A couple years ago, my newsletter column for the month was “Six Types of Books in My Library.” In summary, this is how I viewed my books:
- Books Worth Keeping: I enjoyed them once, and I’ll read them again.
- Reference Materials: Books with information I want to keep.
- Books I Plan to Read: I really do intend to read them – someday.
- One Reading Was Enough: I enjoyed these books, but once was sufficient.
- Books I Started But Never Finished: Despite initial promise, I gave up on them.
- Books That Seemed Like a Good Idea: I’ll never get around to reading them.
Running out of space and wanting to downsize, I gave away all my books in the last three categories. Some of those books will be read, many will be thrown away, and the rest will be dismissed – again. At some point, my books in category 3 will likely go, too.
With self-publishing options so prevalent today, anyone can publish a book. The question is, what category will these books end up in? Too many will fall into category 5 and 6. Some may not even rate that high. That’s because too many writers are impatient with the writing and publishing process, cutting short the honing of their work.
While we can’t guarantee that our books will end up in the “worth keeping” category, we can increase the likelihood through careful writing and rewriting, listening to feedback from critique partners and beta-readers, hiring a copy-editor, and paying for professional cover design and interior layout.
May your next book be one that people actually read and then keep to read again.
We wrap up this series of posts about beta readers by answering the essential question of where to find a beta reader.
- Relatives: Our family is often a great place to start. While not every family member would make a great beta reader, there are likely some relatives who would enjoy it and provide helpful feedback. Family members, however, may not be as critical as needed, since they want to encourage us and don’t want to hurt our feelings. Even so, relatives are a great source to give our work its first read.
- Friends: Next in line are friends. Just as with family, friends may also not be as critical as needed, but they can provide an array of feedback from different perspectives.
- Writers: Other writers and authors may be open to be a beta reader, especially if they are closely connected with us or if they want to swap beta reading work.
- Readers: Some of our most engaged followers, such as blog readers or mail list subscribers, may jump at the chance to be a beta reader for us.
- Online: A Google search for “finding beta readers” gives five million results. The first match is a beta reader group on Goodreads, which has 3,600 members and will surely provide some good beta readers if we’re willing to invest the time to find them.
I’ve used the first three items and am open to the fourth, while finding a beta reader on Goodreads is a most intriguing idea.
What other ideas do you have? Who have you used as a beta reader?
In this series on beta readers, let’s shift our focus from beta readers to ourselves. Quite simply, are we ready for beta reader feedback? Here are some underlying questions to ask ourselves before we seek beta readers:
- Is Our Book Ready? We’ll waste beta readers’ time if our book is not the best it can be when we seek feedback. And once we’ve wasted their time, they’ll not likely want to help us anymore. We honor them by giving them our best work.
- Are We Ready to Receive Feedback? Some writers don’t want truly honest feedback. If we don’t want to hear the truth, then we shouldn’t ask beta readers for feedback. Yes, we all like to hear our writing is brilliant and that we shouldn’t change a thing, but that kind of feedback won’t make our book better. Remember, no writing will ever be perfect; it could always be better.
- Will It Be Simultaneous or Sequential? Some writers work with one beta reader, make changes, and then look for a second one. Others work with multiple beta readers at the same time. The benefit of this is faster feedback; the risk is seeing the same mistakes pointed out by multiple readers. This is frustrating; I know from experience.
- What Will We Offer Them? As covered last week in “Setting Expectations with Beta Readers,” there are multiple options to consider: a heartfelt “thank you,” a gift, an autographed copy of the book, recognition in the acknowledgments page, some quid pro quo, or financial compensation.
- Have Expectations Been Discussed and Agreed Upon? Setting expectations reduces the chance of frustration for both parties. While this doesn’t need to be a contract (unless money is changing hands), expectations should be written down.
Once we honestly answer these questions and have our book in the best possible shape, then we’re ready to embark on the exciting road of beta readers.
Next week, we’ll wrap up this series discussing where to find beta readers.
We’ve talked about the importance of beta readers and what to look for in a beta reader, now let’s consider what we should expect from beta readers. Discussing these items ahead of time will avoid frustration later.
- Timeframe: How quickly can beta readers give feedback? While we generally want to hear back right away, this is seldom realistic, so agreeing to the turnaround time in advance sets reasonable expectations.
- Format: How do we want to receive feedback? Options include a verbal overview, a written critique, a printed copy marked up, or Word notations. For Word notations, there are two main options: using the comment feature or making edits using the “track changes” option. We need to pick the method that works for our beta readers and is usable to us.
- Scope: Will we give beta readers the completed work or provide it incrementally? Some beta readers may want to see the full book at once, while that would overwhelm others. From a writer standpoint, do we want to use feedback of the beginning of the book to inform our writing for the rest of it?
- Focus: What aspects of our writing do we want beta readers to address? A frank discussion of their strengths and weaknesses is essential. For example, I’m weak in the grammar department but excel in other areas. We need to tap beta readers whose skills align with our needs.
- Detail: Will feedback from beta readers be an overview, a line-by-line critique, or something in between?
- Reward: Though we could pay our beta readers, that may not be necessary. For some, a heartfelt thanks or small gift is enough. Perhaps they’d enjoy an autographed copy with a nice note. Maybe we can thank them by name in the acknowledgement section. Another idea is to trade services with them; be imaginative.
Addressing these items ahead of time is essential in order to have a positive experience with beta readers. An email noting these expectations will remind both parties of what they agreed to do. If the compensation is monetary, a written contract is advisable.
Next week, we’ll talk about preparing ourselves to work with beta readers.
Last week we talked about the importance of beta readers to give feedback on our books. I hope you’re as sold on the idea as I am.
The next step is finding beta readers – not just any one but the right ones. If we pick a beta reader who isn’t a good match, they could do more harm than good, both for our book and for our career.
The ideal beta reader should:
- Be a Regular Reader: If they aren’t a regular reader, how can they provide usable feedback? While they don’t need to be voracious, they do need to read. Ask them how many books they’ve read in the past six months. Their answer will be enlightening.
- Speak the Truth (in Love): Beta readers who don’t want to hurt our feelings will tell us our book is perfect; they offer no value. Beta readers must commit to giving honest feedback but in a constructive way.
- Respect Our Writing Voice: If a beta reader wants to change our writing voice, they will only generate irritation for us and frustration for them and us. They must resist the urge to reword what we write.
- Know the Genre: Do they read and like our genre? If the answer is “no,” then they aren’t the right beta reader for our project.
- Like Our Premise: Beta readers need to have a positive predisposition for our topic or story at the onset. If a non-fiction book has a thesis they disagree with or a fiction book with a storyline that irritates them, they will likely struggle through the entire project.
- Be Committed: Will the beta reader finish the project? How long will they take? Too many people agree to being a beta reader but never follow through. See item seven.
- Have Beta Reader Experience: Everyone at one time has no experience, so our book may be his or her first one. However, the more experience they have, the better the chance the results will be good.
Next week, we’ll address setting expectations with beta readers.
The more people who provide feedback on our books the better. Of course, to be of benefit, this needs to happen before publication, when there is time to make changes. Although review by various types of editors (each pass focusing on different elements) is essential, basic feedback is first needed to work out the kinks, spot embarrassing errors, and correct deficiencies before handing it over to professionals. The more work we do before editors do theirs, the more they can do to improve it.
Once we do all we can ourselves, beta readers can give us critical feedback to make our book better before we move to the next step.
Beta readers can catch:
- Typos: We all make them, but we don’t always catch them.
- Spelling errors: Of course we always spell check our work; however, what about when we use the wrong word but spell it correctly?
- Repetition: We write over time and can easily repeat an idea. When we move sections around, sometimes they end up in the book twice.
- Logic blunders: Another set of eyes can take a fresh look at our logic.
- Continuity oversights: To make sense, things need to occur in a certain sequence; sometimes we’re too close to notice when our words are out of order.
- Bad writing habits: Every writer has a least one bad habit or less-than-ideal tendency, but it usually takes someone else to point them out.
While one beta reader won’t spot all these items, they will help us hone our work. Then we can tap a second person for another pass.
Beta readers help us become better writers and produce better work.
Next week: What to look for in a beta reader.