You know that saying ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’?
It’s probably a bit like that with you and your book.
You’re so close to it, it’s very hard to see the objective viewpoint.
But there are people who can help you with this – they’re called beta readers.
Beta readers are ‘test’ readers for your story. They’re unpaid and work as volunteers rather than ‘professionals’.
You can ask them to read your manuscript and give you their viewpoint as an average consumer of your work.
They’ll tell you if they found the story believable, if the structure of the story made for a comfortable read, if there was anything that confused them, and whether they were satisfied with the ending. If you’d like them to pick up any spelling or grammatical errors, you can ask them to look out for these too.
Beta readers’ feedback is a good benchmark to have before you publish to help gauge what the reaction will be from paying readers.
It’s important to note that beta readers are not professionally trained, so they are not just duplicating the job of an editor. The role of a beta reader is to judge your book from the position of a potential reader who will simply pick your book off a shelf.
Comments from beta readers can make you see something from a new perspective, and understand how someone brand new to your story will interpret it.
In the event you have consistent negative feedback about any aspect of your story, you have the opportunity to make changes before you publish your book. Hopefully pre-empting any unfavourable feedback you would have received from paying readers, which may inadvertently affect sales.
So, that’s what beta readers are, and how they’re useful, but how do you find them?
Firstly, you need to know that you’ll need more that one. The idea is to see if the feedback from several beta readers consistently pin-points particular parts of the story. Try to enlist four or five beta readers to really get a good idea of the feedback coming through.
If you go with more than about five, you’ll have so much feedback it becomes a bit mind-boggling.
And remember, everyone will have an opinion about the story, and you may get five different opinions from five different beta readers.
But the key things you are looking for are issues which your beta readers have commented on across the board. You’ll never be able to incorporate everyone’s feedback, and you’ll lose the essence of your story if you try to.
Only consider making changes if you are repeatedly getting the same comments from your beta readers.
So how can you find beta readers?
You need to firstly consider the demographic of the people you want to enlist.
They need to be the target demographic that your book is aimed at, people that are prolific readers and have knowledge and experience of the world of books. It’s no good asking people to become your beta readers if they never read fiction, or they hate the particular genre you write in.
It’s also best to avoid asking people you know to become a beta reader. Yes, ask them to read your manuscript if you like, but the close connection between you means that people often won’t give you honest feedback for fear or hurting your feelings or damaging your personal relationship.
To get an honest assessment of your work, it’s best to ask someone you don’t know personally.
In this day and age, the best place to start to find beta readers is by using the internet and social media.
If you connect with fans, readers and other writers through your own social media, then you could consider asking some ‘top fans’ to become beta readers for your new work.
Whoever your beta readers are, you need to have built a connection with them to understand if they’re the right type of people to critique your story. There are probably people you’re already connected with springing to mind right now as you read this article!
Search Facebook for writers’ groups and you’ll be able to find many other like-minded people who’ll be willing to beta read for you. In exchange you can return the favour for them.
Goodreads is a whole community of writers and readers, and many writers actively ask for reviews and feedback on their work. This is a great place to start to find people willing to become a beta reader for you.
Likewise, you probably have a network of writers around you, whether that’s writer friends, or a writer’s group you belong to. Again, if you offer to return the favour, you’re likely to be able to engage some beta readers from these groups.
Your personal friends, family and colleagues may also know people who’d be willing to read for you. Perhaps teachers, bloggers, or anyone who particularly likes the genre you write in.
Just keep to the ‘one generation removed’ bit, so you’re not asking your actual family and friends, for the reasons we’ve already stated.
In summary, the truth about how to find beta readers may not be the answer you were hoping for when you first dipped into this blogpost!
There isn’t necessarily a ‘quick-fix’ way to find beta readers. It will take some time, some research, a bit of networking, and some asking and answering of questions before you can identify people appropriate to become your beta readers. And you will likely have to trade some of your own time or expertise in return.
However, don’t be put off by this. It is 100% worth it to invest in this final stage of polishing your manuscript. This gives you the opportunity to put things right with your story BEFORE you publish, and before those critiques become negative Amazon reviews permanently associated with your book.
Do you have any more tips for finding beta readers? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
We’re Peter and Caroline O’Connor. Creating beautiful book cover designs for authors all over the world is our passion. Every author should be able to benefit from a beautiful book cover design (not just the lucky few who get signed by a big publisher). We design, podcast, and coach authors full-time so we understand your struggles. Currently accepting new clients.