I hope last week’s Musings helped you to self-edit your manuscript, because now is the time to pass it on to your beta readers! As the title says – beta readers make your novel that much better, and are so important for any author. Over the years, they have improved my stories so much and helped me become a better writer. (Thank you so much!)
In these musings, I want to share what I learned, both as an author and as a beta reader, to help you make this process as enjoyable and successful as possible! We’ll cover these points:
- What should I look for in a beta reader?
- Where do I find them?
- How do I take criticism in a productive way, and what do I do with it?
- How should I act as a beta reader to be most helpful?
But before getting into the content, the most important thing right up front: ALWAYS treat your beta readers with the utmost respect and courtesy, as they are doing you a huge favor – most beta readers like to help authors out and don’t charge for their work. Make sure to mention them in your acknowledgements, and show your gratitude!
Beta readers – how to find them, use them & how to be a good beta reader yourself
What should I look for in a beta reader?
There are a few things you should look for when trying to find the right person to beta read your story – things that create better results for the author and make it more enjoyable for the reader.
- Try to find appropriate readers for the genre you’re writing in. You should always check this first – does your beta reader actually read the genre of your story? Besides ensuring that your reader will actually enjoy reading your story, this also ensures the quality of the feedback. Every genre has certain tropes that your reader should be aware of – a beta reader who only reads fantasy won’t be able to give to give you in-depth feedback on a contemporary romance. It’s also a big help when your beta reader knows other works in your genre and can compare your manuscript to them.
- Try to find the right beta reader for different levels of beta reading. Really, you’re not just looking for one beta reader, but ideally for a team that have different roles. Also, if you communicate what specifically you want your beta readers to look for, they can provide you with more targeted feedback.
- No shit alpha reader. So the first beta reader is actually an _alpha_ reader, and with that term I describe the big bad wolf of the reader team. She straight up tells you the bad and the ugly and doesn’t sugarcoat anything – and is so important to shape the manuscript. Sometimes they are able to tell you *why* something didn’t work, and sometimes not, but trust their gut feeling and look at the issues they have and analyze it for your next re-write.
- Consistency and character readers. The next beta readers check for consistency and confusing paragraphs, or point out a character response that feels off. They get to work after you’ve reworked the manuscript with the feedback from your alpha reader(s).
- Authenticity and sensitivity readers. If you have a particular setting in your story, try to hunt down a reader to help you with making it more real. If the story is set in a particular country, try to get a local to read over the story. If you’re using a certain English dialect, try to get someone that speaks it. If the story prominently features a certain profession, maybe you can find someone that knows their way around it. I also include sensitivity readers here, as a beta reader that is able to check for bias or issues of representation can really help to detect problems early. This, however, does not replace a sensitivity reader/editor at a later stage.
- Try to find readers that you enjoy working with. Of course this is very subjective, but I simply love working with my beta readers and enjoy learning from them so much, so try different readers if possible until you find a great match!
Where do I find them?
There are many ways to connect with beta readers, some more straight forward than others. I’ll list a few below.
- Local writing or critiquing groups. Joining a local writing group can be a wonderful way to find like-minded writers that often will also offer to help you with beta reading on a tit-for-tat basis. Try Meetup to find one near you.
- Online critiquing platforms. If you don’t have a local group, you can try finding partners online. A platform I’ve used when I started out is Critique Circle – you earn credits for critiquing other works on the platform which you then use to upload your work. I found it to be helpful if sometimes a bit slow (you upload chapter by chapter on a weekly basis, which means it takes a while to get a whole ms critiqued).
- Matching programs. Some professional writer’s organizations have programs that try to connect writers to beta-read for each other. The Romance Writers of America have such a program for their members.
- Direct connections with other writers, readers and fans. Sometimes you also develop relationships with your readers, either through their messages via e-mail or on platforms like Goodreads, or by meeting them at conferences. Especially if your reader is also a writer, this could be a good match – but I would definitely see if something evolves naturally and not spring beta-reading requests on them after their first mail 😉
For more comprehensive lists, also check here:
What do I do with the critique?
So you found will beta readers, and now the first feedback lands in your inbox. OK, now take a deep breath – it can be hard to get honest feedback. It’s OK. Give the comments a first read, and then take a step back. Go for a walk. Take a few days to absorb them. Sometimes, you might feel like crying (bawling) – this is normal.
As in all parts of life, we need honest feedback to improve (and this is the whole purpose of beta readers – to make our story the best it can be). Think about it like this: rather get this feedback from your handful of beta readers, than potentially from hundreds of readers after the book is published!
After letting the feedback settle, give the comments a fair chance. Often you will have to fight some inner “resistance” to changing your book. Again, it’s natural to want to defend your vision. Keep in mind though, what you intend as the author might not be received that way – and in the end it’s how the reader reads the story that counts. Working with your beta-readers and communicating with them what you want to get out of the story will help you to get the impact you are after.
Finally, of course you don’t have to follow every suggestion or make every change. Also check if multiple readers had the same sentiment, or if it might be a personal preference of one reader.
How can I be a helpful beta reader
I’d like to close this session by turning the tables – how should we act when we are asked to beta-read?
First and foremost: be honest. I can’t emphasize that enough, because in the end it’s the honesty that will help shape a better novel. It’s nice to get sweet, happy feedback – it always puts a smile on the author’s face – but it’s the constructive criticism that can potentially change a good book to a great book.
It’s okay (in fact, I love it when) beta readers tactfully say what scenes didn’t work for them. Highlighting boring paragraphs/scenes, asking the hard questions about whether a character really would act this way, and simply saying what doesn’t work is gold to a writer. If you are able to identify why something doesn’t work and jot those thoughts down, that’s even better, but even if it’s based on a feeling it’s important for us authors to know.
Of course, be tactful. We authors are often sensitive creatures! A great way to give feedback is to ween us into it with a couple of sentence on what things did work in the book. Again, be honest, and only say something nice if you mean it. Because we’ll look at what works and analyze that, too. Why is this scene resonating? Why does it make readers feel something? What about this scene works (and how can I emulate it again and again?)
General areas to think about when beta reading:
- How gripping is the opening?
- Are you emotionally invested in the characters? If not, can you identify why not? (e.g. the character is tough to like/ character is silly)
- Is there enough conflict/tension in the story?
- What does the main character want? Is this clear?
- Is there sufficient motivation for a character to do X?
- How is the pacing? Where does it slow down too much? Where could it be slowed down?
Then, more specifics:
- Where are there inconsistencies?
- How clear is the writing? Where could there be more detail/less detail?
- Are important turning points being shown? (not summarized)
And, of course:
It’s nice to point out a favorite part of the story, when something makes you laugh or cry, and so on. A bit of positive feedback is very encouraging!
Now I hope you are well equipped to find a great beta reader, process the feedback you are given and provide great feedback yourself!
Writing tip of the week
So what if your beta readers find your dialogue somewhat wanting? Maybe the characters don’t sound like real people, or they all sound the same, or the dialogue doesn’t move the story forward enough? Then here’s your writing tip of the week to the rescue! On her “The Itch of Writing” blog, Emma Darwin discusses problems with dialogue, and how to improve: They Say My Dialogue Is Weak. What Do I Do? A fantastic round up!
Fiction read of the week
The Year We Fell Down. This MF romance really worked for me. I’m a fan of Sarina Bowen, and this is a gentle romance featuring a heroine who has lost feeling in her legs. The romance is at turns sweet and sexy!
Bits & pieces
The ReReleases keep on coming: this week, the hooded vigilante, The Raven, has donned a fantastic new cover – in “Liam Davis & The Raven“! If you haven’t given Liam Davis a try, now’s the time 🙂 If you liked “Leo Loves Aries”, this one should be right up your alley. Liam Davis & the Raven is a slow-burn, New Adult, gay romance set in college. This enemies/roommates to lovers story follows the quirky, socially awkward Liam to his HEA.
Books and resources mentioned in this bulletin:
- “They Say My Dialogue Is Weak. What Do I Do?“, by Emma Watson
- “The Year We Fell Down“, by Sarina Bowen
- “Liam Davis & The Raven“
- “Liam Davis & The Raven“ is a slow-burn, New Adult, gay romance set in college. This enemies/roommates to lovers story follows the quirky, socially awkward Liam to his HEA.
- You can get a free e-book by signing up for my newsletter
- Disclaimer: All links to books in this article are affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price if you make a purchase using these links. There is no additional cost for you if you purchase the books via these links!