What You, the Author, Need to Give Them, Your Beta Readers
So, there you are. You’ve completed your first draft and are ready to hit the submit/publish button—but not so fast! You need to go through the faaaabulous process of revision, something all authors, whether trad or indie, must do. Your first draft is never ready for immediate publication. See my previous article here for suggestions of what to do once you’ve completed your first draft.
When you feel your draft is ready for another pair of eyes, it might be time to take on some beta readers. Beta readers can be paid or unpaid—whatever works for your budget—and should, in theory, act as a test audience for your manuscript. They should read, comment, and provide useful feedback on ways to make your book better from the perspective of actual readers.
Please note: beta readers are not your revision bitches. They do not need to proofread your draft. They do not need to write a ten-page analysis of the themes within your manuscript. If you’re a little unclear about what is and what isn’t required of a beta reader, you can check out the handy blog post I wrote on the subject here.
So, now that you know what is required of your betas, you need to take a good, hard look at your manuscript and decide what you need help with. Character development? Plot holes? Pacing issues? Is the climax climatic enough?
Don’t just throw your manuscript at a beta reader with no instructions. Otherwise you might end up with a bunch of feedback that, while is appreciated, serves no purpose in making your manuscript better.
Consider crafting your email for your beta crew to include the following:
Be clear about when you need your manuscript back by. I’ve found paid betas adhere to deadlines better than volunteers. I am also very upfront before I bring someone on about when I’ll need feedback by, and if they agree to the deadline, then it’s on them to get there. Again, this is better with paid betas because there is an incentive to complete the job. I’ve had many, many volunteer beta readers just ghost on me over the years. It happens. Expect it. At least you did what you could by being open and clear about when you need feedback returned.
Areas of concern
If you don’t give your beta readers something to pay attention to, you may not get helpful feedback. If I’m concerned about a certain character, plot point, or even the last chapter, I make sure to mention that before the beta reading begins. To me, beta readers either give me feedback based on their enjoyment of the overall book, or they can offer different perspectives on my problem areas to help me improve. Be specific if you have specific issues. Don’t expect readers to just ~*~*know*~*~ what you need help with.
How you want feedback formatted
This seems a bit silly, but I personally prefer comments to be made directly on the manuscript vs. sending it to me in a few pages of feedback. It just makes the editing process easier. If you are particular, state it upfront and save yourself the headache. Don’t, for goodness sake, make someone redo their notes for you just because you didn’t specify otherwise.
Mention you’ll be following up at a certain date
This is more so beta readers don’t think you’re spamming them. Pick a date, maybe midway between your start date and your deadline, and state that you will be following up a as a reminder of your due date. Not to harass. Not to expect betas be at a specific point in the book. Just so they know you’ll keep them on track and remind them they have a read due soon.
Some writers refuse to share their work with others. If it makes you feel better, add copyright labels to your work (though, technically, it is copyrighted to you once you create it—right?) and remind them that this is copyrighted to you. I usually say something along the lines of “don’t be a dick and distribute my stuff/claim it as your own”.
This is not a must do by any means. Work within your budget, as many betas out there are happy to read just for the sake of reading and helping authors. BUT. I’ve found people are more inclined to finish reads on time and up to standard (and by that I mean by writing coherent feedback on issues I highlighted, sometimes no more than a few sentences) when they are working toward something.
I personally have a team of paid beta readers I connected with on Upwork, and I pay a set fee for beta reading. It isn’t line editing. It isn’t content editorial work. It isn’t proofreading. I pay based on the work they’ll do. Outside of my paid team, I usually offer volunteer betas an Amazon gift card for their services. Those who don’t do the job will not get the reward—and won’t be asked/hired to beta read again.
Am I missing something? Let me know in the comments!