Your friends and family are going to be surprised at first that your writing came from you, shocked that someone they know wrote your manuscript because it turned out to be really good! Even when the shock subsides, they will think that your writing and world is great, and while they can be very helpful in reading, you need a beta that isn’t afraid to rip you to shreds, and also isn’t free. You will constantly hear that you need an editor and cover designer at bare minimum, and beta readers are just as important in my experience, as a first-time author.
Friends who are familiar with your genre are an absolute help, but they will not be as rough as someone who doesn’t personally know you. Absolutely have friends read your work, and look for a beta reader in your genre too!
Getting the manuscript ready for a beta. Finish your manuscript completely. No half-finished chapters, and no stones unturned. Edit on your computer, print out a hard copy and edit that, and then read over your hard-copy edit’s complete changes on your computer once more. Don’t give a beta your first draft. If your draft is bad, a beta might not finish it, which is rare, but it happens. A beta can’t give you plot feedback if your plot is bad. They have to work with what you give them. (See my manuscript check list here)
Finding a beta. I have to admit that I have had horrible luck with everyday people-strangers reviewing or beta-reading my work on Goodreads. The same thing happened to me on Figment, in which people promised they would get around to reading, I’d follow up two months later, and then I would never hear from them again. Of course, if they didn’t want to finish reading, they could have told me it wasn’t their cup of tea, but of course they don’t with a TBR list that high. They won’t. People who have heard nothing about you aren’t invested and aren’t reliable, and you can’t tell me that you would be either (unless you’re a beta). It was clearly time for me to contract a beta reader with experience. Your professional services aren’t just to appear polished—they are time savers. Please use professional services as time savers. That is precisely why you need a professional beta reader.
The perks of a professional beta reader:
- They work hard. They’re getting monetary compensation so they really want to do a great job.
- They go line by line. This isn’t someone who critiques your story in a giant blob. They are taking notes as they go. While they don’t edit, they will find the words your brain skipped over.
- They can save you money on editing services in the long run. When your manuscript gets to an editor looking polished already, this can save you on a word-by-word fee when you are an Indie contracting editing.
I asked my own reliable beta reader, Keri of Beta Bliss, some questions about her line of work.
Interview with the Beta Reader
By Romarin Demetri
Q: How did you get started in the world of beta reading?
A: It was truthfully a happy accident. I had never even heard of beta reading. A friend of mine asked me to read her MS, she printed out a hard copy, I grabbed a red pen and I found myself filling the margins with suggestions, clarification notes, typos and grammatical errors, my gut reactions…I suddenly felt like this was what I was born to do. I mean, how many other people have at least half of the books on their bookshelves with post-its sticking out documenting errors that were never caught? It was something I was subconsciously doing since I was a teenager. After reading her MS I came across a beta reading group on Goodreads. Authors seeking people like me?! I jumped in head first and never looked back.
Q: What genres do you beta read for?
A: It didn’t take long for me to realize that it is SO important to only beta genre’s I personally enjoy. How can I give constructive feedback on a novel that I wouldn’t enjoy, no matter how well it was written? My preferred genres are: Fiction, Young Adult, New Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Dystopian, Magical, Fairy Tale, Fairy Tale Retelling / Adaptations, Romance, Comedy, Middle Aged Fiction and Chick Lit.
Q: What is the biggest misconception you hear about beta readers?
A: It would probably be a tie between beta’s not being needed if you are hiring a professional editor and that we are all flakes. Beta readers are not editors. While we can catch many things that editors themselves look for we also comment on plot, character development, pacing, continuity issues, overall likability and believability. We point out repetitiveness, awkward phrasing and plot holes. We are not flakes, we’re professionals. It’s the free beta readers who are questionable, because they have no commitment to you. Beta reading is very detailed and time consuming, hiring someone makes them accountable to you and your work, thus eliminating the “flake” factor.
Q: What is the biggest advantage of hiring a beta reader?
A: We give you direct, honest and objective feedback – what works, what doesn’t work, and what needs improvement. It is my job to give you advice on how to achieve the desired response from your readers. The best betas are end users. Readers. Not writers, friends or family members. They read your work because they love to read. Other writers, your family and friends are not the typical end user. They may have great insights, but writers tend to offer information on how your writing differs from their own. Friends and family are more likely to focus on sparing your feelings rather than give you their honest opinions. With a true end user you are paying for professional honesty.
Q: How can authors get ready to send their manuscript in for beta reading to get the most out of the experience?
Please for the love of all things holy to you, read your own MS cover to cover before sending it. Don’t expect anyone to want to read it if you don’t want to. Make sure that it is formatted. There is nothing worse than receiving 100,000 words with no chapters, paragraphs or breaks. If there are specifics you are interested in getting feedback on go ahead and ask at the start. Lastly, please for your beta’s sanity at least correct the glaring mistakes that MS Word has put little squiggly lines under! I say this with love ❤
Q: What is the one story device or pet peeve in writing that irks you to no end?
A: It’s got to be repetitiveness. It could be using the same word too many times or it could be describing something the same way every time…you are creative individuals, show me that. If his eyes “sparkle like stars in the night sky” more than once, I might gag. They can shimmer like the moon reflecting off the water, they can be as deep as the ocean, they can be as expansive as the universe but they can’t be described the same way twice. Capiche?
Q: What is most rewarding about beta reading?
A: I think the cliché response would be that I help the author reach a better final product, that I get to be part of that happening, the epic final result. While that is pretty great, the truth is I love the friendships it forms, the back and forth, the conversations of how to tackle something not quite right and the feeling that my unique, obsessive, detailed character traits are utilized and appreciated. If you are lucky enough to have found a great beta reader, if they are instrumental in your process don’t forget to thank them personally and in the acknowledgement section of your book. We are rare, scarce as hens’ teeth, like finding a needle in a haystack or an honest man in congress. If you don’t already have a great beta, you can find me at betabliss.wordpress.com or on twitter @betabliss
Thank you for sharing, Keri!
If you enjoyed my Dear Author post, please add my book to your amazon wish list so it shows up in Amazon emails to current subscribers! It’s free to you, and a huge help to me! (and only takes 3 clicks!)