Writing and Publishing

Setting Expectations With 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’s s standpoint, do we want to use the feedback from 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 acknowledgment 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.

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Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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