Don’t you just love that wonderful feeling of finishing your manuscript? The characters have been living with you for months. You thought you’d never get that scene right. You changed the build up to the ending, yet again. Then suddenly it all falls into place and your journey is ended.
Well, actually, it’s just starting. You love your story. But will anyone else? Is it really as good as you hoped, as you aimed for? Perhaps no one will love the hero. What if readers feel antagonistic toward the heroine? Did you overlook any loose ends?
Whilst your own final read through can allay some of your concerns, there is nothing like having a fresh pair of eyes to reassure, or help, you. And that’s where a beta reader can be invaluable.
Beta readers are generally non-professional readers who will read a manuscript following initial completion and prior to publication. They may comment on grammatical errors, anomalies in the plot, a way to improve the story, or any combination of some or all of these issues. They are that fresh pair of eyes.
I think a lot of authors use betas, and I find them invaluable. But they’re not for everyone. When I approached an author friend to see if she used them, she said, “Definitely not.” She didn’t want different opinions on her work and was happy to work only with her editor. So it’s personal preference. That said, whether you chose to use betas or not, I strongly advocate any writer to have their work independently edited, even if you intend to self-publish. It will add polish to your manuscript, and it’s amazing what a good editor will find, no matter how well you think you have written your story.
But back to betas. There are pros and cons to using them and there needs to be the inevitable caveats. So here are my thoughts and recommendations.
1. Ask a friend or family member.
We all know the disadvantage of asking someone you know to provide feedback on your book. The chances are they will not tell you that they hate it, or that they think it’s badly written. But they will no doubt give encouragement and if you are at the early stages of your writing adventure, that is no bad thing. It’s great. Plus they are easier to find, in general.
2. Ask someone from a reading group.
They will have a love of books, and an experience of an array of writing styles, plots and characterisations. They will also be accustomed to hearing differing views. This could be your own opinion if you don’t agree with everything they say. Remember this is your story—you own it. But also remember the beta reader is being kind enough to read your manuscript. It takes time and time is precious.
3. Make sure it’s someone who likes the genre you write under.
I see little point in asking someone who is an avid crime reader to read a medieval romance. It may not be a pleasant experience for anyone.
4. Ask someone from a writing group.
This is particularly useful if you feel you need help with grammar or flow of the story. These people should be able to spot errors and suggest ways to improve a certain narrative if necessary. But a note of caution. These people can also be too critical. Many may never have finished their own manuscript for that reason. You are writing a story, not an essay.
5. Create a private group on your Facebook page.
As you create an identity for yourself as an author, it is always good to have a Facebook “business” page, in addition to your personal page. Readers will “like” you page and hopefully join in any discussions generated. This will have its own challenges but that discussion is for another day… Back to beta readers. Try inviting people to join a private group to beta read your drafts. This is something I am considering, the aim being to reach a mix of people including some you don’t know, but knowing that they enjoy your genre. If you take this option up, let me know how you get on and we can exchange notes J
6. Consider members of other Facebook groups who do reviews.
I have included this category as it is a possibility that some readers, who normally read published books and submit reviews, may like to be a beta reader. I personally only put up my published book for review in these groups, but I guess it’s an option.
7. Ask a book blogger
I believe many would be happy to act as beta readers. These guys read books like we breathe air and you should get some great feedback. It may not always be what you want to hear, but if you choose to take their advice it could improve your writing.
8. Followers of a fanzine
These are publications produced by enthusiasts. So for example, if your story has some bearing to Star Trek, join their fanzine and connect with members who could become your beta reader. Fifty Shades started in a Twilight fanzine.
9. Consider any schemes run in organisations where you are a member.
I am a member of the Romantic Novelists Association in the UK and they run a New Writers Scheme (NWS). There is a fee for this and it goes much further than beta reading, with events and critique of your manuscript by an assigned reader. However it is only for first time writers. Once you’ve published a book it’s time to move on.
And now I guess it’s time for me to move on and wrap up. Remember, a beta reader is more than a reviewer. They should want to help you make your book even better. Of course, at the end of the day it is your book. You should be keen to accept any recommendations, or not be afraid to stick your own convictions if you choose to. In any event always remember to thank the readers, maybe gift them a copy of the final version of your book. After all, they have gifted you their time to read, make notes, and feedback to you.
Good luck with your writing and your route to final publication.