While polishing my manuscript, Born of Starlight, I reached a point where decided that I needed an outside eye to tell me what it needed if it was ever going to get any better. Getting a beta reader’s point of view on your story is a great idea when finalizing your revisions. A good beta reader will tell you who they absolutely loved, who they could have done without, and when they felt bored enough to put the book down, all great things the author might not be able to see.
First things first, you should make sure that you’ve reached your limit of revisions that you are capable of doing on your own. The manuscript should be at a stage where you believe it to be nearly ready for the public eye. In all honesty, it might not be anywhere near ready, but that’s what this process is for. You, the writer, have simply reached your limit because you’ve been looking at the same bucket of 100k words for months, if not years.
Getting the right reader for your manuscript can be a bit tricky. People are always willing to grab free things, but they don’t always want the thing, they just like the label FREE. I’ve assembled a list of questions to ask your prospective readers to help you find the ones who love your genre and can tell you exactly how they feel about your story.
How do you get beta readers?
That’s a great question. With the application of the internet and social media, the process is very simple.
The first thing you’ll want to do is create a google form. Google has a plethora of free tools that you can use as long as you have an email address with them. The form will give you slots for potential readers to give you their name, allow you to ask a few questions, and save their contact information all in one place. The set up is pretty easy.
Once you have this done, head over to a good image maker. You’ll want this if you use Instagram, but it also helps you to catch the eyes of potential readers across almost all social media sites. A well done image is by far more eye catching than a simple block of text and a link. I like to use Canva for a free and simple tool, but if you have Picmonkey or Photoshop, those are great tools as well.
Your image can be a simple call for beta readers that is eye catching and easy to read, or it can be a collage of images that evoke the feeling of your manuscript. Mine was a simple call for readers with hashtags as an extension to get a greater reach.
Now, go get ’em!
Post this link and image combo across all of your social media platforms. Don’t forget to introduce yourself, your manuscript, and make known what you need done. Don’t worry about it being spread out on too many sites. That is what the Google form is for. It takes everyone’s requests, names, emails addresses, etc and collects them in one place.
Additionally, don’t forget to use hashtags to tell your potential readers what you are looking for.
Use hashtags like:
But, don’t forget to add your genre and reading level to the tags. Someone looking for a new Urban Fantasy novel might come across your post if you add the hashtag #urbanfantasy. It works across all genres and helps a reader know what you’re offering.
Once you have a number of potential beta readers…
If you’re lucky, you’ll have a nice batch to choose from. I had a good number of people willing to read Born of Starlight and I sent out a ton of PDFs of the first chapters. Over time, my list weeded itself out and I now have three wonderful readers. That’s not what you want to happen.
Figure out what time table you have to work on. Do you have months? Or, are you limited to weeks? Talk to your potential readers and get to know who they are, how they communicate, and how quickly they can read. You don’t want to have a reader sit on your manuscript forever and be stuck waiting on them to respond. Ask your readers how often they think they can dedicate time to read or if they could finish reading on or around your preferred date. Remember to leave yourself time to revise!
Start by sending your story in chunks. I sent mine in 4-5 chapter PDFs and found that beta readers had a relatively quick turn around when they were presented with a smaller story to read. Set milestones the readers should be done by so that you can save yourself the headache and send the next set of chapters in another batch.
By attaching a small survey with your chapters, the readers can answer a handful of questions that help them reflect on what they read and how they reacted to it. By separating their feelings into questions you, the writer, are also able to easier pick out problems with your text. If everyone answers the same way to the same question, it should raise a flag, good or bad.
The Beta Reader Questionnaire
This questionnaire is a list of questions for you to ask your potential readers before you even send your story.
These questions help you figure out what the reader usually reads, how quickly they read, their ability to think critically and be respectful while doing so, and a number of other things. I’ve compiled it in a PDF so that you can pick and choose from what you, the writer, find applicable.
The Beta Reader Survey.
This is what the readers will answer after they have read your story.
All the questions here pertain to an element of fiction. It helps readers define which characters were flat and which scenes were lulls. Using this survey helps sort out the reader’s emotions and feelings into a format you, the writer, can easily pick apart on your own time.