For the most part, the writing process involves you being alone with your words. Like the hero of your own novel-writing adventure, you have to solve problems, explore plot dilemmas, and determine the outcomes of situations.
But eventually, when the project is completed and moving toward publication in one form or another, you have to share it and find out what people think of it in its current state. That’s where beta readers come in.
These individuals are typically not professional critics or editors but avid readers who embody your target audience. They give your book a test-read, picking up on elements you might have missed simply by being too close to the project. From plot holes and inconsistencies to those sneaky, awkward sentences, beta readers act as your first line of defense, ensuring your novel is primed and ready to be shared with a widespread audience.
While you can always ask any writing friend what they think of your work at any stage in the project, beta readers work best in the final stages of producing a longer project, so you can get an idea of what readers generally think of the work in its current form.
It’s sort of like how film producers hold test screenings for a select group of audience members as a way to see what parts of the story are working and which sections lost their interest or focus.
Here’s a quick overview of how this process works, where to find readers, and what to do once you’ve received feedback on your writing.
Where to Find Your Beta Readers
So, where do these helpful bookworms hide out? A great place to start is your personal circle. Friends and family who love reading can be a good jumping-off point, although they may lean towards a softer critique due to their relationship with you.
One way to circumvent this is to invite friends who are writers and know your work well. Other writers may be more amenable to providing an in-depth critique instead of just responding to your query with, “I loved it; ship it.”
To acquire a more diverse range of perspectives, though, you can also expand your search to online communities. Are you a part of an online writing group? Ask if anyone would be willing to help! Websites such as Goodreads, BetaReader, and Critique Circle are valuable resources where eager beta readers congregate. Additionally, social media platforms are teeming with potential beta readers.
Explore Facebook groups or Twitter threads devoted to writing and reading. These platforms provide a fantastic way to interact with people interested in literature and are often willing to provide constructive feedback. Remember, the more comprehensive your search, the better the chance of finding the ideal beta readers for your work.
Beta Reading is Not Editing
This is a key distinction to make. Editing is the intensive shaping of a story’s language once the drafting process is already in motion. Editors look for awkward sentences, anachronisms and contradictions within the text, and places where information is missing to help the reader better understand what’s going on. This process is long and complex, but without it, your readers might be confused or stumble over awkward language.
Beta reading happens after this process takes place and involves a much less rigorous feedback process. When I send my work out to beta readers, I ask them to respond to the same questions I use when working with clients: what parts of the story emotionally impacted me, captured my attention, etc., and which parts confused me or made me want more information.
The reason I use these questions is because authors know their own work better than anyone. When presented with the answers, they usually know precisely how to solve the problems.
While you certainly can request that readers leave notes in the margins or write a formal critique, it isn’t required. The goal of this step is to see how readers generally respond to what you’ve created and what problems might still exist.
How to Use the Feedback from Your Beta Readers
If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class or been in a workshop, you know that getting feedback from many people at once can be overwhelming. It helps, though, to remember that you are under no obligation to be all things to all readers. You may find that some comments resonate with what you’re trying to accomplish, while others don’t quite fit your vision.
It’s important to sift through the comments you get to see which work best. However, it’s still crucial to read and take all the feedback seriously. Remember that criticism is not personal but aimed at improving your work so you can give readers the best experience possible. This is hard to remember…but the ultimate goal of finishing a book is to impact people with your words. As a result, you may need to let go of some parts of the story that are not serving this larger objective.
Deciding What Changes to Implement
Like I said…this process can be really overwhelming. That’s why the best thing to do while reviewing your feedback is to look for themes and recurring ideas.
If more than one beta reader is stumbling over the same plot twist or character development, it's likely a signal to revisit that area. On the other hand, one-off comments, especially those driven by personal preference rather than structural necessity, should be considered but not treated as essential.
While it's important to respect and value the input from your beta readers, remember that it’s still your book. Listen to the wisdom of your readers, but don't be afraid to stand firm in the decisions that resonate with your story's vision.
How to Give Back to Your Beta Readers
Being generous to others is an integral part of participating in the writing process. The act of writing itself is lonely, but the act of revising should not be. We need other people’s help if we are going to indeed produce our best work and impact the lives of readers.
The task of beta reading is a considerable commitment, involving detailed analysis and thoughtful feedback. That’s why it’s vital to acknowledge the hard work your beta readers put into giving feedback on your writing.
One way to express gratitude is by including them in your book’s acknowledgments. This recognition can mean a lot to them, offering public validation for their behind-the-scenes work. Offering a complimentary copy of your finished book is another thoughtful gesture that can show your appreciation.
You could even return the favor by offering your keen eye and sharp pen to beta-read their future projects. Remember that this partnership doesn't have to end with one book. You can cultivate lasting relationships with your beta readers, creating a supportive network that benefits everyone involved.
Need Some Feedback on Your Writing?
One of the simplest services Inkling Creative Strategies offers is that I read manuscripts and give my thoughts. I answer the two questions above and provide a written critique outlining my reactions and ideas. We also get together on Zoom to process the feedback and brainstorm ideas for the next steps in your process. Pricing is determined according to project length and genre.
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