After you write a book, you know you need to edit and proofread your new manuscript carefully.
However, before you rush into publishing, you should allow plenty of time for beta reading.
It’s a vital step in the publishing process. But it’s one that many new authors often fail to complete.
Working with beta readers and critique partners helps you understand what readers will like or dislike in your book.
Beta readers are not editors
When you work with beta readers, you are not asking people to read your book to find typos, grammar mistakes, or even spelling errors.
That was the job for your book editor and proofreader during the writing process.
Unlike the alpha reader, who was the first person to read your manuscript, you are not sending them a draft of your book.
What your beta readers will read is the final version of your manuscript.
You want to know how readers are going to react to your book.
But you want feedback that is going to be more than whether a beta reader liked or disliked your book.
If you only ask a reader what do you think, you are unlikely to get much useful information.
When you find beta readers, the best way to improve the quality of the feedback is to ask specific questions.
Did you get into the story from page one?
Was there any part of the book that bored you?
Did you find the characters realistic?
Was there enough character development for you?
Who was your favorite character?
Was the ending a surprise or did you see it coming?
You should give a reader three or four questions at the most.
A good beta reader will give you honest feedback that you can then decide to act upon or not.
If you can get a range of views from the people who read your manuscript, you can then decide if you need to make any changes.
Why do you need beta readers?
If you rush into publishing your book without any external review, you might get some negative reviews.
It is normal to expect a few poor book reviews, especially on Amazon.
But if you can get honest feedback from readers before you publish, you will greatly reduce this possibility.
You can react to negative viewpoints and correct the problems in your manuscript before your book goes on sale.
After your book is available, paying readers are going to be bluntly honest if or when they post a review.
It’s much better to get this honest viewpoint well before you publish your book.
How to find the best beta readers
If you are self-publishing your book, it’s unlikely that you can afford to pay for beta readers.
There are paid readers you can find, but the cost is generally too much to pay if you want a group of beta readers.
So you are going to have to find ways to get people to read your book for free. But that doesn’t mean that you want sub-standard feedback.
Here are some ideas to help you in finding effective beta readers.
1. Family and friends
You can always start with your friends and family. At least face to face, you can plead, beg, and smile a lot when you ask.
Another option to find free beta readers is to ask your colleagues at work.
You will probably find that unless one or two who have a mean streak, family members and friends might be reticent to give you brutally honest feedback.
There is also the problem that they might not read your manuscript but will still tell you that it was a lovely story.
However, very often, the feedback you can get is still a valid and useful point of view.
2. Writing groups
You can look both online and in your community for a writer’s group.
It can work very well if you have been a member for a while.
So don’t think of joining a group and then immediately ask people to please read my work.
If you are just starting to write a book, now is the time to find a group to join that will be of help to you when you finish writing your book.
3. Facebook groups
You can find a lot of writing and author-related writing groups on Facebook.
Look for groups that are related to writing, books, or that are a critique group.
You might be able to join some groups immediately, or you may have to ask for an invitation to be able to join.
You could try the Beta readers and critique partners Facebook group as a good starting point.
4. Other forums
There are many forums that connect authors with beta readers.
While I’m not a fan, you can try the Goodreads beta readers group.
My Writer’s Circle is also another alternative.
Nathan Bransford hosts a range of writer forums that are worth a look.
There are many writing communities on the Internet now, so you have plenty of choices.
5. Social media
Another avenue you can use is your list of contacts on social media.
Perhaps you have a good online relationship with a few people on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram who might like to help you.
It never hurts to ask.
6. The barter system
Without a doubt, this is the most popular way for self-publishing authors to find good beta readers.
It’s so simple. I’ll read your book if you read mine.
When you think about it, once you’ve written your book, you’ll have plenty of time while you wait for your beta readers to get back to you.
So why not use the time to read for other authors.
Another advantage is that you get to see the quality of writing from other authors who are also about to publish.
If you can, try to find authors who are writing in a similar genre. They are more likely to understand what your target audience or readers want in a story.
Remember to agree on what you are both looking for when you read and establish the questions you would like answered.
The task of a good beta reader is to offer opinions and not solutions.
If you are lucky enough to get a great beta reader, they will explain why they liked or not certain aspects of your book, and you should do the same.
Lastly, make sure that you commit and act on strict deadlines. Both you and the other author want to get moving towards publishing your books.
Give your readers a real book
You are not sending your readers a draft.
You need to give your readers either a proof copy of your paperback or, more commonly, a perfectly formatted ebook.
If you want to offer hard copies of your book, you can use Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Blurb, or Lulu to produce print on demand proof copies of your book.
For an ebook, the easiest way is to use Calibre.
It is an ebook creation and editing program that you can use to convert your Word document to either .mobi for Kindle or .epub for other reading devices. You can also add your ebook cover.
If you are not familiar with converting ebook files, you can read our article on how to convert Word to .mobi and .epub.
If a reader prefers, you can also use Calibre to create a .pdf version of your book.
Finding good beta readers is not an easy task. It can also be time-consuming.
But it is a vital element that can only help you to publish a better book that will connect with readers.
Sure, use your friends and family at first if you can. But you might struggle to get much more than, oh, it was a lovely book, dear.
Try to go further and find fresh eyes that can give you much more honest and in-depth feedback about your book.
In a way, it is a bit like a book review. But beta readers aren’t going to be hitting one or five stars and posting their reviews online for the world to see.
But when your book is published, you want to avoid receiving poor reviews from readers.
The best way to do this is to test the water with your beta readers and treat their feedback as if it was a book review.
If you get a lot of negative comments, it’s much better to have them before you publish, and not after. You can address the issues with a re-write before you publish your book.
But, if the feedback is generally positive, you can be relatively sure that readers who buy your book will make a similar judgment.
Take the time and make an effort to find as many beta readers as you can before you publish your new book.
It can make all the difference in how many books you are going to sell.