First, catch your beta reader…
I once came across an online forum where a new writer was asking how to work with beta readers. The top answer to his question went along the lines of, ‘You’ve got to find them first, you know. Unless you’re famous, you’ll be lucky if you can persuade anyone to read your work.’
While I don’t think this is exactly the case, it can be tough to know where to look for your reading squad. Especially if you don’t already know lots of keen, opinionated readers.
So, now you know what beta readers are, what’s the best way to go about finding them?
Network in the real world
You don’t have to be a mainstay of your local literary scene to do this; joining any book group will usually work. I admit it’s daunting, especially if you’re an introvert (as so many writers are), so start gradually and take your time.
Just take part in the general discussion and get to know your fellow book club members at least a little before mentioning that you’re looking for beta readers.
You could also go down the old-fashioned route and pin up a card in your local library (if you still have one) asking for enthusiastic readers to come forward.
When you’re looking for beta readers with specialist knowledge, you’ll probably find them through a suitable organisation or professional body. So, if you desperately want a molecular biologist to tell you whether your depiction of the lab environment is convincing, think about making contact with a university.
And if you do know any writers, you could always ask very nicely whether they’d be prepared to lend you some of their beta readers. But you’d better ask very nicely indeed.
Reach out via blogs and social media
This is something you can start doing well before your manuscript is in good enough shape to submit for beta reading. As a first step, you can always make an appeal for beta readers on your own blog and social media accounts, and even create a dedicated sign-up form.
What works even better, though, is to make targeted requests. When you encounter a book blogger or online reviewer whose insights appeal to you, why not ask them if they’d like to be one of your beta readers when the time is right?
Use major websites
You might be able to find your beta readers from a dedicated forum on Goodreads.
Along the same lines, Reddit hosts a semi-annual call for beta readers in fantasy fiction. You can join up and pitch your novel to a reasonable number of potential readers in one go.
Should you pay for a beta read?
There are people who will offer to read your book for money. And it’s not always cheap.
My honest view? You’d be better off spending your cash on the expertise of a good editor – one who offers a manuscript critiquing or assessment service, which generally provides you with a more objective and analytical assessment than a beta read. But if you really can’t find anybody to beta read your manuscript for free, at least make sure the professional readers you’re considering have good track records.
Let’s not be pessimistic, though. Suppose you’ve got a sufficiency of volunteer beta readers interested in your project and eager to help. How do you choose the best?
Be clear about your needs
The best way forward is to decide what you want from your reading team and select the people best equipped to give you what you need.
Some readers are excellent at spotting typos, while others are more big-picture oriented. So working out in advance what your purpose is will help you choose the right talent for this particular round of feedback.
Know what to look for
Every writer works a little differently with readers, so you’ll encounter a range of ideas about what makes a good beta reader. At the very least, you’ll probably want to check that you and your readers hold similar literary opinions. If you’re rewriting Ulysses to be even more radically experimental, you’re not going to work well with readers who love a ripping yarn.
Beyond this, I think there’s only one real must-have in a beta reader – the ability to give useable feedback. This doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a far from trivial skill. It’s also one that partly depends on your ability to ask for the right feedback at the right time.
That’s why I’ll be devoting the final post in this series to the issue of helping your beta readers help you.