Beta reader: what it is and how it can help you

If you’ve ever done any kind of research on what you should do before publishing your books, you’ve probably come across the term beta reader at least once. A beta reader is someone who reads your manuscript before publication to help you improve it. They identify the weaknesses and strengths of your work and give you a new perspective on it.

But how to find a beta reader? o to what extent should you include their feedback? As we understand that the term itself and the functionality of the beta reader in the publishing process may not be very clear, we have decided to clarify how important these people can be for your book and how you can find them.

What are beta readers and how can they help you?

Let’s start by the beginning. What is a beta reader? As we have mentioned, a beta reader is the person, or people, who will critically read your manuscript once you have finished it. The term comic book scripting comes from the world of technologies and software, where beta testers are the first users of a new product. The objective of these is to provide their opinion about their experience as users to help improve the product that has been developed.

If you think about it, whenever a new product is going to be launched (video game, movie, application…) a group of people is in charge of testing it to make sure that no loose ends have been left. Why wouldn’t the same happen with your book?

At Writers of USA we believe in the importance of having several pairs of eyes reviewing your book before publishing it. The reason is simple: reviewing a manuscript with fresh eyes, without having any idea what you are going to read, makes it much easier to detect plot holes, scenes, typos, grammatical errors and any type of small errors.

With this in mind, there are different steps you can take to get other people to take a look at your manuscript. In general, we usually recommend that our authors send a copy to their friends and family to ask their opinion. The only problem with this strategy is that, as a general rule, the people who love us do not want to hurt us, and will try to soften or even ignore their harshest criticisms.

And that’s where the beta reader comes in.

What to ask a beta reader?

There are a number of different tasks you can ask of your beta reader, and of course they have the right to accept them or not. If your beta reader refuses to comply with one or more of these points, you can always look for another set of eyes to complement their services. Remember that these people are probably doing you a favor (unless you’re paying them, but more on that later), and it wouldn’t do you any good to demand things from them that they don’t feel comfortable doing.

Here is a short list of some of the things beta readers can help you with:

  • The overall impression of the story: whether it caught you, whether you found it interesting, whether it was a satisfying read. In short, what they liked and what they didn’t.
  • Characterization: They can tell you what they think of your characters, for example. If they consider that they are well constructed, if their dialogues are credible, or simply how they like them.
  • Rhythm: if there were parts that you skipped, or cumbersome parts that almost made you give up. If there are parts that are left over or if some need to be developed more carefully. Also the descriptions, the construction of situations, etc.
  • Spelling errors: If you find any grammatical or spelling errors.

With this, the beta reader will provide you with a reader’s perspective on your manuscript in the form of constructive criticism (at least, that’s what we hope). If the beta reader is a professional, they will offer you their opinions in what is known as a reading report. Beta readers should tell you how readers will perceive your manuscript and give your ideas about what you can improve about it. You, as a writer, should take these suggestions into account and use them to strengthen your story.

What is the difference between beta readers and editors?

The purpose of both is to help you improve your book. However, the editor will be the last person to edit (pun intended) your text. The beta reader would be an intermediate step before sending your manuscript to a publisher for evaluation or self-publishing it and having a professional editor do some editing work. The editor is a professional who will work directly on your manuscript. While the beta reader will offer you a reader’s perspective on your work.

Ideally, before publishing your book, you go through different editing sessions to improve your style and other aspects of your manuscript. To do it efficiently, we suggest that you broadly follow these steps:

  1. First, you should reread your manuscript (probably many times) and self-edit it;
  2. When you feel like you’re done, it’s time for beta readers to read it and give you feedback;
  3. Once you’ve received their feedback, you can rework the manuscript and make changes you agree with;
  4. You can then send your manuscript to a professional editor;
  5. Afterwards, you can finish your manuscript and self-publish your book or submit it to a traditional publisher.

We would also like to say that these 5 steps may not be so simple. You are free to send your manuscript to beta readers multiple times until you feel ready to send it to a professional editor. You are the boss of your own story.

How can you find a beta reader?

You can always ask your friends and family to be beta readers, but it doesn’t always work out. Sometimes people with whom you have a personal relationship may feel uncomfortable giving honest opinions for fear of offending you. Or they may go the opposite extreme and offer you more destructive criticism than truly constructive and useful information. Before asking friends and family to act as beta readers for you, we suggest you consider whether they would be able to adequately help you in your process.

If you’ve already given it a whirl and decided it would be better to look elsewhere for beta readers, here’s a list of places you can find them.

Facebook: This social network is also home to hundreds of groups of literature lovers. With a simple search you can find communities of beta readers or readers with thousands of users. We highlight some such as Beta and Zero Readers for eBook/physical writers or Zero Reader Club. You can also look for groups dedicated to your genre (romance, science fiction, non-fiction) to solicit opinions from experts on your topic.

Forums: that place where you found everything before Facebook existed. Just like on the blue social network, there are thousands of forums for writers and readers. Most are organized by literary genre, but there are also general ones, such as Barite Libra.

Quota or Reedit: These act as forums where you can post a message requesting beta readers for your fantasy writing.

LinkedIn: In this case the search results will be professional beta readers.

How to work with beta readers

There are certain steps you should follow when working with betas, whether they are people you know personally or not. It’s important to set professional boundaries, especially if your beta reader is a friend or family member. In this case, with unclear lines, it can be easy for them not to take the assignment seriously or to slow down the tasks they had agreed to do, since they may believe that you will not rush them.

To avoid these situations, here is a list of some things you should discuss and agree with your beta readers before sharing your manuscript with them:

  • Manuscript access: Ask them what format they prefer the manuscript in, and be sure to send it to them in other formats, just in case. For example, it is much more like working on a Word document than on a PDF. But it is good to have both so that the beta reader can make sure that any element of the word is not their own thing by comparing it with the PDF. Also, because we print from one copy, you can send your printed book directly to their home. This way they can also give you opinions about the cover, the paper, the format of the book, etc. More about how to print your books with Writers of USA here.
  • Set deadlines: Even if the beta reader helps you as a favor, it is important that they know the date you prefer to receive your feedback. Of course, this date can be discussed between all the people involved. You can also be flexible, but it is still important to set it so that time does not get out of hand.
  • Be clear about what you expect: Be sure to discuss those points on which you are most interested in knowing the opinion of your beta readers so that they pay special attention. And also make sure they agree with these points.
  • Honesty first: Make sure they know they can be honest with you and that you expect constructive criticism from them.

Should I pay the beta reader?

It depends if you have hired a professional beta reader or not. Non-professional beta readers, or those without experience in the sector, do not usually charge for their services. Of course, this is not a norm, and you can pay them if you feel inclined to do so.

For example, it would be a nice gesture to thank your beta readers with free copies of your book when it is published. You could even dedicate them personally. Plus, you can always mention their names in the “Acknowledgments” section of your book. We are sure that they will appreciate the gesture and that they will share it.

When not to work with beta readers?

There are some cases where gaining insight from beta readers can be more harmful than helpful. For example, if you are writing a nonfiction book on a specific topic, getting the opinion of someone who does not have the knowledge to properly understand the book would not be very productive. If, on the other hand, you want your book to be as informative and accessible as possible, then it would be a good opportunity to have a beta reader.

Likewise, if you are writing a fiction book about a specific historical era and you are not a historian, it is probably best to seek the opinion of someone who is knowledgeable to verify whether you are being specific in your descriptions or not. Of course, in this case you can always ask a beta reader for help after making sure your historical accuracy is correct (this also applies to many other genres, like science fiction, for example).

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