Beta Readers: Yay or Nay

Posted: June 15, 2011 in Writing

What is a beta reader and do I need one?

I’ve been hearing a lot about beta readers lately, which got me wondering if I needed one (or more). First off, what is a beta reader? From what I gather, it’s basically someone who takes your book for a test drive and gives you feedback before you officially launch your book for publication. It sounds like a good idea, but I’m still up in the air with whether or not recruiting beta readers is for me. How should I select my beta readers? How many beta readers should I have? My book has technically already been published and I’m polishing it so I can have it republished and available for sale on the Kindle. Should I utilize beta readers in this case? If so, at what point?

I’m about 60 percent complete with editing and polishing “Pursuit of a Dream” and thought about seeking out a few beta readers among my network of writer friends. I have no idea where to begin and I’m not sure if now is a good time to have beta readers test drive the first half of my book and then the second half later or what. So, with all of those questions going through my mind, I decided to post this on my site and see what my fellow writers suggest.

What do you suggest?

I calling out to my fellow writer peeps out there and asking for your help in guiding me in the right direction. If you have in the past or are currently using beta readers as part of your publishing process, please let me know how you felt the process went. How did using a beta reader help you? How did you go about finding a beta reader(s)? And last, but not least, did you send them the entire manuscript upfront or did you feed it to them in pieces?

While I do not have a goal of writing for a living, I do want to produce quality work when I’m writing. I know I still have a lot to learn, and I really don’t have an unbiased group that can trust to honestly judge my work. My closest friends and family will, of course, tell me that my book was great; they loved it. One honestly told me that while he thought the writing was good, he just couldn’t get into the story. I enjoyed writing “Pursuit of a Dream” and I hope others will enjoy reading it, too. But before I continue writing “Book 2”, I want to make sure I’m going in the right direction. So, the beta reading process may or may not be the answer.

Would you be interested in beta reading “Pursuit of a Dream”?

That’s where my network of reading/writing friends comes in. Assuming I decide to have some beta readers take “Pursuit of a Dream” out for a test drive, would you be interested? If so, let me know. I’m really interested in getting some honest feedback on my book to help me improve my writing and to gauge what’s working and what needs a tune up. And don’t worry, I have pretty thick “shark” skin. I believe any constructive criticism (good or bad) is healthy for a writer.

I appreciate any guidance, suggestions, advice and general comments regarding the beta reading process. Thanks for visiting my site and I look forward to hearing from you!

Comments
  1. Thank you all for the great feedback about beta reading. You’ve been very helpful!

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  2. The tricky thing about beta readers is, you need somebody you can trust. They need to be fairly fluent readers as well, but they need to be reading material that is somewhat similar to what you wrote. A reader who devours harlequin romances, for example, might not be too helpful if you’ve written a thriller. You also want somebody who is detached enough to tell you the truth without worrying about whether or not they hurt your feelings. That’s why it’s hard to get good feedback from friends and family members, unless you’ve got the kind of friends and family members who will tell you the blunt truth no matter how much it hurts–and then you’ve got to worry about whether they’re making up problems just to piss on your parade. Also, the wrong beta reader will be of very little help and may even stunt your writing by offering the wrong advice if they’re not proficient enough with storytelling to understand what elements make up a good story. It’s a delicate balance. Personally, I’d rather have no beta reader than the wrong beta reader.

    I cut my teeth writing over at ChristianWriters.com, posting in the workshops. The good thing about their workshops is, you have to be active in the community before you can access the workshops and you have to critique two other works before you can post your own work. The bad part is, the feedback you receive could be golden or it could be cut and paste statements like “I liked it” or “can’t wait to read more”. What I’ve found is, if you post something and it’s got a lot of views but not a lot of responses, people lost interest quick. So you have to understand that no feedback is still feedback. And if you got a lot of feedback along the lines of the cookie cutter examples above, then they liked it but they aren’t able diagnose if any problems exist. You want that one out of ten feedback that’s detailed, honest, and explains what does and doesn’t work and why. This isn’t quite a beta reading process, but it was helpful for me on a chapter-by-chapter basis. Often, you can find big picture problems with your writing and/or story in those early chapters and apply what you learned to the rest of the book, and future writing moving forward.

    Another benefit of online workshops is you can find people who will be interested in your story and if they’re giving you the feedback you need, you can approach them about beta reading the entire manuscript.

    Aside from all that, you do want to limit the number of beta readers to a handful at most, and keep in mind that you are not obligated to comply with every suggestion they make. Just remember the adage, too many cooks in the kitchen spoils the pot.

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    • Thank you for such a detailed response, William. You’ve made some very helpful points, particularly about genre and about finding the right beta reader. I agree that I’d rather have no beta reader than the wrong beta reader. So, finding the right beta reader is going to be a challenge as expected.

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  3. tmsouders says:

    I think a beta reader is really important, especially if you’re in the beginning of your career and not an old pro. I had a friend of mine, super smart, great writer, well educated, read one of my novels–I thought it was the finished polished copy, boy was I wrong. She was very nice about it, but basically told me what I had was a rough draft and pointed out the things that were working in the book, and the things that weren’t. At first, I couldn’t see what she did. I didn’t get it. But after having set the manuscript aside and moving onto writing a new novel, I have gone back to it and realized that she was totally right. I’m now working on a ton of rewrites, which, while not fun, will make my novel ten times stronger. I recommend it.

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    • When I published “Pursuit of a Dream” back in 2004, I had initially done so just to have a bound copy of my story for my bookshelf. This why I just went with a POD publisher, but it didn’t get the copy-editing attention it deserved. So, naturally, I’m embarrassed to say that the print edition has a number of errors in it, but at a $20 list no one outside of close friends and family has read it anyway (488 pages).

      However, now that eBooks are becoming more and more popular, the idea of “re-releasing” my book for the Kindle is both exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. This time around, I plan on giving it more attention and so far I think it’s working out. Having a beta reader or two appears to be a good choice at this point.

      Thanks for your feedback, T.M.!

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  4. KD Sarge says:

    I put nothing out professionally without the help of betas. I’m very fortunate in that I have writing friends I’ve met on forums who were friends long before I asked them to beta. It’s quite a commitment, and a certain level of trust is required, so acquiring betas not as easy as writers might like.

    It helps, for the record, if you are willing to return the favor. Not to mention you can learn tons from the process! (Also, send chocolate if at all possible.)

    Here’s how I do it. I finish the manuscript, let it sit a while, then do a major edit. I see it as disrespectful to ask a beta to look at my first draft, full of mistakes I already know are there (or are easily findable/fixable). After that edit, I send it to betas–at least two, more if I can get them. I try to make sure it’s a good mix of styles. Some of my friends will comment line-by-line if they feel the urge, but won’t be any help with structure. Others are most excellent on whole-book issues, but less talkative overall. One friend would never criticize anything, but she’s AMAZING at spotting typos and inconsistencies and marking them with “did you mean to do this? I’m sure you did, but just in case…”

    When I get the beta comments back, I go through and look at them and think about them before going back to the manuscript. I try to reject no comments outright. I do a second major edit, and then if I can, send it out to a couple new betas, and hopefully at least one who already read it.

    I would say if you are absolutely confident in the structure and flow of your entire book, piece-by-piece could be fine, but be sure before throwing away one of the best things about a beta–someone who is reading your book all at once for the first time can spot the actual shape of a book far better than you who has been laboring in the guts can (YMMV, IMHO, and all that).

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    • Lots of great information, KD! Thank you very much for taking the time to share your experience with me (and others) on my site. This information helps me understand the beta reading process a little better and also gives me somewhat of a beta-reading road map.

      After reading your response (and others), I have decided to continue with my current task of editing/rewriting the entire story. I’m over half-way complete, so far. At that point, I’ll more than likely seek out a couple of writing friends to take the book for a test drive. I want “Pursuit of a Dream” to be as polished as possible before it hits the Kindle. There is, of course, the other task of formatting the document for e-publication… which is a whole other issue altogether. Baby steps! 🙂

      Cheers!

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  5. Having someone else read your work before you publish is critical. They see things we miss, like leaving a word out or using “lead” instead of “led.” You can supposedly find beta readers on writing forums. I tried that once. It was like querying; they wanted a synopsis and sample pages. Getting a rejection message from a beta reader made me laugh.

    Asking for beta readers on your blog is a great idea. Having two or three would be ideal, I think.

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    • Thanks for taking the time to read my post, Everett.

      Getting a rejection message from a beta reader and also requiring a synopsis and sample pages does seem a bit extreme. It’s a beta read, not a submission to land an agent for representation. 🙂 I kind of figured two or three beta readers would be adequate. I have a couple of friends that I might ask, but before I did, I wanted to get other writers’ opinions.

      I appreciate your feedback.

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  6. dcmcmillen says:

    My only beta reader is my mom. Which is crazy weird because I write erotica. Now that I am on the subject, my mom is an awesome editor and ego feeder but she sucks as a beta reader. Unfortunately, I do not know enough about beta reading recruitment and whatnot so… I guess what I am getting at, in a very roundabout way, is that you have posed some very good questions and I await the answers.

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    • Thanks for commenting. I think that is cool that your mom supports your work like that.

      The whole beta reading process is all Greek to me right now, so hopefully our fellow writerly peeps will be able to offer some guidance… hence, the reason for this post. Until then, it’s off to the “editing room” with the goal of having my book ready for life on the Kindle by the end of July.

      Cheers!

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