Following my post yesterday about how I’ve used beta readers to help me fine-tune my next book, you may be wondering how I found such a fine band of willing volunteers! If so, read on…
How do you find beta readers, willing to give up their time to help you further your writing project? Well, you just ask. “But who do you ask?” I hear you cry. “And why would they want to do it?”
Who to Ask
Best not to choose friends and family, who might be tempted to tell you what they think you want to hear – that it’s the best thing they’ve ever read. Worse still, they might hate it – not great for the relationship!
If you belong to a writing circle, commenting on each others’ drafts is probably something you already do – but if not, make the suggestion. You may find others are keen to do this, but just didn’t want to appear egotistical by being the person to raise the idea!
Equally, if you belong to a book group, ask for volunteers there. After all, people attend because they enjoy reading, and those who aren’t writers themselves may be pleased to be invited.
I recently read a short book called The Beta Reader by Elizabeth Eyles, who kindly offers to match up writers with beta readers. If you’d like to take advantage of her generosity, I’d suggest the decent thing to do is to buy and read her book before you do so. (I didn’t realise this until she’s volunteered to beta read Quick Change for me – she’s obviously practising what she preaches!)
Who I Asked
I found most of mine by putting a call out for volunteers on a private Facebook forum that I belong to – the Alliance of Independent Authors. This is the not-for-profit organisation that brings together the best self-publishing authors from around the world – i.e. those who take their writing seriously and aim for professional standards. I’m well known there because I edit the group’s advice blog, so I quickly had a list of volunteers. But it’s such a supportive group that I’m sure that anyone else would have had the same response, had they put up an engaging pitch for their manuscript.
The international element of the group is a bonus because it means I’ve had beta readers from other countries. I’m conscious that I’m a very British English writer, and I want to maintain that feel to my work, but without puzzling overseas readers with unintelligible Anglicisms.
In addition, I called on an online friend whose flash fiction I’ve enjoyed, Helena Mallett, author of Flash Fraction, a clever collection of 75 stories each 75 words long. As one of the stories featured a GP at work, I also called on my friend, Dr Carol Cooper (also a member of ALLi) to check it for accuracy. She’s not only a GP, but also a medical journalist, non-fiction author and novelist (where does she find the time?!) Her excellent debut novel, One Night at the Jacaranda, by the way, is currently on special offer on Amazon UK for only 99p for the rest of this month.
Why Would They Do It?
Volunteers who are not authors will be
- interested in seeing what goes on behind the scenes of producing a book
- flattered that you value their judgment enough to entrust them with your precious manuscript
- be glad to have a sneak preview of your book before it’s published
The last two of those reasons also apply to volunteers who are authors. In addition, this group of people will be:
- interested to see how another author’s work looks pre-publication
- pleased to feel that they are helping an author friend produce a better book
- possibly hoping you’ll return the favour
My Experience of Beta Reading
I’ve been a beta reader for several author friends and have always found it very satisfying to feel I’ve contributed to the fine-tuning of their books:
- I’ve picked up factual and grammatical errors that might have slipped through until an eagle-eyed reviewer complained post publication
- I’ve highlighted confusing plotlines.
- I’ve spotted repetitive words and phrases that the author hadn’t realised were cropping up so often as to become funny, e.g. so many characters rolling their eyes that it was starting to sound like an affliction
All of these things were very easy to fix, and the authors were always grateful. It’s also rewarding to receive an acknowledgement in the book when it’s finally published and a free copy of the book (signed, if it’s a print edition). After all, who doesn’t like seeing their name in print?
Go For It!
If you still need justification for asking, bear in mind that if your beta readers enjoy your manuscript, they may be persuaded to post up early, positive reviews when your book is finally published.
I hope this overview gives you the courage to seek beta readers for your own books. Good luck and happy writing – and reading!
In case you missed it, I wrote another post about beta readers here:
“Why Beta Readers Make Better Books“