? Maybe you should reconsider sharing your work-OR go back and read my blog about using a pen name.
Anyway, I am not saying you should listen to what everyone says, if you get ten beta readers, four of them will likely say one thing and two will say another, and four may not even finish reading it. The point is, you may never get a consensus. This one might want more detail, that one might want less, my advice is listen to it all. Evaluate what is important or helpful to you and leave the rest alone. If someone tells you you should change something, but that thing is extremely important to you and your character wouldn't be the same without that thing, leave it in. That's just their opinion and we're all adults (hopefully), so we can appreciate that not everyone has the same opinion, right? I'm not saying take all of the advice, but you should listen to it all and try to figure out why/why not that is true.
I loved my book before I let betas read it. I let my family read it and got nothing but praise. I actually got so excited I sent some query letters out, but guess what–that was a mistake. I was encouraged by one of the agents I sent it to to get beta readers and she couldn't have been more right! My beta readers have helped move my work forward in a way I could have never imagined and I think I did a disservice to my book and myself by trying to send it out too soon.
This is something I will cover on a future blog, but my biggest pet peeve as a voracious reader is paying for a book/e-book and it not being in the shape for paying readers. In the age where so many people are self-publishing, too many authors rush their work and don't give it the time it deserves and the readers suffer for it. Please, just give it time, write it, then read it, then edit. Then let people give their opinions, incorporate what you can, and edit again. And for the love of all things holy, hire editors if you're going to self publish! I will never get over buying books with obvious typos, where the dialogue is completely unrealistic or they made a mistake at the end about something they wrote about their own character at the beginning of the book. I hate it! I’m not the kind that leaves bad reviews, I usually only take time to leave good ones, but if I pay $20 for your book or $20 for the audible version and I can’t finish it because the editing is so bad, you’re getting a bad review. If it’s free on Kindle Unlimited, maybe not, but please just don’t do it then we can be friends, Okay?
Ok, sorry, I got off track again. The overall point of this entire blog is that beta readers are an important step in the process. Don't skip it, and make sure you get good, knowledgeable people to help you, otherwise, you haven't had beta readers.
That's it, that's my two cents on beta readers. They get a big thumbs up from me, and if you ever need one and can't find one, I'm your girl!
-Rose Rayne Rivers
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