*Warning – the definitions contained herein have not been confirmed by Google b/c I’m simply telling you my gut definition.
1. Introduction (What is a beta reader? How is this creature different than an advanced reader?)
To my knowledge, a beta reader is someone who reads an unpublished manuscript with an eye for sense, sensibility, and general grammar gaffs.
An advanced reader is someone who reads a soon-to-be-published manuscript with an understanding that if they like it they’ll put a review on it once the book goes live. Traditional publishers have given away Advanced Reader Copies practically since the stone age of publishing. Indie publishers too know the value of good publicity.
Beta readers can be advanced readers, but the end goal is more to make the manuscript better than to get great reviews, though that is a nice bonus.
2. When and how do you use beta readers?
When you have a finished manuscript you’ve polished a few times yourself, dig up some beta readers and see what they think. You’re completely biased when it comes to your story. Get a second, third, and fourth opinion.
Find out what format each person wants and give them the story in that format (epub, mobi, pdf are the popular formats). Keep a record of who gets what, when they get it, when they return it with comments, and the quality of those comments so you can keep track of who’s an awesome reader and who’s lousy at corresponding. You’ll need that info to refine your list later.
3. How many is enough?
For the Lei Crime Kindle World stories, I keep a list of about 50 people to contact. At any given time of year, about 10-15 of those will reply to a beta reader call. Of the responses, a few will be “so sorry, too busy right now” sorts and the rest will be “count me in!”.
4. How do you find them?
I got lucky in that the Lei Crime Kindle World main author, Toby Neal, had a list of beta readers she shared with us. (These were fans who already love her work who said they’d be willing to help out with the KW stories.) Several of those loved my work enough to follow me on some other private projects.
Over time, I’ve also found some beta readers from my newsletter list (painstakingly built over the years) as well as Facebook groups. When I took part in a fantasy anthology, many of the authors agreed to beta read each other’s stories. Same thing happened with a Christian anthology I entered, but that was a little more organized because there were far fewer authors so we all had to read 2 other stories to make it work.
Family members can be good beta readers, but it really depends on the situation. Do not rely upon them as your only feedback because they are biased too. Unless they’re already an editor in the real world, family members tend not to give you the sort of feedback you need (this and this and that needs to be reworked to make the story awesome.)
5. What if you don’t agree with them?
It’s always nice to have beta readers who say “this is wonderful” but they’re not typically the most useful. The main goal of having beta readers is to improve the overall quality of the story. Not every beta reader has the right mind or skill set to give you articulate feedback you can work with. Some will just comb through for basic grammar mistakes and that’s totally helpful too. I used to read my own projects 9 times before letting others read it. Then I started writing more and 9 became an untouchable number of reads.
Hearing about flaws can be tough, but those who can point out the negatives might just have the few gems of wisdom that will make that story rock. (As a beta reader, I fall into that category. I tend to be brutally honest about what’s working for me and what’s not. I’ll let you know where I laughed and where ya lost me. Unfortunately, I with very few exceptions, I can’t take on new beta projects right now.)
In the end, it’s your story and you do what you want, but do carefully weigh their advice.
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If anybody wants to join my beta reading or advanced reader teams, please drop me a line (devyaschildren @gmaildotcom). (Replace the dot with a “.” and take out the extra space…simple test to prove you’re not a robot. I know it’s annoying not to be able to copy paste. Call it character building.) Give me a brief intro to you and your qualifications as a reader. (I love to read! is a pretty good qualification, but I need to know a little about what you like to read to be able to place you properly with projects you’d enjoy.)
P.S. Guardian Angel Files: Spirit’s Bane (YA Contemporary Fantasy) is up for grabs as a beta reading project. First two pics are the anthologies I did some beta reading for because I was a part of them.