If you don’t know what a beta reader is, check out this blog post—https://writingwithoutdrama.wordpress.com/2019/06/25/alpha-beta-crit-and-beyond/
If you’ve established an online presence, such as a FB page, twitter, or a newsletter, it’s easy to find beta readers. Put out a post/send a newsletter stating that you’re looking for beta readers with relevant information (length, time frame, a bit about the story, genre, and any trigger warnings), and you’ll have a few people volunteer.
But if you’ve not taken the chance to build a reader base of some sort, the next best thing is networking with fellow writers. Don’t start friending every writer you come across; that’s counterproductive.
Network with authors/writers who write in the same genre as you. This is the most important thing you can ever do to help your reader base grow and your book production to flourish.
By networking, their fan base is similar to your fan base. Those readers enjoy that genre, they know how it flows, how it should read, and are your ideal market once the book is published. They are the ideal test group for your works, and their knowledge, experience, and taste are exactly what you need to fine-tune your work.
Once you have interest, there are a few things you can do.
Do you know what you want?
Make sure you know what you’re wanting from beta readers. If you give them the story but don’t explain what you’re looking for, then you will not get the information that you want. Saying “I need a beta reader” is kin to saying “I need a color,” but not saying what you’re doing to help decide if you need acrylic or oil, a dark color, a light color, red, blue, green, etc.
Here are some useful sites to get you dialed in before recruiting:
New Readers Vs Veterans
If these are beta readers that you’ve never used before, I would break the story down by parts/chapters. This allows you to monitor their commitment, their suggestions, etc. before you send them the entire document. If they aren’t a good fit by chapter 5 / 25% of the story, you can cut them from the beta reading instead of wasting their time and your time.
If these are beta readers you’ve used before, then I would hope you’d have some system in place to help manage expectations. Do they get it by the chapter so you’re not waiting three weeks for them to get back to you just to tell you that “sorry, I forgot.” Do you want them to PM you so you can discuss things, or do you want everything at one time so you can look it over in your own time? Are you micromanaging and constantly messaging them, or are you the one who can work on something else, giving the reader time to read in peace?
Whichever your style is with new readers or returning betas, make sure you’re managing your expectations and keeping things realistic. You can’t expect someone to read 100,000 words in a weekend and provide feedback, but a short story of 7500 words should be doable in a weekend.
Regardless if you’re sharing it by the chapter or the entire document, there are a few ways to manage it. You can use Microsoft Word documents or Google Docs. Both programs allow readers to use the Track Changes/Commenting feature to leave comments exactly where they want to within the document.
If you use Google Docs, then everyone can see everyone else’s comments, which can be a pro or a con as sometimes comments from others can influence another reader. If that worries you, maybe create a relay between beta readers where the first reader gets chapter 1 and the second beta reader only gets chapter 1 after you’ve gone over the comments by the previous beta reader, creating a ladder-type effect.
If you use Word, you’ll want to use the combine feature to take the different documents the beta readers send back and merge them into a single document. This will cut down on the number of times you have to read and adjust. If you don’t want to combine them, similar to Google Docs, use a relay system.
Managing Beta Readers
Sometimes you can handle the beta reading via a FB group chat or email. Other times, you might use a FB group.
If you create a group, here are a few things you should know.
- Keep the group closed/secret. This protects your work from being “published” in the eyes of publishers.
- You can upload files directly into the group and allow readers to download it from there. If you go this route, you can use the post that shows when you upload to track who has downloaded the file by asking them to comment when they do.
If you want people to only sing your praises, don’t waste their time or your time. A beta reader will give you their opinion, and you might not always agree with their remarks. When that happens, you only have one option: thank them and move on. Never respond from a place of anger/hurt. Take a few days before you fire back a response. Think about what they really said.
Your story is a part of you, and beta readers are just trying to point out where it doesn’t work from them. They want you to succeed. They don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but it happens.
Readers talk. They talk to other readers, to their friends, and to their coworkers. If you will not treat their opinion with respect, even when you don’t agree, guess what they’ll talk about? Instead of being a champion for you and talking about how good your story was/will be, they’ll be talking about you and how you treated them. Do you want your professional career sullied by being known as a hot-headed, arrogant jerk?
From the moment we let others into our writing, we cultivate a “professional” appearance. What your peers and potential reader base think of you matters because you are your brand.
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This post was edited/proofed by ProWritingAid.