Even before I had finished the first draft of my book I had heard a lot about “beta readers”. People who would read my book before all others and give me feedback about the story. How amazing is that? When I finished my book and was satisfied that I had a polished draft, I decided I needed a beta reader. But where could I find this mythical being? I had connected with other writers through a workshop I attended last year and decided to ask two of them to read my book. One agreed, while the other was very honest and told me he didn’t enjoy reading romance, oh well. But, score! I had one beta reader. I handed over my book and waited. The comments I received were incredibly helpful and insightful, but there were things I wasn’t sure I wanted to change.
After revising, I decided to give my book to another beta reader, someone I had met at a conference. The comments I received were positive, but vague. Believe it or not, it took me a while to realize that I had to ask questions. My first beta reader was a writer herself, and we had talked about my book several times, so she knew what kind of feedback I was looking for. My second beta reader assumed I wanted a general impression and feeling about the book, because that’s what my vague email said.
I decided to prepare The List—questions I wanted my beta readers to answer. I had connected with a few people online and I asked some of them to beta read, they accepted. I sent out my book with The List and waited for their comments. Success! I had made clear what I needed from them and they delivered. I also learned that not all beta readers are the same. Some go into a lot of details, while others concentrate on the big picture; some are brutally honest while others are very careful about how they convey their message. They were all helpful!
If you’re at the stage where you are sending out your manuscript to betas, think about what it is that you need. Be clear and specific, create your own list. And by the way, remember that beta readers are not editors (read more about editing here). Finally, don’t forget to be grateful, these amazing people take time out of their day to help you just because they love to read!