There seems to be some confusion as to who a beta reader is, where to find them, and what we as authors should expect from them. Let’s work on clearing that up.
Beta Readers Can Be Anyone
Yep, anyone. The idea of using beta readers is to have a small controlled audience read your book before it’s released to the public. Ideally, the work should have already been through a couple of self-revision drafts, then reviewed by an editor (if the writer has acquired the help of one) and even an alpha reader or readers. After all those steps, the beta readers take over.
Alpha readers are your most trusted, ideal readers, often the person you write for and your strongest support. Meanwhile, beta readers are used to gain a broader insight into the work. They are meant to represent a wide range of potential audience members. Betas can represent the target audience for the story, but we should be aware that great diversity still exists within that targeted group.
It’s a No Fee Service
Sometimes I see ads to make tons of money as a beta reader. It’s not true and frankly, I think it’s pretty rude to charge for a beta read. An author is reaching out and attempting to include the potential beta in their writing process. Yes, it’s one of the very last steps, but still it’s inclusion. Besides, we get a sneak peek into a whole written world that hasn’t been released yet. It’s like being invited to an early showing of a movie. No reason to charge for fun!
It’s super cool, though, when the author includes the names of their beta readers in an acknowledgement. This accomplishes two things:
- Shows general readers that the author values beta readers’ time. That small show of thanks in turn can up an approval rating for the author, at least in my book, because if they value beta readers, they’re likely to value all readers. I can’t help it, just a connection that I make.
- Naming the beta readers can open up the door to other beta reading gigs. Word of mouth spreads, writers read, and a name that’s written down is often easier to remember.
Beta Reading is Not Editing
It’s soooo hard for me to remember this. Every time I pick up a new book to beta read, I find myself line editing the first few pages. It just happens and I’ve started leaving the editor suggestions there as an added bonus. But we as authors shouldn’t expect that behavior from beta reads. Their job is to read the book, maybe take a few notes, and give us their impression of it. Some, like me, also write reviews that are posted when a book goes live. Seems only fair and right to write a review of a new book and help give the author a boost. Tit-for-Tat.
Something that helps is to present beta readers with a list of questions to answer before they start reading. Especially if the person doesn’t normally read within the genre of the work, it helps to have a focused thinking path. Question lists can easily be adjusted to fit the person, but should remain sort of general. The idea is to gain overall feedback. What really works for them? Who was their favorite character? Did they enjoy the ending? All great questions.
Of course, if the beta reader ends up giving you more than you bargained for as far as feedback and reviews, take it. They invested their time to read your book and provide you with feedback. While all the suggestions that they present may not be used, please make sure that you read them. Sometimes they pick up on that hidden flaw or are working from a position that allows them to notice a sensitivity issue.
The betas are the last group that will see your work before it goes out in the world, the final checkers of hat and scarf before the door to winter opens. Let them snuggle your story down tight.