Monday, January 27, 2014


Using Beta Readers
 by Lisa Lickel


You’ve heard a rumor that authors use beta readers. Besides a letter of the Greek alphabet, or a type of radiation, what are these? And if there’s a beta, does that mean there’s an Alpha and a Gamma? Aren’t gamma rays bad for you?

Pull up a chair, let’s talk.


Beta Readers are people who read a complete version of your manuscript. While other authors I know choose to use Readers at various stages of completion, or during the writing process to get feedback on certain scenes, these are not technically Beta Readers. And, yes, here’s where the Alpha reader concept comes in: use Alpha readers ad “first” readers who get peeks while you’re working. They’re people you trust, people who know you and how to tell you when something is garbage. Use beta, or second, readers for a more complete version of your manuscript, after it’s been de-trashed.

When you've worked the manuscript through revisions, hopefully with your writing/critique partners, maybe agent, have gone through it with your self-editing techniques, and you feel it’s pretty much ready for submission, you ask a number of people to “test drive” it for you. Believe it or not, larger publishing houses do this even before taking a manuscript to a full pub board. They hire several people to read through a book and give an opinion. Movie makers have test audiences. It’s common practice to run a product through a grinder before you try to sell it to hard core influencers.

The basis, then:

Why have Beta Readers?
Test Drive your book with a public readership
Find the slow and weak spots, as well as to encourage you, the author, that your book is good enough to be read by the general public
Develop a future audience

So, who are Beta Readers?
They should be:
Readers, not writers
People who like your genre
People who are not related to you by (thick) blood – third cousins twice removed are probably fine
People who can get back to you at a specified deadline
People who will be honest; brutal, even, and still say hello behind the bank window or in the grocery check-out line

Where do you find Beta Readers?
Preferably some face-to-face people in your community, such as your librarian or school teachers who have some time in the summer, maybe
Maybe a couple of neighborhood friends
Other service people (my bank loan officer likes to read and was thrilled when I asked her)
People in your service club or social group or church
People in your reading group
People at work? Eh – your call; beware of potential awkwardness if they can’t follow through or don’t care for your work

Can you find Beta Readers online?
Sure, but make sure you know them and know for sure they won’t pass your manuscript around. It’s also easier for them to duck and hide if they don’t like your stuff, or forgot to actually read it, or was just being nice by saying yes and never really had any intention of actually reading it. One time only did I put out an open call for beta readers and was excited about those who answered – people I never would have even thought of asking. You know who actually read the book? Just one of them - a woman who was fighting cancer and busy with other work of her own besides.

What if they don’t get back to me?
Yeah, pardner, had that happen once or twice. Follow up with one or two messages, e-mail, call, visit if that’s your connection, but don’t pester. If you gave a hard copy, simply ask for it back and assure the reader it’s okay if he just didn’t have time, but you’re on a deadline. Don’t burn any bridges, and always stay positive. Let her know if she didn’t know what she was getting into, it’s all right; if he wants to try again sometime when life is less hectic, why you’ll keep him on your list. Don’t hound the person – it’s not worth it in the short run, but if you have any issues at all with potential piracy, you’ll need to keep a little pressure on until you’re assured otherwise. And then put that potential reader on a different list.

Do you pay Beta Readers?
That’s up to you; I prefer not with money, because then responses might get skewed and it even could be considered as work-for-hire in your business accounts. For my face-to-face Beta Readers, I will take him or her out to lunch or give a small gift to say thanks, and often a copy of the book when it comes out. This generally keeps them happy and gets them talking to others—and we all know the best marketing strategy, right? WORD OF MOUTH!

Any other questions or thoughts?

So, have any of you used Beta Readers? Share your experiences, if you’d like.
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