Let’s talk about Beta’s

Not fish.

Beta Readers! An authors best friend! I freaking love beta’s. This post will be ALL ABOUT BETA’S! Here we go!

What is a Beta Reader??

A beta reader is usually an unpaid test reader of an unreleased work of literature or other writing, who gives feedback from the point of view of an average reader to the author. A beta reader is not a professional and can therefore provide advice and comments in the opinions of an average reader.

Wikipedia

Why do you need them?

Beta readers are important because they do not love your work as much as you do. This means they often see context issues that you didn’t notice because you were blinded by love. They are voluntary soldiers in your army of editing geniuses. They are average citizens who only understand being entertained by books, but not necessarily about writing them (more about this later). They love you, but understand that you are not perfect and are happy to point out your flaws.

For me, beta’s are the door between me and my editor. I typically do edits on my own, creating my 2nd draft. After getting notes back from beta’s, I then create the 3rd draft and send that to my editor. Without this 3rd draft, I’d be KILLING myself trying to get this manuscript ready for my editor… Thank god for willing readers.

Who can be your beta reader?

  • Not your mom
  • Siblings are okay
  • Friends
  • Co-workers
  • Not your mom
  • Twitter and Facebook friends!
  • Fans, review teams and readers of your previously released work
  • Paid readers (in limited use, more on this later)
  • Not your mom!

Lemme cover author friends as betas, real quick:

I don’t have an issue sharing with author friends. Most of my betas can write well. They know a lot about reading and writing so it seems like it would be a win win, HOWEVER, you have to pick wisely. If your author friend – beta reader is asking you to make structural changes that do not fit your story, they might be writing the story for you in their own head…

Beta readers are intended to respond to the work they are reading, not to suggest new work or major changes. In some cases, you may need to make some BIG changes, sure, but not to the detriment of your personal creativity.

Something that might help is to pick an author friend who doesn’t write your genre. One of my best best writer friends writes MG, YA Fantasy. I write crime fiction. She is a big fan of crime fiction, but she doesn’t write it. This way she reads my work as a reader with authors knowledge but doesn’t try to write the story for me.

A few other important things to consider with beta’s:

  1. Hey, just because you have someone in mind, doesn’t mean they should or can read for you. If you notice some hesitation in their response to read for you, you probably shouldn’t use them. You want someone who is dedicated to the cause.
  2. Warn people ALL about your book before giving it to them. For instance, tell them the length, the genre, if there is any sex, gore, drugs or alcohol use, and any other thing that might cause them to dislike the story or feel uncomfortable. Make sure they understand and agree to read under these conditions beforehand.
  3. I said this before and I’ll say it again, don’t use your mom! This also goes for dads and aunts who like to pinch your cheeks. You need someone who can kick your ass! Not someone who thinks you are perfect! If you mom can kick your ass then fine, you can use her.
  4. Set a time limit for you readers. Otherwise, who knows when they will finish.
  5. Limit yourself to 2 – 5 beta readers. Some people might disagree with me, but taking the notes from 10 people on 250 pages or more can be daunting.

Protecting your gold:

My copyright post already released so I will only breeze over some of the “protection” ideas I have. In order to protect your writing from evil, stealing beta readers! Joking! Here are a few things you can do to protect your work, in general:

  • Enter into a brief contract with your beta readers.
  • Make much of your communication about the task via email.
  • I don’t do this but, of course you can email the manuscript to readers.
  • Make sure you include your name and the name of your manuscript in all communication when possible.
  • Save images or documents from social media that have time stamps in order to prove your ownership.
  • Check out my post for more details on all of this.

Beta forms!

Don’t send your readers in, all flippy floppy. When you send or hand them the manuscript, give them some tools. This can only help you in the long run. In my first beta reader experience, I got almost no usable feedback. “It’s a good story, I liked it. There are some typos but you’re getting it edited right?” This was the extent of what I got…

A beta form can be very simple or complex. You can find them by googling or you can make your own based on your needs. Below are a few clips of the form I created. It’s not fully formatted yet but this is the idea.

Page one includes some instructions and a few simple “circle here” prompts.
These two images are the questions that I want a written response for.

Something like this guides the reader. As I said, it can be simple or complex. Up to you. It’s all about what you want and need from the readers.

How to use the betas notes:

Now you have four beta forms back and your manuscript with notes. Now what?

  1. Read all the beta forms and take notes. You may notice some patterns.
  2. Analyze all the things the readers said. Don’t take it personal but do take it seriously.
  3. Study and understand the notes and what the readers are trying to tell you DEEPLY.
  4. At this point, I usually have a print out of my manuscript on hand, unmarked, that I can begin to add notes to.
  5. Here I would mark up my own copy of the MS with any important changes readers pointed out that I want to use.
  6. If your MS is on the computer only, you can use the comment feature to add notes.
  7. DO NOT make changes yet!! Save your drafts…
  8. Analyze all the notes from within the manuscripts next.
  9. This will take some time but don’t rush! Check every single page for notes.
  10. Once you have picked up on those patterns and found things you want to change, add more notes to your copy of the MS.
  11. Now, you can go ahead and create your third draft.

After my third draft, it’s off to the editor!

Afterwards…

Praise your betas’ and lavish them with gifts! A cool, cheap way to thank them:

  • Amazon gift card – $15 is more than enough for a Kindle book or two.
  • A gift card to their favorite store, if you know it.
  • Free books – yours or someone else’s.
  • Cool, creative bookmarks – Try Etsy.
  • Cool, creative pens or pencils – Same as above.
  • Reader or writer mugs.
  • A thank you in your book when it releases!

This is another reason you should stick to 5 or fewer beta’s. You should REALLY thank them for putting up with your crap.

Alright folks! What have I missed?? Comment below if you have more tips or questions and I’ll be happy to chat!

Tiffany

Thank you for reading.

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One Comment

  1. lpring

    Coincidentally I’m just about to contact a regular Beta reader with my new book. Thanks for the advice on the types of feedback we can ask for in particular. I never seem able to get that right.

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