August 16, 2017
You may have heard the term ‘beta readers’, but what exactly are they and why are they so important?
If you, the author, are the ‘alpha’, then beta readers are the next set of eyes on your manuscript. This can be scary. What if they don’t like it? The truth is, early drafts are clunky. They are like prototypes for a product not yet for sale. In that sense, beta readers are more than just readers; they are like a focus group, meant to offer criticism and give concise, helpful feedback.
Here are some tips on how to manage and what to expect from your beta readers:
- Ensure readers have ample time to read. Set reasonable deadlines. If they are a fellow writer, consider exchanging manuscripts.
- Ask them to provide written feedback. Examples: completing your provided questionnaire, making notes/Comments in the margins (printed/digital copy), or verbally discussing the story afterwards (take lots of notes!).
- Make sure you’re clear about expectations. If you’re unsure about your work, request a gentle approach. Or if you need tough-love, ask readers for brutal honesty. Confirm their style and your needs are a good fit.
- Ensure readers understand your genre, or fit your target demographic. Great beta readers have diverse reading appetites.
- Be sure they’re trustworthy. Explicitly confirm your manuscript remains private. Vet beta readers through your writing community.
Keep in mind that beta readers are not editors. A beta reader’s role is to express how they felt about certain events/characters, the tone of the book, or the writing style in general. If they are experienced, they may delve deeper into storytelling techniques; they may even offer ‘green pen’ proofreading (looking for typos, repetition, or simple errors) so you can improve your draft. The more polished your final manuscript is, the easier (and cheaper) a professional editor’s work will become.
Lastly, engage more than one beta reader. Every perspective is different. Accumulate various responses; then focus on any unanimous issues first. With a team of engaged beta readers supporting you, you can be confident that your final manuscript is ready to be professionally edited and published.