You’ve probably heard of beta testers who try out software before it’s released to detect bugs. But did you know that there are people who do the same thing for books? Beta readers review manuscripts and point out issues like confusing dialogue and slow pacing so authors can fix them prior to publication.
Beta readers aren’t book coaches or editors—they’re just average readers who enjoy books. So anyone who’s willing to take a look at your manuscript and provide honest feedback on it can act as a beta reader, including your family members, friends, and colleagues.
Since beta readers usually don’t have professional editing qualifications, you may be wondering how they can improve your book. Here are the main benefits of working with beta readers and tips on how to assemble and manage your own group of book testers.
Benefits of Working with Beta Readers
If you’ve never worked with beta readers before, here’s a quick look at how the process works. Beta readers usually provide feedback on completed book drafts for free. However, there are professional beta readers who review books for a living and charge for their services.
Some authors bring in a few beta readers right after they finish the first draft of their manuscript, while others do some self-editing before handing their work over to test readers. After you receive feedback from your group of beta readers, you’ll decide which suggestions to incorporate and edit your manuscript accordingly.
You can either end the beta reading phase there or find a new set of people to review your updated draft. Once you’re happy with your manuscript, you can send it to a professional editor for polishing.
Beta readers provide an extra layer of feedback during the editing stage and can even help spread the word about your book after it launches. Here are four reasons why you should consult beta readers during the book editing process.
Beta Readers Provide a Fresh Perspective on Your Book
As an author, you’re usually too close to your book to see it from a reader’s perspective. Although you may love the first draft of your manuscript, you have to remember that you’re writing your book for your target audience. So it’s important to take their opinions into account during the editing process.
Beta readers can give you insight into how well your book will be received by telling you their general impressions of your manuscript. They’ll let you know which parts of your work they found engaging and point out sections that could use some tweaking. Although they won’t copy edit your book, they may highlight recurring problems that detract from your message, such as point of view issues, obvious grammar mistakes, repetitiveness, lack of flow, or overuse of exposition.
Beta readers can help you gauge your target audience’s reaction to your book, but they can’t replace book editors and coaches. Book testers aren’t writing or grammar experts, so they don’t have the skills to proofread your book or perform an in-depth developmental edit. As a result, you’ll still need professional help to make your writing shine and get your book ready for publication.
They Can Save You Money on Editing
Although beta readers aren’t a substitute for professional help, they could save you money on editing and proofreading services. By pointing out the most common and noticeable problems in your manuscript for free, beta readers can help you get your book in better shape before you send it off to an editor.
Proofreaders and copy editors may charge you less if your book is well-written. Additionally, your book may not need as many rounds of revisions if you collaborate with beta readers, which can reduce editing costs.
Beta Readers Help Market Your Book
Beta readers are more likely to be invested in the success of your book than the average reader because they’re directly involved in the editing process. After spending hours poring over your manuscript and making suggestions, they’ll probably be interested in reading the finished book to see how it turned out, especially if you give them a free copy as a thank you gift.
If your beta readers enjoy the final outcome, they may leave you positive reviews on Goodreads or even recommend your book to family and friends. Having these early readers in your corner can provide valuable word-of-mouth marketing and build buzz around your book, which may lead to more sales and revenue.
They’ll Make Your Book More Inclusive and Realistic
A sensitivity reader is a specific type of beta reader who can review your book to make sure it’s inclusive. Authors who write about people from minority groups that they don’t personally belong to will often hire sensitivity readers to flag content that may come across as offensive or culturally insensitive.
Beta readers can also help make your book more realistic if you’ve written about a subject you don’t have firsthand experience with. Say the main character of your book is a doctor, but you’ve never worked in the healthcare field. You may need a medical professional to check your portrayal of hospitals and patient interactions for accuracy to ensure your book is true to life.
Where to Find Beta Readers
The main purpose of working with beta readers is to find out what your target audience thinks of your book. So ideally, you should try to find beta readers who enjoy your genre and would want to buy your book if they saw it in a store. But where can you find beta readers who fit the profile of your ideal reader? Here are some places where you can search for the perfect beta readers for your book.
Online beta reading groups are some of the best places to search for book testers, especially if you’re on a budget. Most members are willing to provide feedback for free or arrange a critique swap. In exchange for reviewing another writer’s book, you’ll receive advice on how to improve your own work. Below are a few groups on Goodreads and Facebook where you can find beta readers and critique partners:
- Beta Readers
- Alpha Betas
- The Circle
- Beta Readers and Critique Partners
- Free Beta Readers, Free Critiques, and Paid Editors
Keep in mind that each group has its own set of rules, so read them carefully before posting.
Your network can also be a good source of beta readers. If any of your family members or friends enjoy books in your genre, ask them if they’d be willing to give you feedback on your manuscript.
Keep in mind that your loved ones may be hesitant to share their honest thoughts about your book because they’re afraid of hurting your feelings. Let them know that you want to hear their unvarnished opinions so you can figure out which parts of your manuscript need improvement. Also, make sure to express your appreciation for their help in some way, such as giving them a shoutout in the acknowledgements section of your book.
If you’re an established author with a book or two under your belt, you may have fans who would love to be involved in your next project. Try putting out a call for beta readers on social media and in your newsletter. Getting feedback from your audience is especially helpful because they’re the group of people you’re writing the book for and hoping to impress.
Professional Beta Readers
If you can’t find beta readers willing to review your book for free, you can hire a few professional beta readers who specialize in your genre and understand its conventions. Since they’ve read lots of books in your niche, they’ll be able to give you detailed, helpful feedback.
You can find experienced beta readers on freelance marketplaces like Fiverr and Upwork or through the The Editorial Freelancers Association’s member directory. The going rate for professional beta reading services is about $30 to $100 depending on the length of your book.
The Book Professor’s Executive Mastermind
The Book Professor’s Executive Writing Mastermind Group provides the best of both worlds—professional book coaching and beta reading all in one program. This year-long mastermind is led by Nancy Erickson, international book coach and owner of Stonebrook Publishing. Nancy will teach you her proven BookMAP methodology to help you crystallize your message into a nonfiction book capable of changing lives and transforming society.
During your book writing journey, you’ll also have the support of the other nonfiction writers in the program, which is capped at ten participants. They’ll act as built-in beta readers and cheerleaders, giving you advice on how to improve your book and lots of encouragement along the way.
Tips for Working with Beta Readers
Here are some tips to help you collaborate with your beta readers effectively and get the best feedback possible from your book testing group.
Consider Asking Your Beta Readers to Sign an NDA
If you’re working with beta readers from online groups who you don’t know very well, it may be wise to ask them to sign a non-disclosure agreement. This will prevent them from sharing your manuscript without your permission or stealing your work and claiming it as their own.
Although it’s possible to create a legally binding NDA without hiring a lawyer, your contract won’t hold up in court if it contains overly broad language or makes excessive demands, so keep that in mind.
A customizable NDA template from the internet may suit your needs if you’re mainly using it as a deterrent to discourage beta readers from leaking your work. But if you’re uncomfortable sharing your manuscript without an ironclad NDA in place, it might be worth paying a lawyer to draft a beta reader agreement for you to ensure it’s legally enforceable.
Give Them a Questionnaire
If you’re working with people who don’t have much beta reading experience, they may not know how to provide actionable writing critiques. Emailing them a list of questions to answer can help guide them and ensure the feedback you receive is useful. Here are a few sample questions to give you some ideas:
- What’s the main lesson or message you took away from the book and how much did it resonate with you?
- Was the book’s narrative clear and easy to follow? Are there any passages or transitions that are confusing and need improvement?
- Did the book contain any unnecessary information or fluff that could be removed?
- Did the book do enough “showing” through anecdotes, scenes, and examples, or was there too much exposition?
- Was the book engaging and well-paced, or did you find yourself putting it down often?
- Did you enjoy the ending and find it satisfying? For self-help books, did you feel like you came away with concrete action steps you can implement into your own life?
- Do you have any questions that weren’t answered in the book?
Don’t be afraid to follow up with your beta readers if you need clarification on their feedback or their answers spark additional questions.
Set a Soft Deadline
Your beta readers are doing you a favor by providing feedback on your book for free, so you shouldn’t try to micromanage or rush them. With that being said, it’s ok to give them a soft deadline for completing your questionnaire. After all, if you’re trying to publish your book by a certain date, you can’t wait months for them to finish reading your manuscript.
A month is usually enough time for a beta reader to digest and comment on a nonfiction book. If you’re on a tight schedule and need feedback sooner, it may be best to hire professional beta readers who are used to providing quicker turnarounds.
Pay Attention to Repeat Suggestions
It’s usually best to work with multiple beta readers to get a wider range of perspectives on your nonfiction book. But receiving feedback from several different people at once can feel overwhelming, especially if they have conflicting opinions about your work. So how do you sort through all of the comments you’ve gotten and decide which pieces of advice to implement?
The key is to look for common themes within the feedback. If three out of five beta readers find a particular chapter confusing, that’s a good sign you need to edit it to make it clearer. Focus on fixing problems that were mentioned by multiple beta readers first, as repeat suggestions are less likely to be subjective than one-off comments.
Try Not to Take Feedback Personally
As a nonfiction author, you write about your ideas and experiences, which can make it difficult to accept feedback. When someone critiques your book, it can feel like they’re criticizing you because your writing is deeply personal.
Try to remember that your book testers don’t want to hurt your feelings, even if they don’t word their feedback in the most polite way. They’re trying to help you succeed by giving you suggestions that they think will make your book better.
However, if you don’t agree with a piece of writing advice, feel free to disregard it without guilt. You don’t have to try to please everyone or incorporate all of the comments you receive into your manuscript. You’re in the driver’s seat and get to decide how you want to present your message to the world.
Beta Reading and Book Coaching in One Place
Writing a book and managing a team of beta readers all on your own can be difficult, especially as a first-time author. The Book Professor’s Executive Book Writing Mastermind gives you access to both a professional book coach and a group of encouraging nonfiction authors to help ensure your success.
This winning combination of expert guidance and peer support will enable you to write a manuscript that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best books on the market in just one year. If you’re ready to start working toward your dream of becoming a published author, contact The Book Professor® today.