Beta Readers: How Authors Can Maximize Ther Value

Kevin G.

Authors understand (or should) the incredible value of good Beta readers. Getting early feedback on your characters, plot, and pacing can make any novel or story better. But how can an author maximize the value of your volunteer Beta readers? What can authors do to create great Beta readers? My fellow authors, all the previous month's information will help your Beta readers do a great job for you, without you having to do any more work. If they do it, then you’re lucky and should shower them with swag and praise, but not every Beta reader will read that article, and not every Beta reader will take the time and effort to give you perfect feedback.
So, what can you do to help them and make the process as productive and helpful as possible? Let’s count off a few:
Develop a long list of readers. Easier said than done, of course, but try to cultivate as many Beta readers as you can. Don’t rely on three or four. If half of them fail to give you comments, or give you unhelpful comments, you have to either start over or go without. If you have 12 Beta readers, you need good comments from only half of them to be in good shape. You probably don’t want to send out Beta reader drafts to 40 people, since processing all the comments would drive you insane, but a dozen is a good number.
How do you get Beta readers? You get them by making connections with readers and by asking. Ask your social media followers, readers who reach out to you, fellow authors you know and respect, members of reading groups, etc. Find people who will give you honest feedback, but don’t make them do all the work, help them! Have proper expectations about what you want from them.
Let your Beta readers know when the manuscript will be ready. Your readers have lives of their own. Just because they volunteered to help, doesn’t mean they can drop everything on a moment’s notice and devote all their attention to your book. Let them know approximately when you think the manuscript will be ready for Beta, and try to stick to it.
If you need to push back the expected delivery time, give as much advance notice of that as you can. An email saying that you expect the Beta draft to be ready in about "X" weeks is great, it builds your Beta readers’ expectations and lets them plan for the time needed to read your book. It’s also a great time to post that same note on your social media platforms to recruit more Beta readers.
Give your Beta readers plenty of time to return their comments, but also set a deadline. You love your story and want to get it finished, but remember, it’s a good idea to step away from your story for a while so you can see it with fresher eyes when you go back to start revisions. It’s not a bad thing to put the draft on a shelf for a month or more while your Beta readers are preparing their feedback.
Don’t rush them. If you want good comments from many Beta readers, you need to be patient. Four-to-six weeks is a good time frame. Make sure to set a deadline. Most people work best if there is some end point. If you make it open-ended, you’ll never be finished. You are doing your Beta readers a favor by giving them a firm “due” date, as long as there is enough time.

Read the entire article in the February 2023 issue of InD'Tale magazine.

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