The Beta Reader Creator's Information: What’s a Beta Reader?
If you've ever thought of publishing a book, you may have heard the term "beta reader". But what are beta readers? Do you really need them Are they just free editing or something else?
A few tips: Yes, if you want to publish a book, you need beta readers. And no, they are not a substitute for hiring a professional editor.
I will publish a book in autumn. I worked a lot on this book and knew I was done with what I could do myself. The next step was to bring a group of beta readers together and share my manuscript with them.
This is the first in a series of articles that will walk you through the entire process of beta testing your book. Stay tuned for more!
What is a beta reader? (And what a beta reader it is not.)
If you've been on the internet before (and if not, what magic do you use to read it?), You've probably heard of beta testing. Software companies use beta testers to solve all programming problems before the product goes live. This is an important step in the development of everything.
A book is no different. The beta process of your book is similar to the beta test of software companies for their products. They pass the manuscript on to a group of readers so that they can “test” for inconsistencies and major problems.
Beta readers read your manuscript with the eye of a reader.
A beta reader is not an editor. They do not replace editors in any way, shape or form. (You need an editor, folks.) It's not the beta's job to catch all of your typing errors (though they'll likely catch some). Nor is it your job to find brainstorming solutions to plan problems or fix your boring dialog.
Do not confuse beta readers with alpha readers or critic partners. An alpha reader is the first person to read your manuscript, usually when it is at a very early stage. (Mine is my husband, who has to endure reading my first drafts. Poor guy.) Critical partners are other writers who look at your manuscript the way another writer would: eye-catching mistakes in writing.
Betas view your manuscript as a reader: with a view to entertainment errors.
It's a beta reader's job to tell you if a character is flat, if your world rules don't make sense, or if an action is confusing. Each of these problems takes away the entertainment value of your story and leaves readers disappointed. There is a beta reader to minimize reader disappointment when your book is published.
Why do you need beta readers?
You may not want to hear that, but there is something wrong with your book.
Let me finish You know how to read the same page twenty times, and then someone comes over and points out a typo? Yes. We've all been through this.
The same can happen to important problems in your book. Things like inconsistencies in building the world, character descriptions, storylines, and even misplaced objects in the story can throw your readers out of your book and confuse them to hell.
One of my beta readers noticed that I had tied up my characters and a few paragraphs later they were waving fists and fighting. Where have the shackles gone? Good question, dear beta reader.
Some questioned a slang word that I had used. It was an old slang word from the 1920s and they had no idea where to start understanding what I meant. That's a problem.
The fact is that you are blind to problems with your book and these problems don't have to be as easy as a misspelled word. You could have big disjointed problems and not even realize it.
4 properties you need in a beta reader
Your grandma is probably not the best option. While you love dear old Grammy, she loves you too and she will most likely only shower you with praise instead of giving useful feedback. The same applies to your partner, your best friend, your parents, your siblings, etc. They are too close to you to be helpful in this situation.
Except those closest to you, anyone can be a beta! However, there are some considerations when choosing:
1. Your beta readers must be readers.
This seems obvious, but I've received several beta offers that have never been read. If the person has only read one book since high school, you probably want to skip it. They can't give you any feedback just because they don't know what they're talking about.
2. Your beta readers must be reliable.
You can't have years to finish reading your book. You have to publish it sometime. Choose betas that have time to commit to your writing.
3. Your beta readers must be ready to be honest.
Sometimes brutal. You're not looking for Grammy's praise, do you remember? You're looking for honest feedback from a reader's perspective so you don't get bad reviews on Amazon when your book is published.
4. Your beta readers should read your genre.
There are two reasons for this: First, if you don't know anything about your genre, you can't give good feedback. Second, if they don't read your genre, they are likely to get bored and never finish your book.
However, if you have a B plot that belongs to a different genre, you can look for a few betas to help you with it. For example, if you're a horror writer who has a Romance B plot, you may want to recruit a romance reader to help you with these love scenes.
Just don't stack your deck with fifty people who don't know or want to read your genre.
Examples of good beta readers
You might ask, "Well, who's left if I can't ask my friends and family?" Fortunately, there are many people out there who are ready to help you. Why? Simply because you asked for help. (And they think it's really cool to bring a book out into the world.) Good beta readers might include:
- A work colleague, a friend of a friend, or an acquaintance. I didn't say you didn't know your beta readers at all. I just said that they can't love you and want to shower you with praise just because you got out of bed. People you know are fine as long as they don't really like you too much.
- Members of your online community. You know these people, but you don't really know them. It's also easier for people to be honest behind a screen.
- People who have not previously created a beta version for you. Keep it fresh. Not only do you not always want to impose on the same group of people, you also need new eyes for your writing. Readers become more forgiving the more they read an author, and you still need your betas to solve these problems!
I'll talk more about how to find beta readers and prepare for the beta process in the next post.
How many beta readers do you need?
More than one, less than a hundred.
It really depends on how much feedback you need and whether you want to do two beta rounds. One person is not enough to reach a consensus on the problems of your book. Fifty is too much to not only coordinate the process, but also coordinate their feedback into something useful.
Keep in mind that many people may agree to the beta for you, but they are unlikely to all end (or sometimes even begin) reading your book. Look for about a third to a half to get done and remember when you decide how many.
I had about thirty-five for my last book. About ten made it through the book in the timeframe I gave them, and another five made it partially. So I got feedback from about fifteen people. And that is enough!
Are beta readers paid?
Ah, the big question every fighting writer asks himself: how much money do I have to spend on it?
The answer is generally no, no betas are paid.
There are professional beta readers that can be hired, but most indie writers go the free way, mostly because. . . We do not have any money.
As I mentioned earlier, most people are very excited and honored to be asked to do something like beta book and are more than happy to volunteer. However, keep an eye on your betas and their contact information!
Since they're most likely volunteers, it's only polite to thank them when they're done. It is also common to send them a free copy of your published book. If they have helped you a lot, you should thank them in the thanks.
Betas are essential for the publishing process
In my opinion, beta readers are the second most important element in the publishing process. (The first is a professional editor.) When you're done with your self-editing, you'll need to prepare for betas!
Learn more about the beta reader process!
Have you ever read beta for someone? Have you already had beta readers? Tell us in the comments how the process went.
Write to this prompt for fifteen minutes:
You volunteer to test a new product, but something goes terribly wrong.
Do you need a more detailed prompt? Try the following: You are volunteering to beta test a new virtual reality headset. You cannot remove the headset after the test is complete.
If you are, post your work in the comments and give feedback to your co-authors!
Sarah Gribble is the best-selling author of dozens of short stories that examine uncomfortable situations, basic fears, and the general awe and fascination of the unknown. She is currently boiling out more ways to freak you out and work on a novel.
Follow her @sarahstypos or sign up for free in her email list at https://sarah-gribble.com.