Beta readers are indispensable! They are your first readers *knees shaking* which means they can really help get your book in shape. After writing for months, even years and re-writing for even longer, you are way too close to your work. Something might not make sense, you might have major plot holes, you might drop of secondary characters half-way through, and your antagonist might change from age 50 to age 30. But you wouldn’t notice. But your betas would!
But how many do you need? You want as much feedback as possible right? Yes and no. You need more than 2 because they might contradict each other. One might say they loved your main character and the other says that character needs work. (Which happened to me.) So you need at least 3. At least. I sent my first book, Shattered, to 12 people! Then had 3 more round-two betas waiting to read it once I put in the first round of improvements to make sure they didn’t complain of the things I thought I had fixed.
But you don’t need that many. In fact, it is really hard to find betas. I found mine on Goodreads and World Lit Cafe and a few co-workers that read a lot. But you should always submit to a few, on the chance that one or two don’t provide feedback. Yes, it does happen. Two of my readers never provided feedback, and 4 others took an extra week past deadline. So I’d search for 5 at minimum, 15 at maximum.
Why do I advise getting so many? Here is what happened to me: I got great feedback from 4, so-so feedback from 3, poor feedback from 3 and 2 others never finished. For the second round of betas, of which I had 3, I had two good betas and one reader who absolutely despised my book and didn’t finish past page two. This is bound to happen. Good thing I had 3 betas huh? Am I beating a dead horse? Probably. I’ll stop.
How To Sort the Feedback
Now it can be very overwhelming when the feedback comes in. So pace yourself. Print out their feedback and highlight critical feedback in one color and positive in another. Then map it out and keep tallies for things mentioned. Remember to take it with a grain of salt and if it doesn’t feel right, ignore the changes suggested. This is still your book and that is just one person’s opinion. Remember, it’s like a lit agent. One might hate it. Another might love exactly what they hated. So only input the changes if they feel right to you.
To save yourself trouble on the next book, make sure your questionnaire includes a question asking them if they’d like to beta read for you again. Get a beta list going to make it easier and easier with each book. You’ll learn that some betas provide great feedback, while others provide just crap. I mean it. When I asked: what scenes were hard to visualize, the answer I got: yes. Okay…..which ones? So the more betas you try out, the more likely you’ll find some gems!
Do NOT Ask Family or Even Close Friends
Oh and save yourself the headache and do NOT ask anyone really close like a family member to beta read. They’ll only tell you how lovely and perfect it is. Not helpful at all. In fact, that is detrimental. You don’t need a big head right now. And trust me, your betas will provide that positive feedback even if you don’t ask them. But it is the betas job to help make your book the best it can be. If you really want your family to read it, give them an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) so they can read it before publishing and still feel special. If they love it, they can write a review. If they lied, they won’t. No harm done.
That’s all I have on betas, since I’ve only used them once so far. I’ll add/update as time goes on. Just please please…make sure you let your betas know how much you appreciate them. They do this for free. And if they liked your book for the most part, consider asking if they’d like to read the polished/published version for free in exchange for an honest review!