Congratulations, you have finished your first draft and are now well on the path to self-publishing! But before you send off your manuscript to a professional editor, consider having a few beta readers take it out for a test drive.
Beta readers are those kind souls who are willing to read your entire draft with a critical eye, seeking the good, the bad, and the ugly within. With eagle eyes, they’ll spot the shortcomings in your draft — plot holes, confusing passages, character inconsistencies, and more — and provide constructive criticism. They can also note the sections of your prose that sparkle. This handy guide will show you why you want some beta readers on board, and where to find them.
What Are Beta Readers?
Authors can attest that something akin to tunnel vision commonly occurs while being deeply entrenched in the writing process. In that solitary endeavor, staring cross-eyed at a computer screen while bringing our story to life, we become so enmeshed in the characters and plot twists that we lose any sense of objectivity. This can lead to some glaring problems within the draft.
This is where a beta reader comes in. A beta reader is someone who has agreed to read through your manuscript from beginning to end while making notations along the way. These observations are golden to the author because they act as a dress rehearsal, that last opportunity to fix any inherent problems lurking in the draft before the opening day performance (publication). Thus, the beta reader plays a vital role in the self-publishing journey.
What Can Beta Readers Help With?
Since your beta readers are taking the book out for a test run, they’ll be able to spot potential mechanical deficiencies (using the test drive metaphor). As they read your manuscript, a beta reader can offer feedback on any issues they come upon. These might include:
While test-driving your manuscript, your beta readers may not come upon any potholes in the road, but they may identify a plot hole. These are the awkward plot snafus that defy logic, either by the author’s omission of important details or by introducing contradictory elements. Plot holes are typically the result of editing errors. They may also simply reflect losing track of the plot, or adding a new twist that contradicts an earlier storyline.
Because beta readers tend to be voracious readers, they are inherently sensitive to pacing. They can alert you to pacing issues in your book, such as areas that become bogged down or dull. The same can be said for pacing that is too erratic and fast for the reader to comfortably follow events.
Ideal beta readers are great at identifying inconsistencies in the plot. For instance, the beta reader may spot a character that has landed in a totally different setting or situation with no backstory explaining it. As well, the beta reader may ask why a minor character, barely introduced in the book, suddenly reappears with a significant role toward the end.
Character feedback from your beta readers is extremely valuable. After all, if your protagonist and other main characters are neither likable nor relatable to the average reader, it’s back to the drawing board. The beta reader can also weigh in on dialogue, such as whether a character’s voice seems out of alignment with their personality or personal history.
Overall Writing Feedback
The whole point of enlisting beta readers is to glean from them whether or not your finished book is any good. This is where you as the author want pure, unadulterated, honest feedback — observations that are constructive and offer food for thought. Maybe the story needs to be juiced up, maybe it needs more elaborate world-building, or maybe a certain character should get the axe. Your beta readers’ thoughtful comments can be incredibly useful for taking your book to the next level.
Grammar & Typos
While beta readers are no replacement for expert editors and proofreaders, they will probably note any glaring grammatical errors or typos that jump out at them along the way.
How to Find Beta Readers
Now that you know how important beta readers are to your self-publishing journey, you may be wondering how to find these beta readers. Keep in mind, as you seek beta readers, that it’s always best to find some who have a preference for your specific genre. Consider these sources:
Use Trusted Friends or Family
Most authors have friends or family members in their sphere who are willing to read the book before publication. But tread carefully, as you are likely not to receive much in the way of critiques from these loved ones, who might worry about hurting your feelings. Still, if they are ready and willing to read your book, any input they offer could be valuable.
If you happen to be enrolled in a college composition or creative writing class, your classmates may provide a handy pool of the perfect beta readers.
On Instagram, the hashtag #bookstagram is a hangout for book lovers. Reach out there to readers you follow via direct messaging, or create a #bookstagram post soliciting beta readers.
There are abundant Facebook writers’ groups where you might locate some willing beta readers.
If you have an author friend in the same genre, why not ask them to be a critique partner? You read and critique their manuscript, and they’ll do the same for you.
Publish Your Book with Gatekeeper Press
If your beta readers have provided valuable feedback, and you’ve made the suggested modifications to your manuscript, you are now ready for the next step: professional editing. The editing pros at Gatekeeper Press offer the full range of editing services, as well as book design, illustration, and cover design services. Make your book the best it can be by partnering with Gatekeeper Press today! Contact us online.