Beta readers are a boon to the independently published. When it becomes obvious you’re not going to be able to afford an editor (I really miss mine!), having a set of eyes other than your own helps. Of course, beta reading can be a crap shoot. You’re generally asking another writer to look at your work. Some will look at it as a reader. Some may actually show some editing chops. And some… Well…
A few things you want to remember when you do put your work out there for a trial run.
- Beta reading is almost always a volunteer gig. You may not like the feedback or get your work back in the time you want, but you’re not paying them. At best, you’re bartering. So no matter how well or how poorly it goes, remember, they’re basically doing you a favor.
- I like a mix of readers. I usually ask three or four. One will go into the work blind, completely unfamiliar with my work. (Works great with a series for finding those assumptions about what the reader knows.) I have an uber-fan (Hi, Jenn!) who nonetheless doesn’t spare my feelings. And then one who generally knows about my work, but isn’t quite so invested in it.
- If you have multiple betas, one inevitably will drop out. It happens. Maybe they didn’t like your story, or real life got in the way. Or it’s just not a priority for them. Might be your baby, but it’s more or less one more thing on the TBR stack to some people. Remember, this is a volunteer effort. They’re under no obligation to finish.
- Similarly, you may not like the feedback. Maybe they don’t get it, or you rub them the wrong way, or it’s not what either of you thought it was. Thank them for their time and move on. Remember, volunteers. They’re under no obligation to finish, and you’re under no obligation to take the feedback. It happens.
- Establish the rules up front. What do you want from them? What are you trying to learn about your story? A lot of time, I’m usually trying to make sure I’m not contradicting myself within a story or within a series (depending on the beta.) Currently, No Marigolds in the Promised Land is out there, and I fully expect one of the betas to come back and ask “Who the hell is Admiral Burke, and didn’t she have kids in Broken Skies?”
- Barter’s your buddy. I traded betas with most of my readers (not all of them, but most). Many writers take on this thankless task because they’re looking for someone to return the favor. Be open to this. And make sure it’s someone you know will give good feedback.