Publishing your book isn’t just a matter of writing a manuscript, getting it edited and proofread, printing and publishing, and then doing the talk-show circuit to promote it. There are many important steps in between. One of these is the beta read. We spoke with Crystal Watanabe about how to choose your beta reader on The Empowered Author Podcast.
Crystal is the owner and lead editor of Pikko’s House, which provides editorial services for mainly independent fiction and creative nonfiction authors. These services include manuscript critique, different kinds of editing, proofreading, and, of course, beta reading. Since 2014, Pikko’s House has provided editorial services to hundreds of authors on more than 900 projects.
Listen to the podcast episode with Crystal (and please consider liking, subscribing, and reviewing our podcast. It helps other authors find out if the podcast might be right for them.)
What is a beta reader?
A beta reader reads your manuscript and gives you, essentially, an advanced review of your book. This way, you can use their feedback to see whether you’re hitting the right notes, whether there are any problematic areas in your manuscript, and whether you’re doing what you intend to do with your writing.
They’re just there to point out things that work and things that don’t. They’re not there to develop your book or help you fix it. While a good beta reader may also be an editor, that’s not the role they’re playing with your book. It’s just about the high-level feedback—you decide what to do with it and whether you want or need another editor.
What to look for when you choose your beta reader
Before you choose your beta reader, or beta readers (plural), it’s helpful to understand the different kinds of beta reader so you can make the right choice for your goals. Crystal puts beta readers into three camps:
- Beta readers who are also trained editors.
- Fellow writers and authors.
- Someone who simply reads books like yours.
The kind of beta reader you choose depends on your goals, needs, and expectations. Crystal thinks it’s really important to find someone who is familiar with the genre or category. If they’re a reader only, you want to be sure they read books in your market. The reason for this is that someone who doesn’t read in the genre your book is in might not give you relevant feedback.
When you choose your beta reader, you also need to decide whether you want a free beta reader or a paid, professional one. Free beta readers have the disadvantage of potentially taking months to give you their feedback or not coming back to you at all. With paid beta reading, you’re basically guaranteed feedback within a set timeframe.
Crystal says that many authors use a combination of free and paid beta readers. The number of beta readers you need depends on your personal preference and the quality of the feedback you’re getting.
Beta reading versus manuscript critique
Crystal explains that a beta reader will come back and say, “I didn’t like this; I liked this. This is what I thought worked. This is where I thought it was lagging or lacking and needs more work.” Usually, their written report on your book will be between two and five pages.
A manuscript critique, or assessment, gives you similar feedback but usually in much more detail. It will also give you advice on how to fix the issues in the book. When someone gives you a manuscript critique, they take a more analytical approach. So, they’ll look at aspects like your title, your structure, your tone, and issues like the overuse of adverbs. Their report will usually be between eight and fifteen pages.
How much information should you give your beta reader?
Once you choose your beta reader, you’ll next want to consider what and how much information you provide them at the start.
- You can give them just the manuscript to read and see what feedback they come back with.
- You can ask them specific questions to guide the feedback you’ll get.
If you choose a beta reader that is a paid professional beta reader, you might want to consider not giving them a list of questions until after they’ve read your manuscript. Otherwise you risk creating a bias and influencing the beta reader to miss something that might be important—and something you didn’t even know you needed.
If you choose a beta reader that’s free, including a fellow writer or author, the same bias risk exists except you’ll increase your chances of getting the kind of feedback you’re looking for.
Do you need to send your beta reader a perfect manuscript?
Crystal believes that the manuscript you send to your beta reader should be as clean as possible. That doesn’t necessarily mean proofread or even copy-edited. Send the manuscript at the stage where you feel the feedback would be most useful.
That said, if you send a raw manuscript that hasn’t gone through developmental editing or critiquing but is still only a first or second draft, the first reader you send the manuscript to isn’t a beta reader, it’s an alpha reader. Crystal recommends that novice writers consider an alpha reader. Your alpha reader will help you determine what the potential of the book is and whether there’s a story worth telling. Essentially, you can use an alpha reader’s feedback to decide whether or not to continue with the project.
How to deal with your beta reader’s feedback
Getting feedback from your beta reader doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use that feedback to make changes to your manuscript. People all react differently to what they’re reading, so their feedback is never completely neutral. You need to be able to discern whether their feedback is something that may improve the quality of your book or whether it’s just their personal preference.
If you disagree with your beta reader’s feedback, it’s important to keep in mind that maybe they just weren’t the right person for your book. However, if several beta readers give similar feedback, they might be pointing out an issue that you need to consider. After all, if your beta readers have a certain response to your book, there’s a good chance that your reading public may have a similar response once your book has been published.
How did you choose your beta reader?
We’d love to have you share your experience choosing and working with beta readers. Has it been helpful? Any additional tips for authors on how to choose the right beta reader? Let us know in the comments below.