Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Beta Readers Can Help You Edit Your Book

By Lorilyn Roberts

You have finished your manuscript – the first draft, which is more than a first rough draft. It is your edited first draft. I interpret that to be my first draft that I have edited as much as I can. That means I don’t know what I need to fix and/or I can’t find any more errors. In other words, I have no more objectivity. If this sounds confusing, I don’t mean it to be. I want to emphasize you don’t want to give your manuscript to beta readers until you have made it the best you can.

Does that mean your book is a masterpiece and ready to be published? Hardly. It means your manuscript is as good as it will be without input from others. Good beta readers will find the weaknesses, flaws, and issues that need to be fixed.

One of the hardest things for me to do is to take that first-draft manuscript and give it to someone to read when I am the only one who has yet to read it. Part of me wants to share it and part of me doesn’t—I want the feedback, but I also fear what others will say—suppose my book is horrible? Even if it’s not horrible, the process is humbling.

This is the most critical stage in writing a book. Anybody can write a first draft, but not everyone can take the risk of submitting it to someone and then evaluate the feedback objectively—what’s good, what’s worth considering, and what is totally “screwed up”? And yes, some will be way off base, but I can almost guarantee you, for every ten beta readers who read your book, you will get one or two gem readers that will amaze you with their insight—and that’s what makes the process of beta readers invaluable.

I offer some tips from my own experience, having used beta readers for two books—one fiction and one nonfiction. How can you get the most out of beta readers?

1. Have a list of specific questions you want the reader to answer.
On my recent fiction book, Seventh Dimension – The Door, a Young Adult Christian Fantasy, an example of a question and helpful response was the following from Hannah Bombardier:

Did you stay interested throughout the story until the end? If not, where did your interest wane?

At the very beginning I had a hard time staying focused, but I became interested when I got a couple chapters in, and my attention was caught by the time Shale was transported to the Seventh Dimension. However, I think that was partly because I was confused at the beginning, and I tend to be bored when I’m confused, but your revision should help with that a lot.

Consider your target audience and who is providing the feedback. Hannah is a teenager so I took her feedback seriously. Obviously, I have some work to do on my beginning, and that’s what I need to know BEFORE I publish my book.

2. Give a deadline on when you want your beta readers to finish reading your manuscript. Some readers will give you feedback quickly; others won’t. It will help if you give them a timeline.

3. Don’t expect beta readers to “edit your book.” They are reading your manuscript for flaws of story. You will still need a professional editor to fix grammar, typos, English, diction, et cetera; i.e., a copy editor.

4. When you receive your feedback, thank the person for his input regardless of whether you like his comments. The reader took his precious time to give you feedback and that is a gift.

5. If you have offered something in return for the reader’s comments, follow through quickly. In my case, I offered a $5 Amazon gift certificate—not much, I’m a poor author, but each person will also be recognized in my book on the acknowledgment page when published and will receive a free Kindle copy of the book.

6. Go through each comment and evaluate what the reader wrote. Weigh what he said and consider his feedback against the comments you receive from others. Some comments will be contradictory; others will be consistent. This is the value of beta readers. If one comment is consistent, that is definitely something you need to consider.

7. Recognize that not everybody will like your book. Those who don’t, consider why not and if there is a way to fix the issue or issues.

8. Remember, the book is yours—you know your story better than anyone else. Take all the feedback to heart and get busy editing, tossing out those comments that are not useful and incorporating those that are.

9. Where do I find beta readers? With my first book Children of Dreams, I approached the leader of the readers’ group at my church. I had never attended any of the meetings, so I did not know many of the readers (don’t include your mother as a beta reader; she will love your book no matter what). Some of my best feedback came from those readers. For my fiction book, I used the readers for the John 3:16 Marketing Network, almost all of whom I did not know. Sometimes friends can find it hard to be objective.

10. While implementing the process of beta readers takes more time, costs money, and requires extra work, in the end, your book will be better because of it. Beta readers as a whole can provide valuable feedback for authors, especially those who self-publish and do not have the benefit of a high-fluting editor at a prominent publishing house. If you have “problems” with the content, the readers will find them and give you the input you need before publishing, increasing your odds of getting those five-star reviews on Amazon. 


  1. Thanks for sharing this post. I would be interested in having beta readers for my books. It is sometimes hard to accept the criticism, but it is worth it if in the end the book is better.
    Deborah H. Bateman - Author

  2. Good article and good advice. I will follow through in my next book with some beta readers. I have used friends to read and submit errors and mis-spellings (Word does a fair job but not like a good literary reader) and I have received good help. You are a prize to know and work with. Please don't despair of us who sit at your feet.

    In His service,

    Tom Spoonts

  3. Excellent advice. I tried something new this time that may be of interest. I prepared Advanced Review Copies (ARCs). CreateSpace lets you order up to five proof copies. I gave these to beta readers so they could also comment on the look and feel of the book. In addition to comments about the story, I got suggestions about the cover as well. In fact the cover changed based on the feedback. In addition to the five printed ARCs, I sent printed manuscripts to two people and pdfs to two. Here is the message I sent each reader:

    Notes for Advanced Readers

    I'm doing this a different way this time. Instead of giving you some bulky 81/2 x 11 pages to read, I've made a special book for you. This way you can comment on the whole package, text as well as cover. But, just because it looks finished, don't hesitate to suggest changes. At this stage anything can be changed.

    A professional editor is proofreading so you don't need to look for grammar errors, etc. I would like your comments about the story as well as the cover and the interior (type, formatting, etc.). Let me know if you see anything wrong with the book.

    The book went through several major changes. So, if something doesn't make sense it might be because a section didn't get changed completely. Let me know if you spot anything like that.

    I'd like this book to stand alone, but it is a sequel to Where Love Once Lived. Let me know if you find any inconsistencies between the two books.

    You may keep this copy of the book so make all notes according to page number. I'll send you a signed copy of the book after publication.

    I'd also appreciate a review for Amazon you could have ready to go upon publication.