Just as gaming companies release beta versions of their games for feedback about play through and game mechanics, an author may want to release a beta version of their book to readers for feedback on how the story reads and where there might be plot holes or character inconsistencies.
All writers have weaknesses somewhere. The reason you want a beta reader is that you are likely too close to the story and material to be able to realistically identify things that need a little extra work within a particular manuscript.
If you’re writing nonfiction though, or your fictional/fantasy story relies heavily on something like string theory, a beta reader might not be helpful to you. In these situations you might want a fact checker or a subject matter expert to review your book instead.
You’ll want to implement 2-3 groups of 2-3 beta readers. This is because beta readers will provide feedback, some of which you will implement. You don’t want to give the book back to the same beta readers, you’ll want new eyes to be able to tell if the changes actually work. As a beta reader becomes more familiar with your work, they’ll become more comfortable with your style and quirks, and it will be more difficult for them to identify the things which need work.
When first getting started, beta readers will likely be friends and family. Try to select those members from this circle whom you trust can be truthful about the book they’re reading. You’ll need their constructive criticism to be able to improve your writing.
If you’re part of a writing community, reach out to them for beta readers. If you have a writing platform with an established fan base, reach out using your author site to request for beta readers. If you’re on social media you can put out a call for beta readers here as well.
Ask your beta readers to jot down their thoughts as they read, even if it’s only to point out areas they particularly like. Have them try to predict what comes next. It will help you determine how people are reading your book, how people may react to your story.
You also want to be specific about what kind of feedback you want. Ask them to look for areas that aren’t well developed or areas that seem unnecessary to the story. Ask them to make notes of anything that doesn’t seem to make sense to them or causes them to pause and question what just happened.
If there are areas you know you are weak in, ask them to pay special attention to them. If you struggle with dialogue ask the beta reader to tell you if it seems to flow naturally or not.
Most importantly, explain to them that you need to know why they felt a certain way, not what they feel you should do to fix it. Ask them to make “I was confused here because” statements and not “You should” statements.
If your beta readers are new to beta reading, it will be helpful to them if you provide an actual list of questions to help guide their reading.
First and foremost, when you receive feedback don’t get overwhelmed. Don’t give up. Just because there is something that needs work doesn’t mean that you are an awful writer or that the story you’re trying to tell is a failure.
Remember that good beta readers want to help you succeed. Their goal is to make your book better. Their goal is not to tear you down. Separate yourself from your book when you receive feedback. The feedback should not be a personal attack on you.
Also remember that you don’t have to implement every piece of advice that your beta readers provide to you. You can select what advice is useful and what is not. If different beta readers all question the same thing in your work though, this might be a strong indicator of something you want to work on. However, you know what you’re trying to accomplish with your work and your opinion is the most important.