For independent authors, beta readers play a key role in getting a book ready for publication. If you become traditionally published, you will have an editor (or sometimes a team of editors) assigned whose job it is to help bring your book up to market standards. However, if you’re an independent author you won’t have this advantage. So it’s great to know that there is a willing bunch of volunteers out there who will act as beta readers.
Essentially this means that they will read through your book before it goes to market and give you valuable feedback. This enables you to make any necessary adjustments and bring your book up to as high a standard as possible before publication.
What they do – Some of the tasks that beta readers will carry out are to check for inconsistencies (plot holes) and errors, and problems with character development, continuity or feasibility. They could also make suggestions on ways in which to improve the story, for example, if there are areas of the novel in which you need to show more of the action rather than just telling the tale.
When you’ve been working on a book for several months it’s sometimes difficult to be objective. It’s therefore invaluable to get the opinion of an unbiased third party who will notice things that you may have overlooked.
Sometimes beta readers will also highlight proofreading errors, but this depends on the beta reader. On most occasions, proofreading is undertaken as a separate task and it doesn’t generally fall under the remit of the beta reader.
How to get them – There are various ways of getting the message out that you are looking for beta readers. You could try putting a request on your blog, or put a message up on social media to let people know. Goodreads is another good way to make people aware and there are Indie author threads in many of the Goodreads groups, which will allow you to put up messages about your books. If you have a mailing list, you could also try adding a request for beta readers to your newsletter.
Who they are – Sometimes fellow authors may offer to beta read for you, and it’s often useful to have a reciprocal arrangement whereby you help each other. You may also find enthusiastic readers, book reviewers, people who are interested in your work, or others who want to improve the quality of published books on the market.
It’s great to have a good balance of beta readers to offer different perspectives. My current beta reading team includes male and female, authors and readers, and people from both the UK and the US.
It’s probably not a good idea to ask family and friends to be beta readers. It’s difficult for somebody to be totally honest when they share a close relationship with you. They may hold back or, on the other hand, if they give you some unwelcome criticism it may cause ill feeling between the two of you.
How many? – As each beta reader will concentrate on the aspects of a book that are important to them, it’s useful to have several beta readers. I would aim for at least four, but more if possible. I personally think that five or six is an ideal number but other authors may disagree.
Dealing with feedback – It can be difficult when you realise that your book isn’t at quite as high a standard as you thought it was. Bear in mind though that it’s best to have it brought to your attention at this stage rather than have reviewers point out any failings.
Each beta reader will have their own preferences and their own point of view, and because you will write your book in your own particular style, you won’t necessarily want to act on every single one of their comments. It’s up to you as the author to decide which changes you want to make to enhance your book. It’s also worth bearing in mind, though, that if more than one person brings something to your attention, then it’s probably something you need to address.
I want to take this opportunity to thank my wonderful team of beta readers for the excellent job they do. I value their input and appreciate all their helpful suggestions.