You’re an indie writer. Your book is yours. You own it. You get to decide what you want to write. So why do you need to know what anyone else thinks?
Even if you’re super confident in your writing, there’s always a chance you will be too close to your story and characters to see those little habits and ticks that can annoy a reader, the slight plot holes that might need more clarity, the point of view switches that turn from subtle to head-hopping. Giving a beta reader what you think is your final, finished, polished manuscript can not only highlight a few final tweaks that could take your book from being good to being great, but it can also give you a huge amount of confidence when you hit that print button.
Here are a few tips when looking for and working with beta readers.
1. Find someone who likes to read the type of book you’ve written.
Some people love science fiction, some people hate it. Some readers like long drawn out description, some readers want fast-paced action. Some can’t bear first person, some don’t like gory horror, some want real life, some want pure escapism.
Make sure the person you choose to ask likes the type of stuff you’re writing. Because they are your potential audience and if they love it, others will.
2. Find someone you trust.
It’s okay asking a friend or someone in the family, but the last thing you need is the comment, “That’s nice.” You need honest feedback but it has to be constructive. You need pointing in the right direction in the right way, not in the kind of that’s-not-my-thing way, or worse with underlying toxic sabotage from someone who wishes they could write a book but never has. Find someone who wants your book to be as good as you want it to be.
3. Let them know what you expect from them.
Trusting someone with your book is a big step. And offering to beta read a new book is a big responsibility. Make sure your beta reader knows what you expect. If you simply want someone to read it to enjoy it, say that and expect feedback to that extent. If you need someone to watch out for plot structure and that it all makes sense, let them know. If you need someone to look out for typos and errors, ask if they could as they read (but make it clear that you’re not asking them to proofread the book, unless that is what you need, in which case you need a proofreader, not a beta reader!).
4. Ask specific questions.
Ask if the length felt right, what character they connected with and why, if the plot twists made sense, if they saw the plot twists coming, what their favourite bit was, how they felt at the end. If you have any niggles that you’re not sure you’ve resolved, ask and see if your beta reader has picked up on them.
5. Appreciate timescales.
When you’ve finished a book, you want to get on with it and waiting for feedback can be an excruciating time. Just because someone doesn’t get back to you the next day to say how much they loved it, doesn’t mean they hated your book. It takes time to read a full length novel. And beta readers usually have busy lives with other commitments. Some people save a book to read at a particular time, on holiday or if they’re travelling. Make sure you check with your beta reader what timescale is reasonable and let them know when you need it back if you’re working to deadlines.
6. Remember that it’s your book.
At the end of the day, one of the brilliant things about being an indie-writer is that you can do what you want. Feedback is great but don’t end up feeling as if you are being pulled in different directions, especially if you have a few beta readers reading at the same time. Make your final decisions and stick with them.
At the same time, don’t be stubborn. If a beta reader comes back with a suggestion you don’t like, don’t discard it out of hand. Sometimes you need to take a step back and have a fresh look. Talk to them. Find out why. A beta reader is someone who is seeing the whole book for the first time (and not that friend or family member who has heard an endless commentary on plot and character as you’ve been writing). We get really close to our own work and a new perspective can be invaluable.
If you’d like a hand hooking up with potential beta readers, drop us an email and we’ll see what we can do.