Before you send your manuscript to an editor for a final polish, your book should go under the microscope of beta readers. They are a group that scrutinizes your book after you’ve completed the first draft.
Beta readers play a crucial role in the publishing of your book. The last thing you want is to invest a lot of money in editing and design before ensuring your story is worth reading. Consider your beta readers as the first line of defense against bad reviews.
Regardless of how well designed your cover is or the standard of grammatical accuracy, your readers won’t hesitate to give you one star if the story isn’t up to scratch.
After completing the first draft, go through the story again to make it better, then send it to your beta readers. Before sending them the manuscript, email it to yourself. That’s proof you’re the author. Also, you can make your readers sign an NDA that stipulates they have no right to share your manuscript, and they acknowledge you as the writer and sole copyright owner.
Beta Readers’ Role
The job of your beta readers is to analyze your manuscript and comment on sentence structure, grammar, plot holes, and the general story.
Instead of providing you with a general report, beta readers should leave comments next to queries. That avoids ambiguity. It doesn’t help you if a reader states that your protagonist should be nicer to people. But pointing out exact scenes you could refine to make the character more pleasant saves you time and better achieves the objective.
I’d recommend that you request a general report and detailed analysis. The general report summarises your book, and the detailed analysis highlights areas to improve. Another perk of detailed analysis is that it shows a reader has read your story.
I had a reader submit a vague report, not mentioning character names and offering advice you could give for any book. When I asked him to tell me the plot, he was silent.
Stipulate to your readers the key elements they should focus on while analyzing the story. Tell them your goal of the story so that they can determine if the plot matches. Your readers should know the feedback you expect from them.
Who Are Beta Readers?
Preferably, they should be authors—the more experienced, the better. Most authors are readers, and they understand plot structure, the necessary story elements, and character development. They can use their writing and reading critical skills to improve your book.
If you don’t know any authors, your next choice should be avid readers.
Make sure your beta readers read lots of books, especially your genre. The more books they’ve read, the quicker they’ll spot flaws in your story. Avid readers know a good story when they see it, and their experience enables them to compare your book to their favorites.
Your readers should be unbiased. Their disagreement with your beliefs or views shouldn’t impact their analysis. They should judge your story, not your character.
Beta readers should point out areas of improvement and not how they wish you should write the story. For example, if it’s crucial to your plot that the protagonist treats animals badly, a reader who advises you to make the protagonist love animals because they hold an affinity for them could be misguiding you. Instead, they can advise you to tone down the ill-treatment and make the protagonist aware of his wrongdoing so that he can change.
If you can’t find authors or avid readers, your last option would be co-workers, friends, and family. It’s best that they don’t know each other. If they do, they might discuss your story and influence each other’s feedback. The point is to get different perspectives.
Regardless of who you choose as beta readers, make sure they won’t spare your feelings by withholding feedback. You need brutal honesty to improve your story. But they shouldn’t limit their feedback to criticism, as they also need to highlight the good parts of your story.
Where To Find Professionals
To make your book the best it can be, you should target authors and professional readers. These people know what it takes to make a story great, and in most cases, they don’t have a filter on your feelings. That means you’ll get the feedback you need to hear, even if you don’t want to.
You’re fortunate if you can find these professionals to provide free services. It’s possible but challenging. Even if you do find them, analyzing a book takes a lot of work. You might consider remunerating them for their service. Some readers will accept donations.
The best place to find professional readers who may offer free services is social gatherings. Look at writer and reader groups on Meetup. Most administrators started those groups to share their hobbies with others. Members of those groups are likely to be up-and-coming authors, housewives who read a lot, and professionals looking to transition from corporate to publishing.
You can also look at groups on social media and google such people. Many of them review books as a hobby. Even if they provide a free service, consider offering money. Beta readers offer authors tremendous value and deserve compensation.
If you can’t find free services, search for professionals on online portals. Make sure that the people you choose have good testimonials. They should also be willing to read the story again if you’re unsatisfied with their work. Before hiring them, ask to sample their work so that you have an idea of what to expect.
Some professional readers will charge $50 or slightly less for an analysis. If they provide feedback you seek, that money is worth it. Implementing their feedback will make your story much better.
Have as many readers as possible analyze your book. Aim for at least five. If three readers criticized the same aspect, it confirms the area you need to improve.
After implementing your readers’ feedback, send the manuscript to them again to analyze.