What are Beta Readers?
Beta readers are people who are willing to read your book before it is published. They provide feedback on your book so you can get an idea of how your target audience will respond to it.
When should you get a Beta reader?
I typically recommend authors find a beta reader after their book is completed and has been through several self-edit revisions. Betas can provide feedback on sections or a rough draft, but use this feedback with caution. An error-filled or underdeveloped section can lead some readers to provide overly-negative feedback. The better you can polish your manuscript before letting others read it, the more likely you are to receive more accurate feedback.
How to find Beta readers?
First, try to find a reader that reads your genre. If a reader hates romance, and your book is primarily a romance novel, they are going to inherently dislike it. Readers tend to be much more critical of a book they don’t like, even if the content is well-written and the plot developed, the characters strong.
Friends and family are a great place to start. There is also a very active group on Goodreads that connects beta readers with authors. You’ll need to create a Goodreads account, but that is a simple process and valuable for aspiring authors, anyway.
Some Beta readers charge a fee; just be sure to get a few references before spending the money.
How to use feedback from Beta readers.
Betas are NOT editors. (Some editors are not editors, but that is the topic for a different post.) They are readers. You might get very conflicting feedback; some might be negative, so positive. How do you know what to do with your feedback?
Don’t start making changes to your book until you’ve gotten feedback from several readers. We all have our own unique tastes in books. Some readers may not like your main character, while others relate to them. The key to using beta feedback is to find commonalities. Do all your readers comment on how boring the middle section is? Perhaps they are confused about part of the plot.
Realize that you can’t make changes to please everyone. Some readers are just not going to like your book, period. Even bestsellers have many negative reviews. Be prepared for negative feedback. And watch out for the readers that enjoy giving negative feedback. Some people feel powerful giving overly-critical feedback, so don’t let one really bad review crush your spirit. Learn how to sift the useful feedback, like a valuable insight about your plot, from the personal preferences that will be sprinkled liberally throughout most beta’s reviews.
Looks for weaknesses in your book while still staying true to the vision in your head.
Beta readers can be a valuable part of your editing process if you find the right kind of readers, and sift carefully through the feedback to separate the usable insights from the personal opinions.