With so many publishing options available at your fingertips, now you can be a published author in the blink of an eye.
However, writing a book is no mean feat. One needs a whole team of people to work on the book after having written it, to make it presentable to the audience. Editors, proofreaders, cover designers are all well-known key elements of a novel. What we often miss is the role of beta reading or a beta reader in a manuscript.
Let’s understand the whole process of beta reading at length here.
Who does beta reading?
A beta reader is not a professional and can therefore provide advice and comments in the opinions of an average reader. This feedback is used by the writer to fix any issues plot, pacing, and consistency to make the manuscript better overall.
The beta reader also serves as a sounding board to see if the book has had the intended emotional impact.
To simplify it, beta-reading is a detailed analysis of different aspects of your manuscript. Derived from the computer coding language where the beta version of the software is made available for testing, beta reading is a similar testing for unpublished books.
Professionally beta reading can provide objective, unbiased and detailed feedback on your manuscript, ensuring that you are on the right track to fulfilling your dream. Many times, beta reading also helps in market analysis by predicting the response to the book.
What is professional beta reading?
Professional beta-reading is done by book reviewers, literary critics, other authors who write on similar topics or genres, previous editors from the publishing houses, etc.
If you notice closely we are looking at people who have expertise in commenting on a book and at the same time have the knack to observe the finer nuances of writing.
Sensitivity readers are specialists beta readers who analyze the book purely on the basis of its content and its relevance /impact on certain groups of readers.
For e.g, your book talks about domestic violence – an issue that is extremely close to your heart. You have researched it well before writing about it. However, it is always important to know how it reads for a person who has lived this experience.
That is where having a sensitivity reader who has experienced domestic violence will help in making your book relevant and at the same time, respectful towards their lived experiences.
Why do you need beta reading?
Writing is a lonely job and it always helps to have someone out there who can help you on this journey to accomplish the dream of being a published author.
A plotline that looked awesome on paper might not transcend onto an equally (or more) amazing story when written in 50,000 words. A defined synopsis might have got forgotten somewhere in getting those perfect setting scenes and a detailed character-sketch might not look ‘detailed’ in the book.
Through the process of beta reading, one can note such misses and highlight them accurately to polish a book before it is published.
One can always argue over this because it is easy to find readers for an unpublished novel being given out for free. Friends and family might be more than willing to be the first reader of that prized manuscript.
However, it is the type of feedback that is crucial at this juncture and can make or mar the future of your novel.
In all possibilities, friends and family members might not –
(1) Give a harsh critical judgment keeping aside their feelings /relationship with you
(2) Be qualified enough to do an overall analysis of the manuscript, vis-à-vis the writing style, the narrative, techniques, character-building.
Some might be either of the above cases while some might be both. And that is the reason a professional beta reader is always recommended for authors.
In short, beta-reading basically shares the reader’s reaction to the story in terms of whether it was a Yay or a Nay.
What to expect from beta reading?
- Honest and critical feedback of your manuscript
- Suggestions to improve it (Not mandatory)
- A clear picture of how a reader might perceive the book as
How to choose beta-readers for beta reading?
For beta reading your manuscript, your beta reader could be a reader, an established writer of the same genre as yours, or even a professional beta reader. Choose your target wisely basis on your desired output to get optimum results.
Points to keep in mind before choosing your beta-reader:
Area of expertise for beta reading
Always try to understand what is the strength of the person who is beta-reading your manuscript. Are they writing in a similar genre? Or they are able to analyze a novel well based on the 10 parameters of novel-writing?
If you are looking for specific feedback on your manuscript which is say historical fiction, ideally you should be approaching someone who has experience or a keen interest in history and historical fiction.
That is when they will be able to add value to the manuscript with their inputs. Furthermore, their areas of expertise should also match the kind of feedback you are looking for.
Experience in beta reading
Someone who is new to this profession or industry, might not be critical enough to give feedback on your manuscript compared to someone who has decades of experience.
Type of feedback from beta reading
What type of feedback will they share? Will it be critical feedback? Will it be based on observations? Will there be suggestions? Will be detailed or short?
Actionables after beta reading
For any feedback, you receive on your manuscript, you should be able to draw actionable feedback. If you are not, that feedback serves no purpose.
How to approach the beta reading process?
The best approach for the beta reading process is to do it in multiple rounds. Choose a lot of 3-4 max, share the draft and wait for their feedback. Once you have reworked the feedback, share with another 2-3 beta-readers to gauge the impact of those changes.
When should you consider beta reading?
Ideally, beta reading should be considered when you are done re-writing your MS for the umpteenth time and are unable to find any loopholes in it!
Jokes apart, as a writer you should request for it when you are thoroughly saturated with both the output and the input. There is nothing more that you can think of, to add to it, and are now, curious to know what others think of it. You should not consider sending a half-written manuscript because the feedback might not be that helpful.
However, before going ahead with beta-reading, it is important to analyze the following aspects:
- What are you expecting from the beta-reading?
As a writer, there could be many things that are a matter of concern for us in our manuscript. It could be a particular character, the overall voice, the language, the setting, or the marketability of the book. If you are specific with your requirements in terms of feedback then you can expect specific replies. Generic feedback will not be helpful in any manner.
- Do you want the whole MS to be analyzed or only the blurb/synopsis along with sample 3 chapters in beta reading?
This is important because if you opt for the latter you get a feel of how an agent or an editor might react to your queries and if the former, it could mean you might need to rework on your manuscript basis the detailed feedback that you will be given.
- How many beta-readers should you hire for beta reading?
Always good to have more than one to have well-rounded feedback. Relying on only one person’s feedback might not be the ideal thing to do.
Make it a point to discuss your ideas, fears, and expectations with your beta-reader / manuscript assessor before the commencement of assessing to ensure you both are on the same page. This will help you get the feedback as desired by you.
How to find beta-readers for beta reading?
We will be doing a separate post on this. However, you can also check out our list of Editors in India. Some of them do offer beta reading services also. And of course, after beta reading, hiring an editor is the next step.
It is important to note that beta reading doesn’t guarantee the acceptance of your manuscript.
What does it guarantee then? You might ask.
Well, it guarantees you a third person’s perspective on your manuscript. It guarantees your manuscript ends up being sensitive and well-rounded for readers to enjoy and appreciate the content to the fullest extent.