- Always check spelling and grammar before you send it to a beta-reader. Nothing will put them off more than finding lots of these. A beta is not a human spell/grammar check, even though they may find some things that the spellchecker missed. You’ll get much more out of your beta reader if they don’t have to worry about correcting lots of simple errors. Beta-readers are there to give you useful advice about plot, characterization, consistency and such like. Many beta-readers will just give up if they find too many spelling or grammar errors.
- Break the work up. Send the reader the book in chapters or pairs of chapters. Then edit those they send back while they are reading the next set. If your reader is clamouring for more then that’s a great sign that your book will do well!
- Be specific about what you want from them. Beta-readers are not professional editors. They may not know exactly what to look for. They can however give you valuable insight into how the general populace will receive your work. If you want them to check something in particular, or if there’s a particular part of the work that you’re worried about then tell them about it so that they can focus their attention on it.
- Don’t give them any nasty surprises. If your book has any scenes that some readers might find shocking or upsetting (think American Psycho) then be upfront with them about it. Some readers just don’t want to read that kind of thing and will resent you for not telling them about it. Let them know upfront so they can decide whether to continue or not. Also it’s good to be totally upfront about the genre and style. Some people just don’t enjoy reading vampire novels written in the first person (I know it’s hard to believe).
- Be open to suggestions. Writers need to be open to the suggestions of a beta-reader. Their point of view is just as valid as your own, maybe even more so. If a beta-reader suggests something then be sure to give it proper consideration rather than dismissing it out of hand. A beta-reader is there to give you a point of view that is not your own, they can give you valuable insight into the way that other people will perceive your writing. Yes they are criticising you in a way but that criticism should always be constructive if they are a good reader. Try and get into the mind of the beta-reader: what were they thinking when they made that comment; what made them think that. If you strongly disagree with a comment then it may have arisen out of a misunderstanding which may reveal a hole in the story or a piece of missing information. It’s easy to do as you already have the whole story in your head but it is revealed to the reader one step at a time.
- Don’t be impatient. Sometimes it can take beta-readers a little time to give you valuable feedback on your work. Don’t expect them to drop everything in their lives straight away. If you need a quick turnaround then be up front with the beta-reader about this before they start, don’t just start hassling them every day. If they realise the tight timescales upfront they may just say that they don’t have the availability to do it in that time and you can find someone else who can.
- Weigh each suggestion on its own merits. Don’t fear not taking a suggestion given to you by a beta-reader.
- Send them the revised work. Many readers are happy to re-read after you have edited. Remember that problems can creep in during the edit just as easily as the writing.
- Say thank you.
Steps to get the most out of your beta-readers