Getting the Best out of Your Beta Readers

Posted by on Apr 29, 2013 in Jen Meyers, Map to Self Publishing, Publishing, Writing | 12 comments

So, you’ve written a book, you’ve had at least one person do a story read to find out if your plot makes sense and if there are any gaping holes in it, you’ve revised and revised until you can’t find anything else to fix and have gotten it to a place where it’s as good as you can make it.

You know what time it is? Beta time.

You NEED beta readers. Seriously. Everyone does. Because you are the author, you cannot see the problems in your story. You cannot see where you’ve left out information (because it’s all there in your mind, and when it’s not all on the page, you don’t notice because you know it already). You cannot see all the times you repeated information or when you’ve built up to a great scene only to cut said great scene too short, making it unsatisfying for your reader. There is so much you CANNOT see about your book when you’re the author. And that’s where beta readers come in.

Who should you ask to beta read your baby? Everyone.

Okay, well maybe not everyone, but this is definitely one of those times when you want to shoot for “the more, the merrier.” Two or three beta readers is NOT enough. You need as many as you can get—shoot for anywhere from 7 to 15 betas. Every person who reads your book looking for problems is going to find something no one else does. And you need all of those things to be found in order to put out the best book you can.

So who should you ask? People who you think will be honest with you. Brutally honest. Not someone who’s going to be nice and tell you how wonderful it is (i.e. your mom). Definitely ask fellow writers, but don’t limit yourself to just writers. You need readers in your beta pool too because readers look at a book differently than writers do, and can give incredibly valuable feedback. In fact, some of the most helpful feedback I’ve gotten has come from non-writers. (And one of my best betas is a life coach—because of her work at looking so closely at someone’s life and the reasons they do things, how they can do things differently, she approached my characters and their actions/motivations in the same way. She was absolutely remarkable as a beta reader. So if you know a life coach, definitely ask her/him!)

When you first approach people to beta read (especially non-writers because they may not have any experience in doing this—and, fyi, virgin betas can be just as good at pointing out problems as experienced ones), stress that what you really need them to do is to tell you what’s wrong with your book. Anything and everything. And then assure them that you won’t take anything personally.

Of course, you may, in reality, take some things personally. Your self-confidence can take a beating, it’s true. BUT you’re also very likely to realize that they’re right (though it may take a day or two before you get there)—because betas ARE right about 90% of the time—and then you’ll be grateful that they pointed it out. You’ll get that confidence back when you see how much better your book is after you’ve incorporated your betas’ suggestions and fixed all that’s ailing your story.

If you have specific concerns about your book, write up questions for your betas to look at after they’ve read your manuscript. (If they see the questions first, then you’ll be guiding their reading…and that will get in the way of them naturally discovering other issues. Don’t get in your betas’ way!) Get their first impressions, gather their comments on any problems they found, and then send them your questions.

Besides specific concerns you have, you might want to ask things like this:

  • On a scale of 1 to 7, what was your average level of engagement? (1=no! make it stop! I wish I’d never agreed to read this, 4=if it’s there I’ll pick it up if I don’t have anything better to do, 7=I am neglecting my spouse/children/significant other/work/sleep/etc to keep reading)
  • If your interest level fluctuated, can you tell me where and why?
  • Does the story go too fast at any point? too slow? Where?
  • Did you feel as if there were any scenes missing? something more you needed to experience as the reader for the story to work or work better? Where?
  • How did you feel about the climax and resolution, when [insert your climax/resolution here]. Did it work? Did it surprise you? Did you buy it? If no, what didn’t work for you?
  • Was the ending satisfying? If not, why?
  • Did you get a good sense of the characters? Were there any characters that were particularly well fleshed out or needed to be more fleshed out? Are the characters three dimensional? believable? likeable? Did you notice anyone do anything out of character? Did you hate anyone or not feel sympathetic toward them? Find anyone annoying?
  • Did you feel like there was missing info? Or places with too much info? Where?
  • What is the novel’s biggest weakness?

 

I cannot recommend highly ENOUGH getting beta reader feedback for your book. I had 8 beta readers for Intangible and 13 for Imaginable. Each beta found different issues, inconsistencies, holes, or problems. Every single one. I have been amazed, both times, at the incredible catches my betas have made. And I can honestly say that my books were transformed from pre-beta manuscript to post-beta polished novel. The stories smoothed out, became more well-rounded and filled in—it was like magic. I was honestly astonished at the difference. (And I had that moment, while reading the books after I’d made all my beta changes, of thinking Holy crap, this book is GOOD. Like really REALLY good. That’s a nice kind of moment to have.) My books shine, in great part, due to my beta readers’ input.

 

So, get yourself some betas. And get that book ready for clicking Publish. :-)

About J Meyers

J. Meyers started in publishing about 19 years ago when she lucked into a job at an educational texts publisher. She spent the next decade and change freelancing as a writer, copy editor, and proofreader, and then co-authored two parenting books before taking the plunge into fiction—a move that she can’t quite see ever abandoning because she’s totally in love with making things up for a living. She is the author of ANYWHERE, a new adult contemporary romance, and the INTANGIBLE series, young adult contemporary fantasy. Originally from Vermont, she lives in central New York with her very favorite people on Earth—her husband and four kids.

12 Comments

  1. I’m bookmarking this post to recommend for future beta readers because IT IS SO SHINY AND AWESOME! It’s like you went into my brain and scooped out my thoughts. Brutally honest. YES! Okay, I’ll stop gushing now. Such a great post. You nailed it. :)

    • Hey, thanks! So glad you liked it. :-)

  2. Haha–I really love and cherish my beta readers. They provide such valuable feedback! But after reading your article, I’m thinking that perhaps I should find 1-2 more ( I have 5 right now) before publishing my novel. thanks!

  3. Thanks for this post. I just used some of this in a worksheet I created for my BRs.

  4. super helpful!!! I’ve been searching to find tips on what to ask my beta readers and this is brilliant – tanks :)

  5. My problem is FINDING those invaluable Beta Readers. I’ve searched high and low to no avail.

    • have you tried goodreads?

    • Hi Karen! Still looking for a beta?

      Aparna | Doodles, doodles everywhere

      • Dear Aparna,
        I’m considering your services as a Beta reader. I wonder if you might provide
        some references from clients for whom you have provided a Beta reading
        service.
        Thanks.
        Karen

  6. Thanks for the question ideas!

  7. Thank you so much for this post! I’ve got 11 people interested in beta reading my next project and I was afraid it was too many! They were all so great I didn’t know how I was going to narrow it down. Thank you for the tips on questions and what your betas should be looking out for too, very useful.

  8. Thank you very much for the important tips. Loved this.

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