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Using Beta Readers

Earlier this week, I received a two-part question:  Who are beta readers, and why should I be using them?

Beta readers are people who read early versions of your manuscript.  In general, they should be in your target market (e.g., if, like me, you’re writing a book in the fantasy genre, your beta readers will tend to read lots of fantasy).

Their job is to:

  • read your entire work
  • let you know what parts they found boring, unnecessary, confusing, or conflicting
  • look for specific problems that you’re curious about (consistent characters, believable sequence of events, etc.)
  • give you an overall rating of your book…ideally, “I would recommend this to a friend”

Note that beta readers are not critique partners.  It’s unlikely that they’re writers, or have knowledge of how to construct a story.  However, they are likely to “know good work when they see it”.

You should use beta readers when you think your book is nearing its final form.  For example, I am nearly finished with my novel, so I plan to use some beta readers starting in mid-February.  If you still have major revisions planned for your work, you probably should not be using beta readers.

With any beta reader, you should always set expectations up front.  I plan to send the following guidelines to my beta readers.

Thank you for agreeing to be a beta reader for my current novel.  Since this is a work in progress, I am looking for your feedback on the following items:

  • Did you stay engaged in the book?
  • Were the characters interesting enough to hold your attention?
  • Were there any parts that seemed long and/or boring?  If so, where?
  • Who was your favorite character?  Was there a reason you liked him or her?
  • Was there anything that made you think: “There’s no way that would happen!”?  If so, please describe.
  • Would you recommend this book to a friend?  If so, could you describe the person you would recommend this to (no names please)?

In this case, I value honesty more than my feelings.  We can still be friends even if you hate this book.

What other questions would you ask?  Do you disagree with this approach?  Have you used beta readers successfully?  Share your experiences below!

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