One of the most nerve wracking yet rewarding parts of the writing process can be sharing your work for the first time. It’s likely that you’ve been working in solitude on your piece for months or even years and you’re finally ready to move forward. Whether that be pursuing self-publishing or querying agents, it’s critical to get outside feedback on your book before considering publication.
Most writers get this necessary feedback through the beta reading process. Beta reading refers to the process where the writer of a piece allows a few individuals to read their work and offer critiques on it before taking the next steps in publishing. While it seems like a pretty simple concept, there are many variables and aspects of the process that are left open ended, or up to the writer to decide. Because of this, when looking for tips on the beta reading process, many new writers stumble upon contradicting information and opinions. This makes it difficult to begin the process and feel confident that you are conducting it correctly.
The beta reading process can be a confusing one to navigate, but following some simple tips can help you create a process that works best for you, your work, and your beta readers.
Do You Need To Have Beta Readers?
For many new writers, the beta reading process appears daunting. They don’t know where to begin, how to find readers, or how to conduct reading surveys. Oftentimes, they opt to drop the process completely rather than expose themselves to feedback. While it is truly up to you to decide if you want to go through with the beta process, almost every professional writer would urge you to complete it.
There are many benefits to working with beta readers. The feedback provided is a first glimpse into the mind of outside readers, (hopefully) unbiased and ready to critique. It also acts as an opportunity to make lasting connections in the writing and publishing community. Keri Mikulski, an accomplished author and Writing Arts professor at Rowan University remarks, “The most beneficial part of the beta process is the relationships that have grown out of sharing work and being vulnerable with each other”. The beta reading process is a way to share your writing and practice being vulnerable with people you trust before sending it off to the far more intimidating eyes of professional editors, agents, and publishers.
Step 1: Preparing the Process
Deciding how you would like to conduct the beta reading process can be overwhelming. There is no guidebook or clear-cut instructions on how to go about sending out chapters, how to contact readers, or how to set a timeframe for the process. This is because every writer does it differently, sometimes even changing their routine depending on the project or the beta reader.
While there are many components to the process that can be flexible, there are two key things to keep in mind when preparing to contact beta readers. First, make sure that you provide clear deadlines for when you would like each section of chapters (or the entire manuscript, if you are sending it out all at once) to be completed along with the corresponding questionnaire. In the same realm, you will want to tell your beta readers how long the process will take from start to finish. While the end date does not need to be exact, you will want to be honest about how long your manuscript is as well as how many weeks/months it will take for them to read it within your allotted deadlines.
Step 2: Finding Beta Readers
Now that you have a set procedure for your beta reading process, you need to actually find some beta readers. This part can be challenging for many new writers as they are still attempting to build their writing community. If you are comfortable, you can try finding beta readers, or critique partners using social media or online forums such as Wattpad, the NANOWRIMO website, or Authortube (YouTube channels dedicated to writing).
If you would rather stick to people you know, you can always try reaching out to friends and family. While they may not have the deep insight or critiquing practice as fellow writers, utilizing friends’ and family members’ opinions can give you a better idea of how the general public will view your work.
Step 3: Coming Up With Questions
One of the most exciting parts of the beta reading process is finally getting to ask the questions about your work that you’ve been harboring in your mind for a long time. You have some valued opinions at your disposal, so the pressure to ask the ‘right’ questions is definitely present. Still, it can be a difficult list to curate. Through my personal experience, I found it most helpful to include questions specific to each chapter chunk while also adding recurring, more general ones that can be applied to almost any work of writing.
My three favorite questions to include in my beta reading surveys are:
While many writers rely on certain questions to garner more specific feedback, others allow the beta readers to offer insight wherever they see fit by not giving them a survey. Mikulski states, “At this point in my career, I have a few beta buds that I trust, and we know each other pretty well as writers so I don’t normally have to include questions with my critiques. However, sometimes, depending on the needs of the project or specific areas in my work that I’m feeling might be lacking, I might include questions focused on those areas”. Both methods of receiving feedback have their strong points and drawbacks. It is up to the writer to decide which method works best for them and their readers.
Now that you’ve compiled all the necessary tools for the beta reading process, the only thing left to do is sit back and wait for the feedback to roll in, which will, admittedly, probably take longer than anticipated. Still, the wait is well worth the feeling you get your first questionnaire submitted. Whether it is filled with criticism or overwhelmingly positive, won’t matter. It will all be overshadowed by the excitement over the fact that someone actually read your writing! In a bit, you will be able to look back on the critiques with fresh eyes and pick which advice you will carry through with you to the next round of edits. And you will be one step closer to publishing your work.