How to Work with Beta Readers to Finish Your Book
Sharing your early writing can help you avoid embarrassing mistakes that cause readers to leave bad reviews after you publish to the world. When you encourage honest feedback from early readers you also get a team of people who feel invested in your book. When it's time to launch your book, you're going to have a marketing street team to help. Read on to learn how to cultivate and interact with beta readers.
Which Comes First? Critique Partners or Beta Readers?
Beta publishing is pre-publishing or publishing “small,” before you distribute “big” using IngramSpark, Draft2Digital or any of the other services that get your book into Amazon, Apple, the other online retailers, not to mention bookstores and libraries.
For beta publishing you might distribute your book to early readers using Google Docs, Dropbox, or even better, a tool like BookFunnel, Story Origin, or ProlificWorks. (See my Consumer's Guide for a full list).
In my writing life, I've had groups from two to ten critique partners. Some members have been family members, but I've always had at least two writers to exchange critiques with. I'm also a big fan of writer's groups.
I think you should get input from critique partners who have studied the art of storytelling before distributing to beta readers. Why? Because beta readers just like to read. They may not be able to give you the kind of feedback that another writer can provide.
Overcoming the Fear of Revealing Your Early Work
You may be feeling nervous about sharing your early work, before it's perfect. So beta publishing can be a tough hurdle to jump but it's undoubtedly the best way to start marketing your books.
You may imagine they'll judge you. That they'll think your writing is bad, or your story is silly, that your memoir is self-serving, or your business book is pompous or boring.
These are understandable insecurities, but here are the top three things I believe about fear.
- Fear is normal.
- Fear is inevitable.
- Fear can stop you from living your best life.
If you aren't doing something that scares you a little bit every day you might be missing out. So, trust yourself. Plus, you'd rather it happen now than AFTER you publish, right? That's a powerful incentive.
How to Find Beta Readers
If you're writing in a certain genre or on a topic, you're probably connected to others who read the same kinds of things. You'll probably need to start hanging out on social media with them and interacting BEFORE you ask them to read your book.
Wait for my upcoming blog post for ideas on how to find beta readers using your personal, professional, and social connections, and groups on the web, too.
Where to Beta Publish
Now that you've learned how to find beta readers, let’s explore all the places where you can safely and beta publish your stories and books. Save perfection for the finished product. Just get your writing out there and start conversations with your readers. This is a great marketing practice that helps you build your community and your 1000 true fans.
How to Interact with Beta Readers
Working with beta readers should be a pleasure. It's important to find the right ones, offer them a reward that is valuable to them, and to maintain communication. When you contact your beta readers, clarify that the critique questions are optional.
Be upfront and honest about the type of critique you’re looking for, but never believe you’re entitled to receive it simply because you’ve offered to beta in return. Writers lead busy lives, and sometimes they simply don’t have the time or desire to meet your needs.
Wait for my upcoming blog post on how to interact with your beta readers for tips and resources.
Turning Beta Readers into a Powerful Book Marketing Street Team
Once you've developed relationships with your beta readers, don't drop them. These people are your early fans and will be happy to spread the word about your book once it's finished.
Keep them involved, send them revisions, ask their opinions, thank them with free, autographed copies of your book. Ask them to take a photo with your book to post on social media and your website. The cost of printing and postage is cheap compared to the exposure you'll get.
- Social media
- Virtual meetings (like Zoom)
- In-person meetings, if you've got local fans
- Email newsletters
Once your book is ready to launch you can ask them to prepare a review for Amazon for the first day of publication. Here’s a lot more information on how you can build your book marketing street team.
Create a Beta Reader Application
When recruiting beta readers, it's best to set the bar high by asking them to apply to be a beta reader. Use Google Forms and make all questions required. You will be asking a lot from these people - but giving them rewards! - so it's best if you know they can at least complete a form first, right? Ask them what social media platforms they use, if they belong to book groups, what other authors they read, if they use Goodreads or Library Thing, and why they want to be a beta reader for you. Make the last question optional: "Do you want me to know anything else about you?" and you'll be surprised.
Beta readers can help you with editing, but you really should hire professional editing and proofreading before you publish your book. You can download my free book formatting guide for the next steps.
I also want to invite you to take my online course on How to Recruit Critique Partners and Early Readers to gain a more in-depth understanding of this topic.
Stuart Horwitz, founder and principal of the award-winning Book Architecture, has spent over 15 years helping writers become authors. He is an essayist and poet, who has taught writing at Grub Street of Boston and Brown University.
Stuart has graciously allowed me to share his post with you on how to create a questionnaire to receive actionable answers from your beta readers and a few chapters from his book. Get Stuart’s Finish Your Book in Three Drafts here.
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