Beta Readers: My First Experience & What I Learned

So, this was quite the experience. In the process of working on my newest novel, I decided to give beta readers a try! This article will discuss my first experience with beta readers and what I learned as well as whether or not I would utilize them again for future projects. 

First, allow me to give a definition of what a Beta Reader is:

a test reader, usually unpaid, of an unreleased work of literature. They are not a professional, therefore they provide feedback from the point of view of an average reader to the author.

Apparently, they are often confused with Critique Partners. Critique Partners are other writers you regularly share your unreleased work with to garner feedback and possibly bounce ideas off each other. They aren’t considered a co-writer, but sort of like a work bestie if you will.

How I Found My Beta Readers

I did plenty of research and read multiple articles containing resources to locate and reach out to prospective beta readers. But, this being my first time and my main concern being the desire to work with people I at least somewhat know as opposed to complete strangers, I went a different route.

I created a poll on my Instagram story simply asking my followers who all loves to read and also loves gifts.

 1. I have a pretty decent average viewership on my IG stories so it was a favorable tool to use in conducting the poll.

2. I read about beta readers typically being unpaid, but I knew I would want to send out a Thank You box for them dedicating their time. The feedback provided would do nothing but help me and I believe they deserve a gift for that.

So, the votes came in and a decent amount of people stated “yes”. I ignored the “no”‘s. Scrolling through the responses, I selected who I could consider trusting with my baby from that list. My criteria for narrowing down the options were:

1. I have to know them (in some capacity). Can’t be a complete stranger.

2. They can’t seem shady. Must be someone my intuition feels can be trusted with my unreleased work.

After coming up with a solid list of potentials, I drafted a template to send to everyone that covers everything: I’m looking for beta readers for my most recent novel, why I decided to reach out to them, a brief synopsis of the novel, and my expectations for the process.  

Below is the template I used for this initial message: 

Hey! So you love reading & gifts (smiley face). I just finished my new book and I’m looking for a select group of honest, straightforward people that can read it and give me feedback (confetti emoji). But there’s a time deadline: August 31st – so I’d need at least 4-5 chapters read each week. It’s basically like a job lol which is why I’m shipping out gift boxes for those who’d like to do this for me. If you think you’d have time to squeeze something like this in your schedule let me know and I’ll send you details/summary of the novel and we can chop it up more. If not it’s 100% fine, it’s all love regardless (heart emoji).

Once the recipient responded stating they would love to participate in this, I then sent a message with a lot more information. 
 

Hey XXX!

I just finished my new book and I’m looking for a few honest, straight-forward people to read it and provide some feedback (confetti emoji). Below is an ‘unofficial’ summary of the novel:

(Unofficial summary of the novel inserted here)

Yes, it’s a free read and before the book drops but it’s low-key a job! That’s why you get a gift. More info below:

  • Starting August 4th (flexible) I’ll send you 5 chapters to read per week, then the last week is only 3 to conclude the 18 chapters of the novel. This would bring the process to an end by August 31st. If you wanna read it faster it’s a go! Just tell me and I’ll send the next round of chapters whenever you ask – That means you like it🥰 faster is popping but please no slower. 

  • Read to enjoy but also be as critical as possible. Answer a few check-in questions after each round of chapters (only about 3). These questions are what will give me 75% of the feedback, mostly about your perception of certain scenes/chapters, if anything is redundant or doesn’t make sense, etc. Basically a conversation about it like how you’d talk to a friend that read the same book. Flexible on how answers to the questions can be sent each week. We can text, talk on the phone, email, whateva I just need 100% honesty. Don’t be afraid to hurt my feelings.

  • Provide an overall review for the book after you finish it. This is the 25% of feedback needed. And you already know I’m using it for promotional purposes lol.

  • And lastly, enjoy it!! But please be discreet. Agreeing to be in the select group of people to read this novel first before it is put through the process of being shared with the world does mean you agree to keep details of what you read a secret. No spoiler alerts in dis bih lol.

And make sure you give me a good mailing address for you so I can ship your gift (gift emoji).

I have big plans for this book that I didn’t do for the other ones and you’d be a huge part in making sure I have my sh*t together for this big step.

Sorry for this long message! If you’re down to be a reader, please let me know by (specific date). If not, it’s 100% fine. I love you regardless (heart emoji).

As you can see, I was super detailed. I wanted to be sure to include all the info I would want to know if someone reached out to me asking for the same thing: hard deadline, expectations regarding being discreet as well as how much feedback is desired, of course, what the book is about so I even know if I’d want to read the thing, and confirmation that if I say “no”, you won’t be upset – no pressure.

Their responses stating they agree and would still love to participate set the process in motion. Some started August 1st, others started sooner as they were ready to get a head start (either due to busy schedules or excitement of reading the book).

I sent the expectation of 4-5 chapters a week due to that being the easiest way for readers to get through the book in the month they had to do so. You read 5 chapters a week for three weeks, then the last week you only have 3 chapters and you’re done. I even read the sections myself in a matter of like 2 days to time how long it takes me to leisurely read them. This way I could make sure what I was asking for was feasible and not insane. But this wasn’t a hard schedule, just a suggestion. Some stuck by it, some went slower, and some went faster.

The Process & Communication with Beta Readers

Every time my readers finished a section of 5 chapters, they would let me know so I could send the feedback questions I have for the section and the next 5 chapters. I decided to send the chapters in sections as it seemed like it would make the reading seem less intimidating by looking at the manuscript and only seeing 5 chapters to read at a time rather than a whole 18. One of the readers even let me know at the end that it didn’t feel like they read a whole a*s novel in one month because of it being broken up, so it was great to know handling the process that way did help a bit.

As far as communication, I only talked to the readers when I wanted to make sure there was no confusion or when they reached out to me. As bad as I wanted to message them and ask how they felt about everything they read and make them discuss the plot and the characters with me all day every day, I made sure I didn’t. It was hard, but the last thing I wanted to be was annoying. So I took the opportunities they presented to talk about the book and didn’t push to initiate the conversation much – I would, if anything, just ask follow-up questions for feedback they provided if anything wasn’t clear.

The End of The Process

August 31st was the hard deadline. But when it rolled around I hadn’t finished getting some things together for the process of querying agents I would be starting in September, so I gave the readers another week. Some were done by August 31st but others weren’t so it worked out. Then some were able to finish in that extra week while others were not. By that time, those who had not finished were thanked for the time they did put in and instructed to go ahead and stop where they are.

It was time for me to finalize any additional revisions I would be doing to the manuscript so I could get the ball rolling on querying. So those that didn’t finish were asked more info on why they may not have finished (time deadline too strict, book not your cup of tea? etc.) so I could gather any last feedback regarding anything having to do with the book being a reason why they didn’t make the deadline. And they were sent Thank You cards for what they were able to provide and the time they did dedicate.

Now the ones that did finish received Thank You gift boxes. I was so excited to put these together and ship them out. They contained various items, both personalized to the reader (since I knew them I was able to do such a thing) and having to do with the book.

Most stated they would have done it for free/no gift but appreciated what was sent to them.

So, with all that being said… would I ever use beta readers again?

 My Conclusion(s) & What I Learned from My Experience with Beta Readers

No. I would not utilize beta readers again.  

Well, maybe.

The feedback was super helpful. It let me know a lot of what I was hoping to portray in the novel was being perceived accurately and there were only a couple of areas that could use a little sprucing up. It helped me complete a final round of revisions right before starting the agent query process that made me feel a bit more confident in my work after having several other pairs of eyes take a look at it.

However, I would have liked for more people to actually finish the complete process for me so I could’ve collected more feedback than I was able to. So, if I were to try beta readers again, I might utilize the resources I came across and hit an online forum in which I can find complete strangers with credible references to do the reading. And perhaps I would try to give them longer than a month to read the book, increasing the chance of them getting the job done. 

Overall, I am super thankful for the experience and all the people that agreed to give it a try for me. I have now been in the process of querying agents since earlier this week and I’m trying to stay busier than usual to make the 4-10 week turnaround time for responses go by a little quicker. This is the most nerve-wracking part of attempting to break into traditional publishing as it’s out of my control, but I’m in positive spirits. Expecting a healthy amount of rejections but I know it’s needed to make it to the one offer I’m hoping for from the right person. 

Let me know if you’ve utilized beta readers and how the experience was for you, or if you’re thinking about attempting it let me know and let’s chat! Shout out to all my fellow authors out there! If the writing doesn’t try to kill us, the business part that comes after finishing your piece definitely will. But it’s okay, because we’re resilient.

 

And we know what we signed up for when this became our passion.

 

xo

 

-aew

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