Finding Beta Readers: How, When, Where & How Many?
After I spent several months writing and editing my book by myself, it was time to leave that little bubble and get feedback from someone else. Time to find beta readers!
What are Beta Readers?
In case you're new to writing and are wondering what beta readers even are; they are people who read your work while it is still work in progress and provide feedback.
For me, finding a few good beta readers was really important. I believe that you can only review your own work to a certain level. Beyond that, you need a fresh perspective to take a book from good to great. Even most professional editors say they find it hard to review their own work. Furthermore, since I'm writing a non-fiction book, it is especially important that the arguments make sense and are easy to understand. Of course, they do for me, I came up with them. But I needed beta readers to help make sure that my line of thinking makes sense to other people, that the writing is compelling and interesting and that the overall structure of the book is engaging and easy to follow.
So, off I went looking for beta readers.
How I found my beta readers
Luckily my good friend Alana agreed to be my very first beta reader. She was the perfect person as she regularly reads books in my genre, and I knew I would trust her opinion. She was the first person, other than me, to read the whole book front to back, and she gave me some valuable feedback. Maybe even more importantly at this stage, her positive feedback also gave me the confidence I needed to look for more beta reader. It felt reassuring to know that what I would ask them to read wasn't complete rubbish :)
Whether or not it is a good idea to ask friends and family to beta read for you is debatable. Some think friends and family are not objective. There is also a risk of being disappointed when you ask people close to you to read your book, and they don't (it happened to me). But for me, it was the right choice to start with a friend. I was quite nervous about putting my book out there and getting positive feedback from someone I know and trust, gave me the confidence to keep going.
A few other friends read parts of the book and also gave me valuable feedback. However, I knew that friends are not exactly the most objective people. I wanted to find one or two beta readers that didn't know me at all so would be more likely to be honest.
Turns out that finding beta readers is easy in theory, but kind of hard in reality. There are several Facebook groups around writing and finding beta readers, and many of them have a lot of members. I posted in a few of them and usually got several expressions of interest right away. It was finding the RIGHT person that proved more difficult. I didn’t just want to hand my book over to any random person and a lot of the people who offered to read it did so in a way that didn’t make me feel like I could trust them. Rightly or wrongly, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my work with them. I wanted to find people who were willing to share a bit about themselves, so I would know if they are the right audience for my book. In the end, there is no point in getting feedback from a beta reader who is not in my target audience. I also really wanted native English speakers or at least people who had been living in English speaking countries for many years. That was mainly because I'm not a native English speaker myself. Even though it is my first language these days, and my English is much better than my German (my mother tongue), I wanted to know if my English is really up to scratch and good enough. I felt only native speakers could give me that kind of feedback.
In the end, I shared my manuscript with two people after getting to know them a little bit. One of them never came back to me, which was disappointing. Luckily, the other one more than made up for it. The amazing Terry read through it in record time and gave me so much valuable feedback. She pointed out some sections that weren't clear to her, added some comments with ideas on what I might want to consider adding, and even pointed out some typos. Thank you Terry!!
How many beta readers do you need?
My personal opinion is that 1 or 2 good and engaged beta readers are much better than having lots who are not taking it seriously. You just risk ending up with a lot of conflicting advice that's more confusing than helpful. I think it is also worth remembering that beta readers are only one step in the review and editing process. If you take your book seriously, there will be an editor and a proof-reader later on who are professionals and will (should) provide high-quality feedback and advice.
One way to go about it is to start with a small number, maybe 2 or 3, and see what kind of feedback you get. If it is mostly positive and similar, then you're probably good to go ahead. If you find feedback is somewhat critical, or your beta readers give very different feedback, it might be worth finding a few more - maybe after you made some changes to your manuscript.
I think this is a good way to look at it:
Work with beta readers until you feel confident enough to share your manuscript with agents and publishers - or your editor if you're going the self-publishing route.
Where to find beta readers:
I would recommend starting with your network. Ask individuals or maybe share a post on Facebook or email some people you know to see if anyone would be interested in reading your book.
However, if you think it's time for a non-biased opinion, or you prefer sharing your book with a stranger, here are some ideas where you can find beta readers outside of your network.
Local writer groups and meetups
Have a look around what's happening in your area. Maybe there is a writers group you can join and use to find beta readers. I would have loved to connect with other writers in person while I was going through this stage, but I was travelling a lot so joining a group that meets regularly would have been tricky.
Have a look on Meetup or use Google to find any active groups in your area. Or maybe start one.
There are two popular groups specifically for finding beta readers:
Beta Readers & Critique - https://www.facebook.com/groups/1662819743977604/
Beta readers and critique partners - https://www.facebook.com/groups/1782619931753141/
There are also several other Facebook groups about all things writing, and people often look for beta readers in those. Here are a few of them. You can find many others by doing a simple search for groups on Facebook:
10 Minute Novelists - https://www.facebook.com/groups/488365771285615/
Writers Helping Writers- https://www.facebook.com/groups/mikegeffnerpresentswritershelpingwriters/
Authors and Writers Helping Each Other Grow - https://www.facebook.com/groups/1976793849262471/
Writers of Non-Fiction - https://www.facebook.com/groups/217524621686329/
There are several online writer forums you can join and then use to find beta readers. Just make sure you don't end up spending more time 'socialising' with other forum members than you spend working on your book ;)
Absolute Write - https://absolutewrite.com/forums/forum.php
AgentQueryConnect - http://agentqueryconnect.com/
Critique Circle - https://www.critiquecircle.com/Default.asp
Writing.com - https://www.writing.com
Good Reads has a Beta Reader Group - https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/50920-beta-reader-group
Do a Google search, and you will find many more.
Try something a bit different.
If you've exhausted the options above (or don't like them), why not try something a bit different. Here are some ideas (disclaimer: I never tried any of them, so who knows if it would work).
Put of a flyer on free notice boards in public libraries of other places readers are likely to visit
Maybe you can talk a small local paper/magazine into printing an extract from your book, and you can ask for beta readers at the end. Think of university or college papers or other community-focused publications which are often keen on content.
Check what events are happening at libraries in your area and go along. Talk to strangers and mention your book project if there is an opportunity. If they are interested, ask them if they would like to be beta readers
Identify indie authors on amazon who are writing in your genre. Reach out and ask if they maybe want to do a Beta swap for their next book (you read theirs, they read yours).
Go into a busy café (or another public place) and yell out "Does anyone please want to beta read my book???” :)
Alright, that should give you some ideas to get started.
As this blog post is turning out to be much longer than I thought it would be, I will pause here for now. I will come back to the topic of beta readers in my next post to share some more details around:
how I shared my work with Beta Readers
how I briefed them
how I reviewed the feedback I received and how I decided what to take on and what not
how I protected my work and
how I handled that annoying situation when your beta readers don't get back to you.
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