What is it?
Beta readers are those who read your book AS READERS—not as writers or editors or people who love you and can't bring themselves to say anything bad about your work—but as engaged readers who can give honest feedback on what did and did not work for them in your book. They comment on things like detail inconsistencies, where their attention wavers, what they think of the characters, and confusing sentences, subplot and twists. They address weak spots in your manuscript before you share it with the world.
Don't editors do that?
Yes, but an editor's perspective is only one point of view. You want multiple beta readers to give you a more well-rounded advantage. Also, good beta readers can save you the expense of hiring a developmental editor.
Can't I just ask my family and closest friends?
Family, significant others, and besties can sometimes be the worst beta readers. They know you, and they love you, so they're inclined to love whatever you write—no matter how good or otherwise it may be. The glowing praise they might give you will not be useful. You need positive, constructive feedback—nothing less.
How it works
You need three to five beta readers, minimum. Send two or three of them the first draft, implement their feedback, then send the next draft out to your next two or three beta readers. Never send your first draft to all of your beta readers at once. Leave some fresh eyes to give you feedback on the new version in case you end up rearranging scenes or rewriting significant portions of the book.
Try to work with new beta readers for each iteration of your book as those who've read it before will be more familiar and comfortable with your writing, making it sometimes difficult for them to see flaws.
Be clear upfront on what type of feedback you're wanting from them. Do not
—let's reiterate: DO NOT
—expect, ask, or suggest that they look for grammar and punctuation mistakes. If that is what you want, then you need to hire an editor. (And we have a directory of freelance Black editors for you to choose from at BlackEditorsProofreaders.com
Guide the feedback you need by asking questions at the end of chapters. Ask things like could you relate to the main character? What type of vibe or emotion did my introduction of character C generate? Did the backstory I added in this chapter slow down the pacing too much? Is character A too simpleminded to you to make her a sympathetic character? What scene is most memorable? What struck you as the most problematic or troubling? At what point did you think, "Yes! Now it's getting good!"?
And ask for explanations when your beta reader presents an issue to you. If they don't like the main character, you need to know why not. If it's intended as part of your plot, then good. If not, you need to know if that's something you need to fix.
Advanced Copy Reader Teams
Your best beta readers will make up your Advanced Copy Reader team. You'll gift them a free copy of your book when it's closer to finished, but they won’t be giving you the same in-depth feedback. Instead, your ARC readers will help you with REVIEWS for release day, posting them on the Black Writers Collective bookstore, Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, or any other bookseller websites.
Want to be a member of the Beta Clique?
Join at the Reader membership level and introduce yourself in the Beta Clique forums, which are separate from the writer forums and accessible via the button below. Register for the forum using the same username and password that you selected during membership registration.
Next, create a post in the BETA READERS forum. Indicate that you're looking to do beta or advanced copy readings for authors of the types of stories or materials you enjoy. Share a little about your background. Identify the specific genres and name some of your favorite authors. Be sure to mention any prior beta reading, book club, or book reviewing experience you have.
Once you've done that, browse the thread of authors seeking beta readers. Respond to them in the thread and include a link to your introduction in the Beta Clique group. That way you don't have to keep repeating the same general introductory info.
The Beta Clique is open to all BWC members.