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How to use beta readers effectively

14 November 2016

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The term ‘beta’ is most commonly used in the world of software development. Before an app is deemed ready for public consumption, it’s usually sent out to a group of people tasked with putting the software through its paces. Known as ‘beta testers’, this helpful bunch will sniff out bugs and offer constructive feedback on the usability of the app.

The same methodology is now being applied to self-publishing, with ‘beta readers’ becoming a common fixture in aspiring authors’ toolboxes. Just like software testers, beta readers lend their eyes to first drafts in order to help the author refine their work for the intended audience.

If you’re yet to dip your toes into the world of beta reading, or actively campaign against the very idea (they’re not for everyone, as one of our self-published authors, Nick Brown, highlighted in a recent interview), we thought we’d provide some insight into how they can be used effectively.

Look for them in the right places

How do you find beta readers? You look for them in the right places! If you fancy attending a local writing group, there’s a good chance you’ll meet face-to-face with such people, but failing that, social media is the ideal hunting ground.

Providing you’ve invested time in your own social media profile and presence, you’ll have the perfect platform on which to connect with potential beta readers. As you go about your daily social media business, take a look at your followers and those who engage with you - the perfect beta reader may be lurking within.

Don’t give them a draft

Beta readers should be treated as final readers, so don’t send them any scraps. Your best first draft is the absolute minimum you should send their way, but if you can refine it further yourself until you can see no further improvements, that’s the best time to pass on your work for review.

Be mindful of formats

Beta readers consume books in a variety of ways and will likely have a preferred method. It therefore pays to ask in which format you should send your work. Some may want to read it on a Kindle, while others will prefer an old-fashioned printout. Bow to their request on this one - you don’t want to put any roadblocks in their way.

Don’t lose heart

The likelihood is you’ll receive some negative feedback and, no matter how constructively it’s delivered, there’s always the danger you’ll take it personally. Try not to. Remember - a beta reader’s main job is to bring out the best in you. Take any criticism on the chin, listen to their recommendations and act upon them - you won’t make the same mistake twice.

Give them something to go on

Handing over a manuscript with the parting words “let me know what you think” is unlikely to result in optimal feedback. Give your beta reader something to go on; tell them the kind of feedback you’d like by highlighting what they should focus on. Maybe you’re unsure about a certain character, plot twist or elements of your writing style. Whatever it is - tell them to focus on what matters.

So, what do you think? To beta test or not to beta test? We think it’s worth the (relatively minor) investment. As a self-published author, editors are hard - and expensive - to come by, yet a second set of eyes on your writing remains absolutely essential if you’re to produce your best work.

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