How can you work with beta readers?

Reading time: About one minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about beta readers…

My clients ask me about beta readers all the time: What are they? What can they do? How can you find them?

Let me tackle those three questions now:

What is a beta reader?

A beta reader is an interested non-professional (and by that I mean non-literary professional — it’s perfectly OK to use doctors, lawyers and engineers who have the time) who reads your manuscript before you send it to an editor.

What can they do?

Their job is to let you know whether your book is clear, interesting, understandable and engaging enough.  Essentially, they are taking your book for a “test drive” so that you can revise it with the comments of these readers in mind.

How can you find them?

Don’t use family members. The problem with them is that most will be either mindlessly supportive (“your book is so wonderful“) OR mindlessly critical (“this book is unbelievably poorly written.”) Instead, you need thoughtful, intelligent people who will give you specific feedback (“I didn’t believe character Mark’s motivation when he left his wife in chapter 10.”) Look for someone who is opinionated but also tactful. Also, remember that most books are in the range of 70,000 words and not everyone will have the time for that type of commitment. Avoid parents of young children and anyone who is looking after someone who is sick.

For more information about beta readers, check out a recent blog post I read on the Write Practice website. I found most of the advice it gives to be spot on. Just one small point on which I’d disagree: I think 15 is too many beta readers. For most people six to eight will be more than enough.

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