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It’s crazy to me how vastly different readers can be. Some are extremely detailed, while others are just, not. To the point where you wonder if they read it at all. Beta readers can be either the most helpful resources to a writer, or the most pointless — and sometimes heartbreaking. If you’re not sure what the hell I’m talking about, I’m talking about people, just like you, who read unfinished manuscripts. Usually in the beta stages of a book, hence, beta readers. If you play video games like I do, you’ll know what this means. It’s a crucial stage of making sure your story makes sense, your characters are developed, no holes, consistency, etc… Of course, just because your script is not done yet, doesn’t mean it should look like garbage. You should polish it up as much as possible – grammar and spelling wise. This makes it easier for your readers to pay attention to the story itself, rather than getting stuck on using too many exclamation points or misspelling ‘definitely’.
I thought I would make two lists for both the writer looking for readers and also for those who want to be a beta reader. I think it’s helpful to know both.
- Where do I find a beta reader? Literally, anywhere. However, in my experience, strangers seem to get your reading done faster and better than friends and family members. (No offense, guys 🙂 ) Social media has made this very easy to locate readers. I personally prefer Facebook, because I’m in x-amount of writing groups and I feel writers will give you the best feedback as they usually know what you’re going through. You can also use Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, whatever else you young kids chat on these days.
- How do I convince them to read it? Even though your manuscript is unfinished – which by the way, you don’t have to have your story complete from start to end – you should have some kind of premise, blurb, synopsis or whatever you wanna call it. This is what will be featured on the back of your book to give a quick overview of the story. (I made a blog helping with this, too.) When pitching to readers, post your blurb, the target audience, the approx. page number and your due date you want it to be finished. You can even add an image if you have one to attract more people.
- I have readers, but how do start the process? It’s a good idea to have a “Read Me” before you send the first chapter. This will basically explain everything in your original post, but in more detail. This part is really up to you how you want to distribute your manuscript. There are three ways: Chapter by Chapter, Sections, or the Entire Story. I’ve personally done all three of these methods and my favorite is individual chapters. It may take more time, but you get more details and can determine which chapters are better than others. (Readers can even tell you to cut an entire one out) When you send the whole thing, it can take forever to get it back, and the readers answers are going to be vague and not as descriptive. It’s best to ask them questions right after they read so the material is still fresh in their mind too.
- What kind of questions do I ask? There is a whole slew of questions you can ask. I would honestly suggest to just search the internet for ALL the types of questions. BUT, I am here to give you what I think matters most.
- I am really big into the characters of my book and of any other books, so I always want to know about the characters. Are they consistent in behavior? Can you visualize them well? Does their dialogue ever not sound like them? Can you sympathize or connect with them? If you hate them, why? These are just some examples, but I like to make my questions more open ended. I usually ask ,”How did you feel about _____?” I think this allows the reader to have more freedom in expressing their opinions, rather than sticking with just one detail. How the reader feels also reflects a more realistic question of how other people out in the world will also feel about your characters.
- Another is the scenes. What scenes did you enjoy the most? What scenes did you not care for? This is good if you’re wanting to see if your description writing is coming across how you want. (Also with dialogue) But of course, scene can mean setting, but also interaction.
- I also like to ask my readers how they feel about the chapter overall, using a scale (1-10) This is better for you to visually see and break down what chapters are clearly better than others. You can evaluate and go back to the less ‘liked’ ones. The scale also applies to how excited they are to read the next chapter. The tone of the last one can really take your reader out of wanting to continue, and that’s not good.
- Last but not least is predictions. I just think this is a fun question. I ask at the end of my survey if they have any predictions of what may happen in the next chapter or later on. This gets them more involved and really thinking and also, lets you know if they may have solved the ending or the mystery you thought you hid well.
- How long does it take to do this process? The time invested is up to you. Depending on the length of your novel and they way you distributed it out can vary on how long. But rule of thumb, I give readers about 3-4 days to read one chapter. This also depends on how long your chapters are. Mine range from 7-11 pages. So, this shouldn’t take very long. It’s good to be upfront with them and let them know there is a deadline, but don’t be too mean, they are doing this for free and in their spare time. However, if you really want to, if they are slacking, you can give them friendly reminders that you are on a schedule. If they are still being slow, don’t feel bad about dropping them. You did give them a warning.
- How do I use their feedback to my advantage? A really good technique is to write down or type out everything you reader says that isn’t positive. You want to improve this as much as you can, so positive feedback is great, but it doesn’t help much. Evaluate what types of changes seem collective among all of your readers, or the majority, and that will help narrow down what should really be edited. (Overly positive answers are almost the same as getting no answers, but I’ll mention this later)
This beta read process SHOULD be done about 3 times before you professionally edit. I’ve done it twice, but I just wanted to get it over with! Twice is the minimum. The first time is your rough-rough draft. After making changes from the first wave, get another set of readers (you can re-use a couple readers if you wish) and have them let you know what doesn’t work in the new version. And if you like, make the changes and do another set. This is to ensure you have ALL your bases covered and no plot holes. It’s at this time you can now edit! Woot!
Beta Reader Advice:
I have also been a beta reader myself and I want to give some tips to those of who you might be interested in doing this.
- How do I find books that need beta read? Social media is seriously the future when it comes to things like this. There are groups and websites you can join for free to find unfinished scripts. If you’re not part of social media because it’s “mainstream”, well… I can’t help you.
- How can I be the best beta reader ever? I’m so glad you asked! First, communicate with the writer, as much as needed. If you can’t read for a while, tell them! They are waiting on their tiptoes for your feedback, and everyday you don’t convey to them that you are busy or have to postpone, it kills them. They could also use that time to find another reader who REALLY wants to read their book.
- Another way is to be as descriptive as possible. I cannot stress this enough. Being vague and just saying you liked or didn’t like something is very frustrating. Especially with no reason why. Don’t think of this as homework, think of it is making a fellow future writer put his best work out that you can someday be proud that you made the novel, what it is today. That in itself can be extremely rewarding. Like, “Hey! I told them to add that part!”
- Also, saying you LOVED everything is equally as annoying. Let’s be real here, nothing on this green earth is 100% perfect, including the first draft of a book, so cut the crap. It’s okay to say a few chapters were just flawless, but it’s highly doubtful that an entire book is flawless. This just isn’t possible. Not giving any constructive criticism is not useful to a writer trying to improve their story. Honesty is the best policy.
- Can I get paid for this? Some beta readers can get paid, yes. BUT, these are usually people who have almost made it their full time job. If this is your first time, do not expect to be paid. Writers have many costs to think about when getting their manuscript published, and beta readers just can’t fit the budget. Unless, like I said, you are very experienced, but even then… most writers will lean towards free readers. It is a voluntary service that writers very much appreciate! (And they should thank you just the same!)
Alright. That’s all I have today. I hope this helps my fellow readers and writers with perfecting their great drafts! If you have any additional advice or don’t agree with me about something, please leave a comment! Adios and happy reading! ##