What is a Beta Reader for Books?
What Does a Beta Reader Do?
A beta reader for a book is someone who will read your book manuscript prior to publishing. The goal is to get early feedback on your work from readers who fit an ideal reader profile or who are professional editors familiar with your book's genre and topic. Their feedback is used to make changes to the manuscript to make it more appealing or useful for the book's target audience.
Who Qualifies as a Beta Reader?
Ideally, your beta readers should have an understanding or appreciation for the type of book you are publishing and its subject matter.
Asking uninformed individuals could prove to be a frustrating and futile exercise. They may require a great deal of explanation which will waste your time. Or they may make rude and irrelevant comments that could be very demotivating. In the worst case, they might provide confusing feedback which could lead you to make unnecessary and damaging edits.
How to Find Beta Readers for Manuscripts
First, scan your personal network of colleagues, family, and friends (online and offline) for people qualified to read your work as amateur beta readers.
Should that prove fruitless, you may wish to hire and pay for a professional editor (NOT proofreader!) to critique your manuscript. Note that a critique or beta reading is not a full scale edit. Nor does it look at grammar, spelling, and other "mechanical" issues. A critique merely looks at the story, message, and/or structure of the book and how it would appeal to a ideal reader. Professional editors can be found online on freelance sites such as Fiverr.com.
What is Expected of a Beta Reader?
If you tell a professional editor that you want him to beta read or critique your manuscript, he should know what to do (but you should clarify just in case).
However, amateur beta readers may not understand what's expected at all. Therefore, provide your amateurs with a list of questions that you'd like them to answer about your manuscript. This will help you get the feedback you need to move forward.
Typical manuscript aspects that you may wish to have them review include:
- Clarity. Is the story or message clear?
- Cohesiveness. Do all parts of the book fit together?
- Continuity. Similar to cohesiveness, do all parts of the book progress logically and naturally to the conclusion?
- Content. Would this material be of use or value for the intended audience?
- Voice. Does the book sound like the author actually wrote it? Or does it seem inauthentic and unnatural?
This list is not exhaustive of the aspects that could be evaluated. If there are particular concerns to be addressed, alert your beta readers accordingly.
What's the Difference Between a Beta Reader and a Book Reviewer?
There is a major difference between beta readers and book reviewers! Beta readers are providing feedback to help make changes to the manuscript prior to it going into the marketplace. Conversely, book reviewers are providing a public opinion of the book after it is available for sale.
Think of it this way: Beta readers can help you make a book better to help it sell better. Book reviewers opinions can influence sales, either positively or negatively. So both impact the success and sales of a book, just in different ways.
Tip: When enlisting the help of amateur beta readers, it is wise to remind them that you are looking for their pre-publication feedback and not a review.
What Does a Beta Reader Charge?
If you recruit family and friends as amateur beta readers, many of them may be willing to do this for free, saving you money for other costs of self publishing.
However, if you hire professionals, they will charge for their services. Prices vary widely, but are usually charged by the word. Scan sites such as Fiverr.com and Upwork.com to get an idea of what editors are currently charging for this service. Don't hesitate to ask questions before hiring since many may figure you want the more expensive full scale edit or even proofreading. Even with professionals, it's advisable to clarify objectives for the project.
How Many Beta Readers Should You Hire?
Hiring multiple beta readers can provide richer insight on your manuscript. Having a professional editor critique your work, with possibly a couple additional amateur readers, may be enough. Be aware that having too many beta readers could flood you with so much feedback that analysis paralysis could set in. As well, it could push you to make many unnecessary changes.
Also, remember that beta readings don't replace editing and proofreading. So get through the beta stage as quickly as possible because there's a lot more work to do after that!
Should You Have Your Beta Readers Read the Whole Book?
Ideally, your beta readers should be allowed to read the whole book manuscript so they can comment on the structure and flow of the entire work. But you may also wish to have their input at earlier stages in the book's development.
Some authors may be concerned that their unpublished manuscript may be leaked by beta readers. Particularly with friends and family, it could be an issue. It doesn't hurt to remind both professional and amateur beta readers that your manuscript is confidential. Putting an obvious "Confidential: Do Not Share" (or similar message) watermark on the pages of your manuscript document could also serve as a reminder.
© 2017 Heidi Thorne