Do you want to be a beta reader?  Really, I want to know.  Do you?

Maybe you would like a beta reader (or three) instead.  Would you like that?  Of course you would.  What writer wouldn’t?This has been a recent quest I’ve been exploring.  After discussing writing with several friends and writers, especially Seed author, Ania Ahlborn, I decided to start looking for some beta readers.

Traditionally, when I’m talking to someone about one of my books–like Mind & Machine–I’ll start just the way a book on a shelf must, with the back cover.  For all my books, I have a sheet of paper with the cover text, ready to show off at any moment.  For Mind & Machine, it currently says:

He called himself Commander, setting aside his name, his life, and his identity to take on the conspiracy that experimented on him.  Once his battle began, Commander’s real weakness was exposed—his unrequited love for a woman named Kathryn.

In order to survive, Commander will have to face things he’s never imagined.  Libraries filled with histories that haven’t happened yet, monsters made with forgotten technology, ancient feuds between secret societies, not to mention the conspirators he’s already attacked.

But to succeed, he might have to give up his quest for vengeance and any chance he might have with Kathryn.

I’ve been lucky so far, since most people–actually almost every person I show this to–says, “Wow, that’s interesting,” or something to that effect.  Of course, I ask the next logical question: “Would you like to read some of it?”

As much as I’d like everyone to say yes to that question, and many people do, it doesn’t always translate to an actual beta reading, not even for a single chapter.  I’m asking if people want to read my work so I can improve upon it, not just to show it off.  While I have friends who want to help or who are well suited to the task at hand, things don’t always line up perfectly, which leads me to my main point:

What am I looking for in a beta reader?

  • Someone who will read my book. (You’d be surprised how difficult this is.)
  • Someone who will give me feedback. (Again, difficult.)
  • Someone who will communicate in a timely manner. (This is the point that gets me more often than not.)

If we’re to a point where I’m showing off the back cover, then, hopefully, we’re at a stage where someone will want to read the book.  It’s important to hit this point first because this is the point you’re ultimately trying to get to.  You want people to pick up and read your book, with little to no prompting on your part.  Also, the last thing you want is for your reader to think of reading your book as a chore.  Unless your book is about chores, then maybe.

Since we’re discussing beta readers, then feedback is also an essential factor.  If someone wants to read what you’ve written, but they don’t want to give feedback, they need to wait until it’s available for sale and buy a copy.  That might sound like a joke, but it’s the truth.  Without some form of feedback, you don’t learn what’s wrong with your writing and you do not learn what you’re doing right.  This is the core purpose a beta reader serves.

The other purpose the beta reader serves is to communicate with you in a timely manner.  Sounds a lot like getting feedback, but this is different in a subtle, but distinct way.  As you and a beta reader talk, you’ll know where they are in their reading, even if they aren’t done yet.  You’ll find out how enthused they are, but you’ll also need this to find out if a reader is ready, willing, and able to supply that feedback you need.  Time is precious in these busy times, so you want to make the most of it.

Something else you could do is to let a beta reader know where you are with your book.  (I say book because that’s what I write, but any form of writing applies.)  I could tell a potential reader that, “I finished writing Mind & Machine a year ago.  I’m about to finish a polishing draft and would love to get an outside opinion on what I’m doing.”  Don’t lie about what you’re doing.  If you haven’t finished writing the whole thing, that’s fine, just be sure to let your readers know where you are.

The more you can share information about what you’re working on, the more you’ll be excited to get that feedback, even if it’s not exactly what you wanted to hear.  The feedback you get could be the key to turning your book into a published work instead of just a draft sitting on your hard drive.

And don’t forget you can also play things as a trade.  There’s everything right about writers sharing works with each other.  This is the foundation of a critique group and it’s a great thing to have, especially when everyone is working at the same pace.

No matter who you might recruit, remember to thank them in the acknowledgements section of your book.  You could even promote something for them online or when talking to other friends, just as a thank you.  Regardless of how you do it, be sure to thank someone for any and all constructive comments they might give.

So, now that I’ve gotten all that taken care of, do you want to be a beta reader?

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