It’s Time To Fish For Beta Readers (Updated)

UPDATE: At the end of this post, I have placed the comments people have made under each related question. Thanks everyone for your support, encouragement, and feedback. It’s helped clear some murky waters, and, hopefully, can help other people.

___________________________________________________________________

Now that I have completed…

it is time to present my manuscript to fresh eyes that have not lived with these characters for years, nor have read the book approximately 1,258.2 times.

After nearly 90 hours of editing over the course of 3 months (partially due to life’s fun interruptions), I have reached the Beta Reader stage.

beta

The Beta Reader: Helping Writers Escape From The Fishbowl Of Their Imagination Ever Since… Someone Came Up With The Term Beta Reader

While I have been writing for about 15 years now, I have never reached this stage before. Whenever I have finished a book, I have had it read by my sister Natalie (who is currently on a mission for our church), and perhaps one other person.  I then return back to the drafting board, or venture off to another project, all in hopes to hone my craft before presenting my work to the public.

And the fear of rejection, of not being able to meet the level of professional writers, has paralyzed me and kept me from sending my work out into the world. However, it occurred to me a little over a year ago that my chance of success was zero if I kept everything inside a box.

So, I created my previous blog, Good Wholesome Fun, and dipped my toe in the ocean of the Internet. The main purpose of The L. Palmer Chronicles is to build a rampway to publication, and I feel I am going in a good direction.

An unexpected benefit of blogging in general is the warm community of fellow bloggers, published writers, and yet-to-be-published writers. Through reading and interacting with other blogs, I have learned much about the craft of writing , the ins and outs of the business, as well as getting to know the people themselves.

Normally, I feel I can write with authority on what to do as a writer.  However, while I have done research on Beta Readers and the Beta Reading process, I need help.

Fellow writers, you are my only hope.
(Ok. You’re not my only hope, but your advice is far more helpful than a Google search)

I am unsure how to go about finding, selecting, and trusting a Beta Reader. While I have caught trout a number of times on camping trips, I’ve never caught a Beta Reader.

Here are my questions:

  • How many Beta Readers are recommended? I have seen a range of 15 to 100.
  • Do I have my Beta Readers sign a non-disclosure/confidentiality agreement before sending my Great novel?
  • Is it appropriate/polite for me to make a list of questions to help guide the critique of someone I know who is just a reader, or should I just let them tell me what they think?
  • While I have potential Beta Readers among friends, family, and my Writer’s Group (and anyone here willing to take up the cause), where do I find a complete strangers to read without personal bias?
  • If you have reached the Beta Reader stage, what is your process, and how do you find people?

I could try Ernie’s fishing method to find Beta Readers

Thanks for everyone’s interaction around here on the blogosphere, and thanks in advance for any help or advice. Each step closer to publication is both exhilarating and terrifying.

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ANSWERS FROM COMMENTS BY QUESTION

______________________________________________________________________

  • How many Beta Readers are recommended?
    • Micha Burnett – I just asked people if they wanted to take a look at my work in progress, and sent it out to the ones that responded.” As I recall I sent out 6-8 copies.
    • Deby Fredericks – I show my second drafts to my husband and 1 or 2 others.
    • Laura Brown – I currently have five beta readers. That doesn’t include one on standby for future novels and two failed matches (I learned a lot from one, but ultimately it was not a match). It is a very strange feeling to e-mail my novel over to a stranger (except for the two family members that are my early betas) and always gives me a little nerve wracking moments. That is until their manuscript arrives in my inbox and I know that we are on the same page.
    • Elizabeth Hein – I’ve had good experiences with beta readers. I asked eight potential readers to read the entire manuscript.
  • Do I have my Beta Readers sign a non-disclosure/confidentiality agreement before sending my Great novel?
    • – No’s – 4; Maybe – 1
    • Elizabeth Hein – [I] made it very clear to [the Beta Readers] that what they were reading was still in a draft state.
    • Deby Fredericks – If you don’t trust them, why trust their critique?
    • From yakinamac: I [asked questions] because there were some issues I was particularly keen to get people’s thoughts on; but I also told people not to worry about answering them if they didn’t want to, and that I would welcome any feedback in any form. Some people dutifully answered all the questions, others didn’t – all were really helpful.
    • Laura Brown – It is fine to send betas questions. I have done (and received) it both ways. The plus side to questions is that you get those specific questions answered. The downside is that sometimes the beta focuses only on those questions and you miss out on other comments. Totally a personal preference.
  • Is it appropriate/polite for me to make a list of questions to help guide the critique of someone I know who is just a reader, or should I just let them tell me what they think?
    • Misha Burnett  – I didn’t give any specific questions, just a general, “does this work?”
    • Deby Fredericks – Let them respond, then ask your questions. If they don’t mention something, it might not be as big an issue as you thought.
    • Brian Bixby – You know what about your manuscript is a concern to you. So, yes, do give the reader some questions or issue descriptions. If they don’t know what kind of help you want, or on what points, they are less likely to deal with those points, let alone in a helpful way.
    • Laura Brown – I have my beta readers (again, outside of family) from different author forums, and from twitter connections. One forum is an Amazon Writer forum, another is Women Who Critique (very slow but still worked out for me.)
    • Elizabeth Hein – When I serve as a beta reader for other people, I find it helpful when the author gives me a list of questions to direct my reading. I gave my beta readers a few questions to help them focus their comments for me. Overall, what you want from your beta readers is overall impressions and a sense if the novel is working.
  • While I have potential Beta Readers among friends, family, and my Writer’s Group (and anyone here willing to take up the cause), where do I find a complete strangers to read without personal bias?
    • Deby Fredericks – I never ask strangers to critique a full manuscript, because I don’t know their qualifications
  • If you have reached the Beta Reader stage, what is your process, and how do you find people?
    • Deby Fredericks – Ask in person, over the phone or through e-mail, whatever works for you. See if your word processor will let you “publish to” PDF, a format everyone can see on their devices. Full manuscripts can be heavy to lug around. PDFs are easy to attach to an e-mail.

General Helpful Advice:

  • Misha Burnett – I think the most important thing is to remember that beta readers are doing you a favor. I asked everyone what format was easiest for them (e-book, pdf, text, doc, whatever). I waited for them to respond to me (and most did within a week), I didn’t push them for notes. If someone didn’t get back to me I just assumed that the book didn’t grab them–and that’s ok, not everyone will like every book.
    • Also I’d advise being clear on what type of book you’ve got–genre, age range, tone–to try to get readers who are similar to your target audience. In my case, most of my beta readers were already familiar with the first book, and so they knew what to expect.
  • Deby Fredericks – Prioritize who you ask. Pick the best, most knowledgeable people and ask them first. If you know someone who’s published IN YOUR SAME GENRE, ask them first. Then ask amateurs who have been writing for a good while. Don’t ask people who don’t write your genre, because they won’t “get it” and will get hung up on stuff like world-building.
    • The only total newbie you should show your work to is your spouse. He/She supports you, after all, so you should show them what you’re working on.  (I don’t have a spouse, so this is difficult to do, but still good advice.)
  • Laura Brown – In the end, strike up a connection with your beta first. Discuss how you each would like to do things. Above all be open. I personally request honest feedback. I’d much rather a fellow author tell me I stink than a public reviewer.
    • I have found that I really enjoy the beta process. It’s a lot of fun to read a work in process and help the writer along. Both of my first betas have gone on to publish successfully, I’m trailing behind in my not-quite-ready-to-let-go issues. It took my years to get outside betas involved, but 100% worth it and has helped me move forward to get where I am now, which is getting close to publication.
  • Brian Bixby – You need to decide just what the beta readers are doing for you. Are they the substitute editors (at one end) or the people you hope will be amazed by your book and start talking it up (at the other)? The more like editors, the more I’d say find a few good ones. The more it’s just readers who you hope will applaud, the more you want.
    • You want your beta readers to be sympathetic AND critical. The best kind of reviewers are those who will offer praise when they see it due, and helpful criticism when it is needed. A reader who sees a problem should outline the scope of the problem, and, if possible, suggest alternatives as to how the problem should be addressed consistent with the author’s design. Helpful criticism serves one other purpose: authors can read it without becoming defensive!
    • Get readers who like the sort of stuff you’re writing. Shipping a space opera to someone who loves gothic romances is asking for a useless review, unless the reviewer is unusually perceptive.

Resource on Beta Reading:

Ask Jami: Where To Find Beta Readers

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11 thoughts on “It’s Time To Fish For Beta Readers (Updated)

  1. On the issue of whether or not to give people questions: I did, because there were some issues I was particularly keen to get people’s thoughts on; but I also told people not to worry about answering them if they didn’t want to, and that I would welcome any feedback in any form. Some people dutifully answered all the questions, others didn’t – all were really helpful. Good luck!

  2. I just asked people if they wanted to take a look at my work in progress, and sent it out to the ones that responded. I didn’t give any specific questions, just a general, “does this work?” As I recall I sent out 6-8 copies of Cannibal Hearts when I was working on it.

    I didn’t ask anyone to sign an NDA, nor would I agree to sign one. We’re talking about a work of fiction here, not a cold fusion reactor.

    I think the most important thing is to remember that beta readers are doing you a favor. I asked everyone what format was easiest for them (e-book, pdf, text, doc, whatever). I waited for them to respond to me (and most did within a week), I didn’t push them for notes. If someone didn’t get back to me I just assumed that the book didn’t grab them–and that’s ok, not everyone will like every book.

    Also I’d advise being clear on what type of book you’ve got–genre, age range, tone–to try to get readers who are similar to your target audience. In my case, most of my beta readers were already familiar with the first book, and so they knew what to expect.

  3. 1) I show my second drafts to my husband and 1 or 2 others. Not everyone answers promptly, and I get tired of waiting for so many people to get around to it. 2) You do not need such an agreement if you’re having people you trust read your work. If you don’t trust them, why trust their critique? 3) Let them respond, then ask your questions. If they don’t mention something, it might not be as big an issue as you thought. 4) I never ask strangers to critique a full manuscript, because I don’t know their qualifications. 5) Ask in person, over the phone or through e-mail, whatever works for you. See if your word processor will let you “publish to” PDF, a format everyone can see on their devices. Full manuscripts can be heavy to lug around. PDFs are easy to attach to an e-mail. 6) You didn’t ask this, but prioritize who you ask. Pick the best, most knowledgeable people and ask them first. If you know someone who’s published IN YOUR SAME GENRE, ask them first. Then ask amateurs who have been writing for a good while. Don’t ask people who don’t write your genre, because they won’t “get it” and will get hung up on stuff like world-building.

    The only total newbie you should show your work to is your spouse. He/She supports you, after all, so you should show them what you’re working on. (UNLESS they will scoff or otherwise drag you down. Then just smile and only show them when you get a check. Some people really do believe money is the only form of validation that counts.)

    Good luck!

  4. I currently have five beta readers. That doesn’t include one on standby for future novels and two failed matches (I learned a lot from one, but ultimately it was not a match). We do not have any signed forms between us. It is a very strange feeling to e-mail my novel over to a stranger (except for the two family members that are my early betas) and always gives me a little nerve wracking moments. That is until their manuscript arrives in my inbox and I know that we are on the same page.

    It is fine to send betas questions. I have done (and received) it both ways. The plus side to questions is that you get those specific questions answered. The downside is that sometimes the beta focuses only on those questions and you miss out on other comments. Totally a personal preference.

    I have my beta readers (again, outside of family) from different author forums, and from twitter connections. One forum is an Amazon Writer forum, another is Women Who Critique (very slow but still worked out for me.)

    In the end, strike up a connection with your beta first. Discuss how you each would like to do things. Above all be open. I personally request honest feedback. I’d much rather a fellow author tell me I stink than a public reviewer.

    I have found that I really enjoy the beta process. It’s a lot of fun to read a work in process and help the writer along. Both of my first betas have gone on to publish successfully, I’m trailing behind in my not-quite-ready-to-let-go issues. It took my years to get outside betas involved, but 100% worth it and has helped me move forward to get where I am now, which is getting close to publication.

    Good luck! Not sure if we would be a good match but I am open to more betas in my circle.

    • While I don’t normally reply to comments five months later, I wanted to let you know I sent you an e-mail regarding beta reading one of my manuscripts.

      Thanks again for sharing your wisdom.

  5. I’ve edited and reviewed material for other writers before, but no one’s ever used “beta reader” on me. But here are some thoughts.

    You need to decide just what the beta readers are doing for you. Are they the substitute editors (at one end) or the people you hope will be amazed by your book and start talking it up (at the other)? The more like editors, the more I’d say find a few good ones. The more it’s just readers who you hope will applaud, the more you want.

    You know what about your manuscript is a concern to you. So, yes, do give the reader some questions or issue descriptions. If they don’t know what kind of help you want, or on what points, they are less likely to deal with those points, let alone in a helpful way.

    You want your beta readers to be sympathetic AND critical. The best kind of reviewers are those who will offer praise when they see it due, and helpful criticism when it is needed. A reader who sees a problem should outline the scope of the problem, and, if possible, suggest alternatives as to how the problem should be addressed consistent with the author’s design. Helpful criticism serves one other purpose: authors can read it without becoming defensive!

    Get readers who like the sort of stuff you’re writing. Shipping a space opera to someone who loves gothic romances is asking for a useless review, unless the reviewer is unusually perceptive.

  6. I’ve had good experiences with beta readers. I asked eight potential readers to read the entire manuscript. I didn’t feel the need to ask for a non-disclosure agreement and made it very clear to them that what they were reading was still in a draft state.

    When I serve as a beta reader for other people, I find it helpful when the author gives me a list of questions to direct my reading. I gave my beta readers a few questions to help them focus their comments for me. Overall, what you want from your beta readers is overall impressions and a sense if the novel is working.

  7. This was a really interesting post because I am very interested in the process. I have always written short form and have only ever tried to be published in newspapers, magazines, journals. The process is pretty simple. You pitch, it’s accepted, you write it, it’s edited, you get paid. 🙂 but now I am working on longer pieces : memoir, poetry and fiction. It’s a completely new world for me. Glad to have found your blog and hope to learn from you.

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