So you’ve finished your story! Congratulations. But wait, you’re not done yet! Don’t tell me you were going to send it right off without running it past even one beta reader…
What a beta reader is …
A beta reader is someone who enjoys reading the type of book you’ve written, and will give you useful feedback/criticism on your book. They don’t usually get paid – they do it for pleasure, and because they get to read your book for free (and before any of their friends!)
… and is not
A beta reader is NOT –
– a proofreader or professional editor. You cannot expect this level of feedback from them. They should tell you when something seems ‘wrong’ or jolts them out of the story, they’ll tell you if they didn’t like one of the main characters (this is a big reason for negative reviews of books, so don’t ignore these comments), and they might pick up some factual errors or typos. But they may need some gentle training even to do this much, and you cannot expect more.
– a member of your family or a personal friend. Those people are too inclined to be nice – or if they do point out the errors in your book, it’s much harder not to take it personally.
Where to find beta readers
Forums and book review sites are one of the best places to find people to read your book with a critical eye. On sites like Goodreads, for example, you’ll find groups dedicated to reading in certain genres. Match your book with one of these groups, make a polite and friendly post and you may well find somebody willing to read it.
Note: it’s important to tell them NOT to review it on Goodreads at this stage, because it is not published. It’s best not to tell them the title or show the cover, so they are less likely to add it to the Goodreads site. You don’t want that to happen, or publishers will think it’s already been published and reject it automatically.
The truth can hurt!
Readers will mostly not hold back on their thoughts about the book to take account of your feelings. They don’t realize how much it hurts to have your work torn to pieces. You may not realize either, until it happens for the first time! You need a tough skin to handle much of the feedback you will get.
Keep in mind however bad it is, it’s better to hear it privately than have it appear as a review on Goodreads or Amazon after publication. Or if you’re planning to submit to publishers, then it’s better to have this chance to put things right before you do that.
Sometimes, of course, the reader will be wrong about something in your book. They are only one person with one opinion. On the other hand, if they are confused about something in your story, maybe you could make it clearer.
However hurtful the criticism is, never, never, send angry or defensive replies to the reader. They are doing you a favor – whether it feels that way or not!
Instead, take a day or two to cool off, and then look again at what they wrote. There are probably at least a couple points in there that you could use to improve your story.
Beta readers or crit partners?
If you’re struggling to connect with readers, you might want to look for a crit partner instead – or as well! Crit partners are other writers, usually in your genre or a close genre, who will give feedback on your book in return for you doing the same for them.
Other writers are often (not always) more sensitive to your feelings, because they have the same experience themselves.
Generally, there’s no need to worry about them stealing your story – most writers have way more stories in their heads than they have time to write! But clearly it’s good to find somebody you can trust. Writers conferences or writing groups in your home town are good places to meet up with other beginning writers.