What's a beta reader? That question has been asked plenty of times when I mention the term. So here's the definition: a beta reader gets to read my manuscript after I've finished the revisions and before my editor gets her hands on it. Betas offer input on everything from the plot, to characters, to settings---everything. Nothing is off limits. My readers are six women who've agreed to give me honest feedback about each book I write. They were handpicked by me because they meet the qualifications below:
1. They love to read and know a good story a mile away.
2. They know and like me well enough to give honest opinions.
3. Each has a different perspective to offer and they're creative.
The betas have improved each book with their insights, corrections, and sound advice. Although I haven't taken 100% of the recommendations offered, the majority of comments have been incorporated into the manuscripts. This part of of the editing process is indispensable to prepare for the editor and to polish the book.
Because beta readers are entrusted with an unpublished manuscript in electronic form (which tends to be extremely portable), I've developed beta reader guidelines which clarify responsibilities and expectations. I strongly recommend doing the same with either your current beta readers or for the group you may be forming. If you are serious about writing as a business, procedures for your business practices are fundamental. A great deal of trust is placed upon the beta readers, which is one of the reasons I choose readers I know and give them guidelines, so there's no guessing.
As a courtesy, my beta readers are contacted before a manuscript is ready and are asked for participation. Everyone's schedule is busy, and I never want to obligate/overload a beta reader. They are much too valuable for that.
Speaking of value--beta readers as a rule are not paid, but I always send a token of appreciation. A copy of the final product is always welcome.
A sample of beta reader guidelines is provided below.
BETA READER GUIDELINES AND PROCEDURES
Thank you for agreeing to be a beta reader for Your Publishing Name. We LOVE readers and we’re happy to have you as part of our team. Your input is essential to us in producing outstanding books for readers and it’s our intention to make this process interesting and fun.
How Beta Reading Works
1. Your Publishing Name does everything electronically. Manuscripts and your comments will all be by email.
2. You will receive the manuscript as a Word file. A deadline will be stated in the email. Deadlines are generous and will usually be about four (4) weeks.
3. Comments should be made using the insert comment feature in Word. Please do not worry about punctuation, missing words, or other mistakes in the copy. It is a draft and will be professionally edited before publication. We do endeavor to give you a clean copy so that typos, etc. are not distractions.
4. Once you have completed reading the manuscript and have made your comments, email the copy back to the author by the deadline.
5. You may be asked to read the book once more after the editing has been completed.
6. Beta reading doesn’t make you any money, but you will receive a token of our appreciation in your mailbox.
The Kind of Comments We Need
1. Characters –like or dislike and why.
2. Plot – too predictable, too slow, not enough action, or an absolutely fabulous plot.
3. Inconsistencies, errors about characters i.e. tall, dark, and handsome in one scene, short and geeky in another.
4. Is the story visual? Can you see the characters in your mind? Are the places descriptive enough? Is there too much description? Are there scenes that are confusing?
5. Is the dialogue natural or stilted?
6. What you liked and disliked about the book. What you’d do to make it better.
7. We want HONEST feedback. Please do not be a softie and like everything. Authors must have tough hides. Every story can be improved and we’re counting on you to help us do just that. Readers are discriminating, sophisticated, and know what they like in a good book. We want to provide that product and your help is vital.
After the Read
You have a special place of trust in being a beta reader. You’re getting the first peek at a book before it is published. The manuscript you are entrusted with has not been through the formal copyright process, although the copyright is technically in place when fingers hit the keyboard. All titles will be officially copyrighted before publication. Please adhere to the following “Do’s” and “Don’ts.”
1. Contact information: Name, mailing address, email, and phone number.
2. Honesty, sense of humor, and some of your time.
With over 30 years in administration as a manager, paralegal, and administrative professional, my experience runs the gamut from finances, policy, contracts, and human resources. My goal is to help writers navigate the business side of writing with understandable and practical advice.