Choosing the Perfect Beta Readers

Finding Beta Readers for your manuscript is no easy task. For those of you who don’t know, this is the technical term for people who read a writer’s work before it’s published and give feedback (a book guinea pig of sorts). Editors can be used in a similar way, but Beta Readers are usually free of charge as they are mostly friends of the writer.

When I first handed out my book, I was honestly terrified. This was basically the first time my work had been viewed critically by eyes other than my own (and a few select family members). What if I had been kidding myself about this whole writing thing? Did my story really have the potential I thought it did? What if my book was actually horrible? These questions and many more filled my brain as I handed over the cumulation of hundreds of hours of work in a single stack of pages.

In the end, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be (I’ve learned it rarely ever is). They enjoyed the book and gave valuable, insightful feedback which helped me made the proper changes. This is positive experience can mostly be attributed to the fact that they are amazing people (props to you guys), but it’s partly because I chose them with the book in mind.I knew that they would know what I wanted my book to be and would be able to give feedback in order to work toward that goal.

Finding Beta Readers that work with your style of work and fit what you’re looking can be difficult. Here are some tips to keep in mind when it’s time to get to the exciting stage in the writing process that includes finding Beta Readers!

  1. It’s important to keep the genre of your book in mind when you begin your search. If you’re writing a realistic fiction romance, it would be smart to have Beta Readers that are familiar with the genre. This way they can make sure you’re avoiding any cliches or predictable parts that might sneak their way into your writing. It’s okay to have Readers whose favorite genre isn’t the genre your work is in (you’re going to want to appeal to as many types of readers as possible) but remember to keep this in mind when you’re reading their comments.
  2. Think about your possible Beta Readers’ personalities. Much as we love basking in compliments, that’s not the point of assigning someone to read your WIP manuscript. They shouldn’t be afraid to compliment your work (good writing deserves praise). But at the same time, they shouldn’t be afraid to give constructive criticism as well. If you have a person in mind who loves everything they read, maybe this person isn’t the best choice for you. You should want to know what they didn’t like about the book as much — or even more so — than what they did like.
  3. Be careful with using family and close friends. It can be really exciting and nerve-wracking to give a family member your book for the first time. Don’t get me wrong — there are plenty of people that are able to give a good critique of a work, even if it is was created by someone close to them. There are some, though, that might be afraid of offending you if they don’t give you heaps of praise. If you are using family or a good friend as a Beta Reader, it’s a smart idea of clarifying that their job is not to give compliments galore. You’re looking for the parts of your work that need cleaning up, so giving criticism is a good thing.
  4. Finally, keep track of the number of Readers you have planned. Some people only use one or two solid Beta Readers and get enough feedback from them alone to write their book. For me, I put my manuscripts through many levels or critique before I’m satisfied. My work ends up changing so much that Person 3 is reading an insanely different book than Person 1 is. Things that were problems may have been fixed, but in the process, new problems may have been unearthed. So having a few Beta Readers in mind is a good thing. At the same time, you don’t want to have too many “cooks in the kitchen,” so to speak. Too many opinions can get confusing. It’s a delicate balance of having just enough critique that you’re able to take it all into consideration without getting overwhelmed or feeling like you need to get more feedback.

If you’re ready to use this information, congratulations! You’ve completed one of the most difficult parts of the writing process: getting all those tangled thoughts onto paper. Now it’s time to send your story into the world for the first time. Who knows where it’ll end up?

Keep working hard, writers! I believe in you. 🙂

— J. L. Willow

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