You’ve just finished writing your precious novel; you’ve read through it multiple times and fixed countless inconsistencies, grammatical errors and plot holes. You think it’s pretty close to being complete… wrong.
You are so close to your story lines that you are blind to countless tiny details. Your scenes and characters are so vivid in your imagination that you struggle to understand how a first time reader perceives them. Are you going to wait until your manuscript is published before realising that your reader’s perceptions are different to your own?
This is the time to reach out to a circle of beta readers, take that intermittent step of seeing how your baby flies before releasing it to the hordes for disembowelling.
I have a small circle of five beta readers and they are people I know and love. This isn’t a requirement and some people will tell you that it is better to use those who have no emotional attachment to telling you that your work is terrible. I prefer to leverage existing relationships with people I know I can have a deep discussion with and bounce ideas around while knowing they are dedicated to the output being the best it can be… a mixture is fine as well.
First off I choose people who want to read my book, you’re not going to want to hang around long to collect their feedback so it helps that they have a healthy appetite to sink their teeth into it.
Next I choose a mixture of user types and you want to understand them so you can understand their feedback. Are they into your book genre? What styles of writing do they prefer? Who are their favourite authors? For my current book I have chosen at least one person who is not into my book genre so that I can get an alternative viewpoint around the depth of my characters and how easy the plot line is to follow.
Make it as easy as you can for your beta readers to read your manuscript. Deliver it to them in an easy to read format and if they can scribble thoughts and notes as they go all the better. I am using Amazon’s Create Space to self publish initially and their process allows me to order proof prints at cost price. It also gives you a great opportunity to see how your cover looks and it is a great present to hand back to your readers once you’ve collected and analysed their feedback.
Have regular check in conversations during their read. It is very telling how someone feels about your book when they are only a few chapters in, real readers may give up on your story if they are not gripped sufficiently upfront. Try and check in while your beta readers are fresh a few chapters in, near the middle and before the end so that you can help build on your story at key points and keep the real readers locked in for the long haul.
It is important to remember that your manuscript is your work, try to ask for problems and not solutions. A problem can be solved in a number of ways and each reader will have their own suggestion, but the solution should come from your own heart – this is your story!
A nice touch is to thank your beta readers in your acknowledgements section. With any luck they will feel invested and help champion your work, shouting from the rooftops or through social media.