Why you need to get yourself some beta readers

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So, last week, I wrote a post explaining the benefits of using a manuscript assessment service as one of your first steps to publication after finishing your manuscript.  Today, I want to talk about the next step that I take: beta readers.

Beta picture

In a nutshell, beta readers are critical friends who are willing to cast an eye over your manuscript and are able to give you some feedback or a critique of your piece.  After my piece has come back from the manuscript assessor and I’ve fixed all of the holes that they have pointed out, the next thing I do is to share it with 4-6 discerning friends who are willing to give me critical feedback to help me improve my manuscript.

What do I look for in a beta reader?

Unfortunately, not everyone makes a good beta reader, as you want unbiased, critical feedback.  You can probably rule out most of your immediate family, as well as a number of friends straight away, just based on their ability to g

The ideal beta reader will:

– Be an eager reader.  They will know what is good in the particular genre you are writing in and be able to identify where your book is lacking.

– Be honest, but not mean about it.  They can provide critical feedback without the sting.

– Have time to read.  This is another spot where readers can fall down a bit.

– Have an eye for detail.  Beta readers will pick up the things that may have gone overlooked by the manuscript assessor.  For example, I once changed a character’s name based on a suggestion by the beta reader.  I had chosen Siobhan and she said that it would be difficult for Australian readers to know how to pronounce it.  So I changed it to Sasha.  It didn’t change the character at all, but it did make life easier for a lot of 8-12 year old readers!

Should I pay for a beta reader?

This is a good question and my short answer is no.  There are three reasons for this.

  1. If you are self-publishing, you should have thought about your budget.  For me, there was no space to be paying for beta readers.
  2. Why pay for something that you can get for free (or for exchange).  My beta readers are friends who are keen readers and have proven themselves to be honest with their feedback over the years. In return for their reading time, I usually reward them with either a free copy of the book when it is finished or a home baked cake of some description.  Why pay money for something that you can pay for in cake? If you don’t have any friends that fit into this category, there are a number of websites and forums that will help you to find someone with common writing interests to exchange manuscripts with.
  3. You should really have more than one beta reader and, going back to point 1, would your budget really stretch to that?  The more beta readers you have, the more chance of picking up every single little detail that could be improved to make your book the best that it can be.

If you’re interested in trying out beta readers, here are a few websites and forums to get you started:

Ladies Who Critique

Goodreads Beta Reader Group

World Literary Cafe

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