Now I did a video on this recently (found here) but I thought I would touch on it a little as a Monday blog piece since it's something that I see a lot of questions being asked and people wondering about this part of the after process. I did, way back when I started the blog, have a piece about them, but I decided to update things now I have a few more books under my belt.
So what are beta readers? They're people within your target audience who read your manuscript in chunks and answer questions about it, way before it's published. Generally they're reading a second, third or fourth draft and they'll read it, go through the bits that work and the bits that don't. This usually all happens before you get to the professional edit simply because why pay to edit a book that's most likely gonna have lots of changes done to it. Beta readers come in all shapes and sizes and they need to be people who would normally read your work. There is little point in asking someone to be your beta reader if your work isn't something they'd pick up in a book shop.
As for what they do, they help you find any pitfalls and good points and all of that. It's a necessary part of the after process because it enables you to get that first idea of what readers think. Generally people will go through multiple rounds of betas. I've done up to five before to make sure that my book is up to scratch. A round of betas can be anywhere from 10-15 readers. When you get back their thoughts, you can make the changes and then will recruit another 10-15 readers for a second round and so on. The reasoning behind not using the same people is that you're wanting them to react to your work for the first time. If you use the same people, then you're not going to get that reaction, even if you've made extensive changes.
Now, where do you look for betas? I know this is a big question a lot of people want to know. The simple answer is everywhere. You can post on your social media asking for people wanting to read. You can use sites like The Book Robin Hoods, or Beta Books, though the last is not a site I've used and does cost after, I think, two or three betas. However, there are places out there. And while I've said that 10-15 is the better number, I know some people won't get that much interest and that's simply down to not having the social reach, which is okay. You can work with what you have and ask for signal boosts from other writer friends.
As to how you get their feedback, you can do this a number of ways. I prefer to do a questionnaire that the reader will fill out right after they finish reading that chunk, and from there I can work out what parts they liked and what parts they didn't like. On top of that, I can combine several different reactions. You may find that you have some changes that only one beta spoke up about, whereas others will be a general consensus. Beta readers are a necessary part of the indie and sometimes, traditional, publishing process. They are as useful as critique partners and can be a goldmine when you find ones who love your writing style.
I do know of other writers who do an interview with each beta and that can work for you should you wish. What you're asking for is detailed feedback. You don't just want to hear: It's great! I love it! But why, and what parts were great and how they were great. For some readers that's more work than they're willing to put in, and because of this you might find some of your readers dropping out, but that's okay because it's just part of the process. I generally have a waiting list or back up people just in case this happens.
Of course implementing their feedback is a daunting task, and of course, creative control stays with you at all times, but it needs to be done. This is not something you want to skip, because then your first reader reactions come after publication and when it's too late to change anything. So betas are a necessary part of the publishing process and while sometimes difficult to find, are best to utilise.
Do you have any tips on finding betas? Let us know in the comments below!