Craft Tips from the Editing Cave /pt4.
Updated: Sep 1, 2021
What is a beta reader?
In my Editing Cave posts, I use real-world editing issues that I've come across in my work - I never name names and I always reword examples to share any blushes (except my own - those I will shamelessly share!)
In my manuscript critique package I mention beta readers:
If you've done as much as you can with self-editing, and made the most of critique partners or beta readers, you might be ready for feedback on your full manuscript.
But what is a beta reader, what do they do, and where on earth do I find one?
Very simply, a beta reader is someone who reads your unpublished novel with a mind to offering you feedback to improve. That feedback could be anything from: 'I liked it' to a ten-page document with comments, improvement points, and style notes.
Beta readers themselves come in all shapes and sizes too - perhaps it's the child of your best friend, who happens to be the target reader age, it might be your Dad, it might be a published writer, or another professional who you've paid for the privilege.
In all these cases, what you need from a beta is their opinion - and this is key to choosing the best betas for your work.
Choosing a beta reader
Before you ask someone to read your work, I recommend asking yourself a few questions first:
Am I ready for criticism? In other words, be careful what you wish for - if you ask for tough love, will you be able to handle it if the comments are brutal? If this is your first time having someone read your words, be open - tell your reader that you're nervous. Ask them to be kind, but honest, and point out where you're doing well, not just what needs to be improved. Thick skin is great, but it's not something a lot of authors naturally possess. And that's fine.
What do I need from this feedback? Are there certain elements that you want the reader to focus on? For example, are the characters realistic, is the dialogue authentic, are there any concerning stereotypes, is it exciting? Sometimes it can be a good idea to lead your reader, in order to avoid a vague 'It was really good'. You might consider sending a list of questions for the reader to answer, such as which character did you like best, and why? Also, consider if you care about grammar and spelling. If not, say so, so your reader doesn't get distracted writing down all the times you misspelled becuase.
What will you do with the feedback? Are you going to action everything your beta recommends, and what will you do if two or more betas return conflicting feedback?
Where do I find a beta reader?
There are tons of people out there wanting to read your work! You just need to know where to find them. And if you're starting out as a writer this can seem tricky. But don't worry, we're not all in a secret club! In the kidlit community, there is amazing support (and betas) to be found in SCBWI (the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) as well as various other writerly organisations, such as WriteMentor, WritersHQ, and Jericho Writers. Use social media to 'meet' other writers, reach out and offer to be a beta reader. (Don't cold call people to read your work, build a relationship first - it's just polite!) See Children's Writers Group on Facebook. Ask friends and family (but expect more of the 'I liked it' type response ... or worse still, silence)
If you're writing non-fiction, reach out to someone in your field, again - you can connect via social media if you don't have personal links.
Finally, you can pay for beta reads. Organisations such as Fiverr offer a plethora of freelance beta readers at a cost. Do your due diligence when paying for an online service, however, and make sure you're getting what you need and what you're paying for.
Look out for future blogs on how to be a beta reader, help with using beta reader and critique partner feedback comments, and ... what a Critique Partner is!
Join me next time for more tips from the editing cave, and if you'd like entry to the cave, check out the services I offer: click below and say hello
From EmDashED Freelance Novel Editing