Using Beta Readers to Improve Your Novel

You can improve your novels with feedback from beta readers. But how do you find these readers, what exactly do they do, and what do you pay them?

How can you find beta readers?

For great beta readers, you need to find the ideal reader for your novel-it does you no good to send your book to someone who isn’t interested in what you write. First, write a quick profile of who your readers are, including age, gender, genre preference, etc., then look for people who meet those qualifications.

Do not ask family members or close friends to beta read your novel. Instead, search among your fan base. One great way to do this is to ask your followers on Facebook or Facebook street team group if they would like to beta read one of your novels. Another way is to offer to beta read another author’s book in return for them reading yours. In the beginning, your chosen group of readers should include a mix of regular readers and authors. But eventually as you get busier with publishing, it pays to find a group of experienced beta readers who don’t want you to read in exchange. These readers really get to the heart of your book and become priceless.

Try out dozens of beta readers until you find enough that best fit your needs. These readers should be offering constructive criticism and should be reliable and punctual. If they come back saying “Good job!” they are not good beta readers.

Remember, one of the best ways to find a good beta reader is to be a good beta reader yourself. That way you can learn what is the best help for you (and any author).

What do beta readers do?

Beta readers find problems with your novel. Here are a few things they should be watching out for:

  • Repeated words or phrases
  • Unlikable characters (unless they’re supposed to be unlikable!)
  • Confusing dialog (whose saying what)
  • Continuity or inconsistency issues
  • Unbelievable situations
  • Dragging plot
  • Loose plot ends
  • Missing scenes (scenes they really wanted but you didn’t leave in)

A beta reader should be acting as a reader, not an editor. This means that their primary responsibility is not correcting grammar and punctuation; they’re looking for big picture issues and letting you know what their emotional reaction to your story is. It is not their job to tell you how to fix the story-they’re just there to tell you that something didn’t work for them and why they feel that way. It may be a good idea to give them a list of big picture issues to watch out for, so they know what’s expected of them. That’s okay if they point out the typos, because the cleaner your book is for the editors, the cleaner the finished product will be. But beta readers should be giving you other comments as well.

A great beta reader will also include honest feedback on what they felt was done well in the book.

Beta readers will often give you reviews when the book comes out, although authors are wise to create a review team as well. If you get a hundred reviews on your book, it will receive more notice on retailers.

Having a group of readers is important so you can sort through what changes you should and shouldn’t make. If a few of your readers find a scene confusing, even though it’s clear to you, you’ll need to rewrite! Of course, you don’t need to act on every suggestion and comment you receive, but it’s a good idea to go through each one and think, “Why did they think that? Is there something I can change to make it better?”

What do you pay them?

Beta readers usually do their work for free. After all, they get to read the book before anyone else! Some authors also send betas an autographed print copy of the final book when it is published. You may even consider including their names in the acknowledgement section of your book. And of course, you can always repay your readers by maintaining a good relationship with them.

If you are exchanging with another author, that is enough payment! But exchanging takes a lot of time away from writing, so it’s something to balance carefully.

Do beta readers replace editors?

No, they do not.

In general, beta readers are readers, not editors. They are not looking for editorial problems; they are looking for things that bother them as a reader. Many of them are not even trained editors. An editor will give you specific and informed suggestions to further refine the plot and dialog of your story, as well as get into the nitty gritty of word choice, grammar, punctuation, and showing instead of telling.

There are exceptions, and you may find that a few of your betas are very good at catching the obvious typos. However, don’t be tempted to skip an editor! This normally won’t turn out well, though you may need fewer editors in the long run if you have even a half dozen good betas.

After you have rewritten your novel to incorporate the comments from your beta readers, you should send your novel to at least two professional editors-people who have actually been trained to edit and who have experience doing so, not just people who like to read.

Originally published at https://mybookcave.com on February 16, 2018.

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