Lucy Silag, community and engagement manager at Book Country, has written a very helpful whitepaper outlining the benefits of including beta-readers in your writing process. Book Country is an online writing and publishing community that is a division of Penguin Random House. Lucy is a graduate of the fiction program at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is also the author of the Beautiful Americans novels for young adults (Penguin/Razorbill) and has written nonfiction for magazines and blogs. What follows is an excerpt from her whitepaper, which you can obtain when you register on the Book Country site.
What Is a “Beta-Reader”?
The idea of a “beta-reader” comes from the parlance of start-up companies. Before a company launches a new website, they will ask web-savvy “beta-users” to use their site and give feedback on it. The company then has a chance to improve their site before they make it widely available to the public, which helps them to make a better product and avoid bad publicity.
A “beta-reader,” then, is someone who reads your book and gives you feedback on it before you begin the publishing process. This helps you to see how readers would react to your book if you tried to sell your current version to them.
How do beta-readers help writers?
Beta-readers help writers to figure out which parts of their books are working and which parts need to be revised. Often, writers can’t see what’s not working in a manuscript unless someone points it out to them. Additionally, a beta-reader can make suggestions for how to improve your book’s cover, marketing copy, and even your author bio.
Who Is the Right Beta-Reader for You?
Here are a few things to look for in your ideal beta-readers:
- Do they read a lot of books, especially contemporary books? Are they aware of current publishing trends and bestselling writers?
- Are they well-read in the genre that you are writing in? For example, if you are writing romance, you’ll want a beta-reader who has read many romance novels. They’ll be able to tell you how your book measures up against other writers of the genre.
- Do they write too? A writer will be able to analyze your book in a way that goes beyond what the average reader will offer in terms of feedback. A beta-reader who is also a writer can tell you not just where you have made typos or copyediting mistakes but can also offer suggestions for how to improve voice, character development, plot, setting, and pacing.
Finding Beta-Readers through Online Workshopping
Online workshopping has become a convenient, low-risk, and free way for writers to get feedback on their work. Often called “online writing communities,” these sites are like social networks for writers and no-commitment writing classes all in one. Simply join the online writing community and exchange feedback with writers from the comfort of your own home.
What should you look for in an online writing community?
- The community should have a fair system for making sure that members are actually reviewing one another, rather than just posting their own books for review.
- Make sure the community has writers in your genre.
- Writers reviewing manuscripts in a community should be exchanging detailed, honest feedback, and offering suggestions on how to make your book better.
- You should be able to post new drafts of your book and archive previous versions of the manuscript so that you can access them as you revise.
- The community should have credible ties to the publishing industry, so that you can trust the opinions and advice of the site’s content.
- The community should be open to traditional publishing and self-publishing.
- The community should be focused on helping one another.
What Kind of Feedback Makes Your Book Better?
A writer needs honest, detailed feedback about these writing issues:
- character development
- point of view
- clarity in specific lines or passages of the prose
Since so much of finding an audience and selling a book is about how a book is positioned in the marketplace, it’s also important to get feedback about how your book compares to other books in its genre, and whether the way it’s presented (for example, the book’s cover and title) makes sense to a reader. A writer should get feedback on his or her synopsis too.
Workshopping your book with beta-readers can be the difference between a great idea and a great book. Follow the example of successful start-up companies, and find beta-readers to help you launch your book successfully.