Why You Need Beta Readers and Where to Find the Best
Guest post by Lauren Sapala
In the tech world “beta” means something that isn’t finished yet; a product that’s still in the testing stage. Authors have now commandeered this term for their own, using it to describe the first circle of readers to review the finished draft of a manuscript. So what’s the difference between giving your novel to a beta reader instead of your friends or family? Well, other than honest, objective feedback (which is one of the most valuable things any writer could ever ask for) the chances of success for your book go up enormously.
The ideal beta reader is usually another writer, and preferably someone who is interested and familiar with the genre in which you are writing. Getting feedback from another writer means you’re much more likely to receive concrete suggestions for improvement, along with comments on what is and is not working. Having a writer as your beta reader also gives you the chance to enter into an exchange. After they read for you, you can read for them. As you examine the weak spots in another’s manuscript with a detached eye, you learn how to logically approach the problems in your own.
Bringing on beta readers, in short, helps you become a better writer.
So where do you find them?
Your Own Writing Group
Most creative writing groups focus on critique, and due to time constraints, each member is usually only allowed to submit a few pages at a time for feedback. Beta readers, on the other hand, should be reading your entire finished manuscript.
Ask around within your current writing group to see if anyone else has finished their novel and if they would be interested in doing a beta reading exchange with you. Since it’s a trade, both of you will benefit. And since it can be done in off-hours, make it clear that it won’t interfere with the regular meetings of the group.
Social media doesn’t have to be all about self-promotion. Google+ offers a variety of excellent communities for writers looking to connect with like-minded individuals. The Writer’s Discussion Group has over 14,000 members, and if that sounds too overwhelming for you, smaller communities like Poets of G+, Aspiring Authors, and Writers, Authors, Bloggers are always open to new people too. You can browse around the different communities to find beta readers, or make a post of your own asking for volunteers.
MeetUp Groups and Workshops
If you live in a metropolitan area, Meetup.com offers a dynamic assortment of options for writers. You can find workshops and writing marathons, as well as gatherings dedicated solely to beta readers. This is a great avenue for those writers who prefer face-to-face interaction, and who are also open to meeting new writer friends. If you don’t see a beta reader meetup listed for you city, you might think about organizing your own.
Online Writing Forums
For writers looking for very specific feedback from knowledgeable readers (in the genre of hard science fiction, for example), online forums are an efficient way to find them. Because participants tend to cluster around particular topics of interest, writers can post their call for beta readers in the area most relevant to their style and content. Writers’ Café, the Next Big Writer, and WritingForums.org or Wattpad.com are just a few of the online resources available that can help writers connect.
After you have found your handful of promising beta readers, make sure both of you have the best experience possible. Be clear on your expectations. Tell your beta readers exactly what you are looking to gain from their feedback, and exactly how detailed you want them to be.
Remember, beta readers are not editors. Their function is not to correct your work, or make any actual changes. The goal of bringing on a beta reader is for you, as the writer, to get a view of your own work through a reader’s eyes.
And that, for every writer, is truly invaluable.
About the Author
Lauren Sapala is a writer, writing coach and blogger at www.laurensapala.com. She blogs about writing, creativity, and finding and holding onto one’s inspired passion in life. She currently lives in San Francisco, is working on her fifth novel, and in her free time facilitates the writing group she founded, “Write City”.
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