Finished your first draft? Had a couple of raving reviews from friends and family? There’s still one more phase to go through before getting ready to send your manuscript off to an editor. Getting feedback from beta readers can save you a lot of time (and money) further down the line and is not a stage to be skipped! Here at Rowanvale Books, we’ve put together some of our top tips to help you get started.
What are Beta Readers?
You may have heard the term ‘beta’ used in the tech industry to describe ‘first draft’ versions of new devices or apps, which normally require one or more rounds of beta testing by assumed typical users before they are officially released. When applied to publishing, the term ‘beta readers’ refers to a group of people who will read and critique your work in its early stages, helping to point out errors you may have missed in your initial self-edit. Beta readers can also be the first people to provide reviews of your book; these will prove crucial in generating sales when you begin to market!
As much as you may trust your closest friends to give you honest reviews, it’s important to remember that it’ll be difficult for them to not view your work with a bias. As scary as it is to let your book be read by strangers, ultimately this is the goal when you decide to publish! Remember that beta readers actively want to help you; they’re not doing this for the sake of leaving a scathing review. It’s a great way to ease into the idea of having your book read by a new audience.
Where to Find Beta Readers?
The task of looking for beta readers can seem understandably daunting at first. You’re not ready to start selling your book yet, so how on earth are you meant to find people to read it? Don’t worry! There’s a surprisingly wide range of ways you can find a group of readers suited to you and your needs.
If you already have a mailing list or social media channels, these are a great place to start. These people already have a connection to you and an interest in your work—they’ll likely want to read your novel, and help you out. You can trust that their feedback will be coming from readers who are genuinely interested in your genre and therefore has a good chance of representing the views of your target audience.
Writing communities are another great option. Here, you can swap manuscripts with other authors, so it essentially works as a trade. This would of course mean you taking to time to read and review other people’s work; however, you would receive feedback from someone who understands your craft and potentially has previous experience in editing and publishing.
Another option if you’re self-publishing with Rowanvale Books is the beta reader service we offer, in which we’ll match your manuscript with up to five regular readers of your genre from our select pool of beta readers. You can choose less than five if you wish, as we always make sure each of our services are tailored exactly to the individual author’s needs.
What Should You Ask From Your Beta Readers?
Beta readers should not be considered a replacement for an editor, nor should they be the first people to read your book. They should not be expected to fully fact-check your work or provide overly nuanced critiques of your style as a writer. Similarly, beta readers shouldn’t be made to feel like reading your book is homework or that there’s a mountain of pressure being put on them to review it within days; after all, they’re usually doing this simply as a favour to you.
Be sure to establish a friendly yet professional relationship with your group of beta readers. Naturally you’ll have a given timeframe in which you need your book to be read and reviewed by, but hold off from sending constant reminders or pushing for feedback. If you need to hear back within three weeks, for example, ask your readers to get in touch with you after two, leaving a little room for potential delays. Your readers will also appreciate it if you’re able to provide the manuscript in their preferred format (i.e. PDF, hard copy, Word Doc) so be sure to ask them early on in order to make the process run as smoothly as possible.
A list of guiding questions can be helpful for both you and your beta readers. It’ll make it easier for you to gather specific feedback on things you’re worried about, and it’ll help your readers to know what to look for while reading. Ten to fifteen questions is a good place to start. Here’s a few to get you started, but be sure to tailor yours to your book!
Does the order of scenes/chapters make sense?
Do any parts of the story feel rushed?
Do any particular moments feel ‘out-of-character’?
Are there any characters that you feel have been overused/are too stereotypical in this genre?
What was your favourite part and why?
Which setting was your least favourite and why?
The Rowanvale Books beta reader service includes detailed feedback forms that ask the readers questions about plot, characters, setting, dialogue, writing style and their overall impression. This can be extremely valuable in saving you some of the time and stress involved in finding beta readers and knowing how to work with them, if you don’t have previous experience.
If your beta readers are also reviewing your book for you, it is important to ensure that you follow the guidelines set by Amazon regarding incentivising. While you may be offering your book to them for free in return for an honest review, the beta reader receiving a copy of your next book cannot be dependent on them having reviewed your last, for example. At Rowanvale Books, this is something we pay great attention to and provide particular support on, since we understand how confusing these terms and conditions can be for new authors!
How Do You Implement Feedback From Beta Readers?
Opinions and feedback from anyone who reads your book will always be subjective, and this is extremely important to remember when you start hearing back from your beta readers. Make sure it’s all carefully considered before you jump in and change everything about your book. For example, start out by looking for comments which have been made more than once. This is something the editorial team at Rowanvale Books have great amounts of experience in and where it can be really beneficial to receive some extra support, especially if it’s your first time publishing.
You may also find it helpful to go through multiple rounds of beta reading. You could start by sending your book to two or three people, make edits based on their feedback, and then send it on to another group of different readers. While this process takes a little longer, it will help give you some reassurance that you’re implementing the feedback correctly, and having more readers means you’ll receive a more diverse range of feedback!
'Implementing these tips into your search for beta readers should start you off on the right track! The beta reader service at Rowanvale Books rolls all of these into one flexible package so that we can make sure each author has the best possible start to their publishing journey.
‘The Beta Reader service is brilliant! It gave me a real sense of how readers are likely to react to book themes, plot and characters and provided plenty of direction on how I could improve the quality of my manuscript. I liked the questions put to the Beta readers - the detailed responses were most helpful in giving me material I could take further to improve the quality of my manuscript.’
– Chris Archer, Author