Beta Readers: How to Find Them and What to Expect

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You’ve written a somewhat final-ish draft of your novel (Good. For. You!), and you want to take it out into the world and give it a spin before you start searching for an agent or publisher. Your next step will be to find a few beta readers to see how your story lands. So, how do you find beta readers, and what can you expect from the process?

I recently did the beta read process with my novel, Miranda’s Garden, and I learned a few things. While I can’t speak for every writer who’s gone through the process, I can share what my experience was like and give you a few tips.

How to Find Beta Readers

  1. Email your top picks directly—Craft a well-thought out email that offers a synopsis of the story and what it’s about (without giving too much away). Due to the subject matter of my story, I also provided a caveat that if anyone considering needed trigger warnings, it likely wasn’t a good fit for them.
  2. Send a request to your email list—After you see who responds and who doesn’t from your first email and if you didn’t get enough readers, consider sending a request to your email list of followers. (If you haven’t been building this list, start now. One thing publishers look for is a following. This lets them know you have a built-in reach for marketing, which will make their job easier.)
  3. Do a social media blast—After the first two attempts, you might want to do a social media blast and see what it turns up. You may get people you know and/or total strangers who want to read your book. You get to decide who to send your baby off to. Not everyone deserves a go at your precious creation.

What to Look for in Potential Beta Readers

  1. People who fit your intended audience—Ideally, you want people who you know will want to read a story like yours. Back when I did book coaching, I always told my clients that for non-fiction books, you want to be crystal clear about your audience up front. For fiction, not so much. Just write the story and build the characters and their fictional world. By the time you’re done, your audience will be more evident to you.
  2. People who don’t fit your intended audience—This might be more personal choice, but I thought it would be helpful to have people who I knew weren’t my intended audience read my novel. It was. It confirmed for me that I’m on the right path for the readership I have in mind.
  3. People who appreciate your genre—This may be the same as your intended audience, or it may not be. For example, I consider my novel literary fiction with magical realism elements. I consider my intended audience to be women in their late 20s to mid-40s. One of my readers was far outside this range and was one of my best readers.
  4. Gender—I know my story is a woman’s story. Did this mean I didn’t want men to do a beta read for me? Not at all. A group of both men and women read my book, and each had different responses to it that weren’t dependent on their gender.

What You Can Expect

  1. Not everyone will know how to do the process—Some people don’t understand what a beta read means. Even when you give them guidelines. Some will want to edit and/or proofread. If they attempt to do this, they may not finish, may get tired and skim a large portion, and/or you’ll wind up with unhelpful comments. So it goes. Not the end of the world.
  2. Not everyone will like your book—Some people won’t like it. Some people will hate it… Your book, your story, your character, and/or your writing style. Like I always say, my work and I are a lot alike: We’re not for everyone. I wouldn’t want it any other way. If you get a response that only finds fault with the work you’ve done, try doing what I do. Chuckle, shrug, and move on. And embrace the knowledge that you’re clarifying your audience.
  3. Not everyone will finish—People mean well. But as I say above, some people don’t understand what they’re biting off. They’ll start, life will get in the way, or the story doesn’t resonate with them, so they’ll drop the ball. This is why it’s a good idea to get several people to read your book. No one’s fault. Just the nature of the beast.
  4. Not everyone will be helpful if they do finish—Also as mentioned above, be prepared to get feedback that doesn’t inform your next revision. If all a reader could manage is to throw you a bone or two at the end of an unhelpful feedback, accept whatever bones serve you and your work, and leave the others behind.
  5. Some people miss the mark completely—You’ll know they’ve missed the mark when others have not. Trust your readers. Trust yourself.
  6. Some people will love your book—Of course, this is nice to hear, but even with this, look for valuable feedback within the praise to make your book even better. When someone loves your book, you’re getting even more clarity about your audience.

What to do with the Information

  1. Look for recurring comments across all feedback—If two or three people offer the same feedback about something in your book or about your writing, pay attention. Especially, if this feedback comes from people who both love and don’t love your book.
  2. Take what you can use and throw the rest away—As I say above, take whatever comments will make your book better. Leave comments that don’t resonate behind. If someone doesn’t like your character for her personality, so what? If you love her, don’t change her.

What NOT to do with the Information

  1. Don’t converse with you beta readers—Some beta readers may offer to have a conversation with you after they’ve sent their comments. They may offer to answer questions you might have. I strongly encourage you to NOT do this. You don’t need to put yourself in a position of defending your work. And you don’t need to give them the airtime to defend their comments or challenge you. Simply thank them for their time, and save yours so you can get back to the important business at hand. Your revision.
  2. Don’t take feedback personally—Remember that the people reading your work are other humans with specific, personal tastes and varying degrees of training and expertise. Whether the feedback is positive and glowing or negative and caustic, take it all in stride. Use your head and your heart to discern what you need to bring into your next revision.

Offer a Few Perks

Of course, be sure to thank your readers, no matter how skilled they were at providing feedback. This is a big ask! Genuinely show your appreciation for the time they’ve taken from their busy lives. They are the first few people who will have read your creation in its entirety. That’s a big deal.

Here’s what I offered my readers

  • a free, signed copy when the novel is published
  • their names in the Acknowledgements of the book
  • a free hour of book coaching
  • a complimentary workshop to their clients (for business owners with a following that would benefit from this service)

In my next post, I’ll talk about how to be a beta reader so you’ll be primed and ready to go if you’re asked to perform this valuable task for another writer in the future.

Sending you mad writing mojo…