I know what you’re thinking. “Why is a literary agency writing an article about beta readers?” Well, ’cause having your manuscript beta read prior to querying an agent is really important in order to put your best foot forward. Beta readers can help catch common, easy to fix mistakes such as detail inconsistencies, that you may miss…because believe me, we all know that you have looked over that manuscript until you can’t possibly look at it anymore. (riiiiiiiiiight?) A fresh set of eyes will help immensely in this aspect. Especially if you get the right kind of beta reader for your story.
So, what is a beta reader? A beta reader is someone who reads your manuscript after you’ve finished it and gives you notes back on what needs to be fixed. They help find plot holes, inconsistencies in detail or POV, point out flaws in voice and character authenticity, or they can proof read, give raw reader feedback on whether or not the story was enjoyable—in essence, a myriad of anything and everything to help make your story cleaner and sharper.
They work as a second set of eyes for your manuscript and help you in your revisions so that something good can become something great. So how do you go about picking the right beta reader? How do you know who’s going to give you the best advice for your story? Simple. Look for someone who reads your genre, has a good grasp on writing and story-telling technique, and someone who’s not afraid to be honest.
The first is the most important—find someone who reads your genre. While there are many out there who state having a different perspective can be a good thing, and this can be true if the beta is incredibly objective and just that flexible…but this tends to be the exception and not the rule because it’s hard to give feedback on something that doesn’t interest you. A good beta reader will know their own limitations and appropriately decline if a book isn’t right for them. If you write horror and send your manuscript to someone who doesn’t like horror or anything in that vein, then there’s a big chance that their recommendations are not going to be what’s best for your story. Vet your beta readers. If they don’t have a list stating what they like to read, then talk to them a little bit before you send them your manuscript. Send them a couple emails, describe your story, and see if it’s something they are interested in.
The second most important thing that you should look for in a beta reader is that they have a good understanding on how writing works. Friends and family are great for telling you whether or not it was enjoyable, but unless they come with a fundamental understanding of writing techniques, they may not be able to help you solve more problematic areas. They may even be able to pinpoint that something isn’t working but not know what that something is or what to do to fix it.
Check out these great places to find beta readers:
Unfortunately this is where most writers get nervous. The idea of sending their manuscript to a complete stranger can be terrifying, but you have to remember that publishing a book is a collaborative process. If you’re looking for traditional publishing, you’ll need to get an agent. You’ll have to submit that manuscript to dozens of agents to read. And most of those agencies will have interns who are learning about the industry who’ll also read your book. Let’s say you get offered representation by one of the agents. Then, that agent will pitch your manuscript to dozens of editors that they think will be a great fit for your book. And many publishing houses have their own sets of interns that will probably be looking at the book. Then, if a sale is made, your book will go through several rounds of edits before finally being ready for publishing. You will have to learn to let go at some point. Which leads me to my next point….
Find someone who’s not afraid to be honest in their feedback and likewise, you need to be in a position where you are also ready to hear honest feedback with an open mind. Finding someone to squeal over your book is great and can be so validating. But it won’t do you any good if they don’t offer you any advice. And you have to be ready for that advice. We get that creating a manuscript is a creative birth of your imagination and therefore it is very dear to you. But you still have to be objective. If you’re not ready to hear honest feedback and are not willing to make any changes, then chances are you are not ready for publishing.