Hey, folks. Christina Kaye here checking in today with Episode 8 of Write Your Best Book. Today, we’re going to talk about something fun and even a bit controversial.
Let’s get started.
I’ve probably been asked a thousand times if an author should use a beta reader. And I constantly see calls being put out on Facebook by authors who are seeking readers for their recently finished manuscript. Well, I have a sort of complicated view on these types of readers, but before I spill the beans, let’s first explain exactly what I’m talking about for those who may be unsure.
Beta readers are people who typically offer to read an author’s finished manuscript after they’ve finished it and edited it themselves and they believe it’s ready for readers’ eyes. They provide feedback to the author on their first draft before they either publish or send off to agents. Whereas Alpha readers read the rough, raw, unedited version (or sometimes even as the author writes, chapter by chapter). These readers provide the same kind of feedback before the author begins editing. But today, we’re mostly going to focus on beta readers, since that’s a more popular route to take.
Okay, now that we’re clear on what these readers do, let me explain why I always hesitate before answering the question “Should I hire a beta reader?” I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with alpha or beta readers. In fact, I think they serve a very unique and important service to authors. It never, ever hurts to have an unbiased pair of eyes (meaning, not your mom or your best friend) read through your manuscript before you turn it in.
In fact, you should always do this, in my opinion. However, I’m hesitant to just say “sure” without explaining my reservation, which is this…I fear some authors rely solely on betas for editing rather than what they’re meant to be for in order to save money on professional editing. And sadly, just like with any service provider, an author should always make sure their chosen betas have experience reading for other authors. Better yet, they should have a fundamental knowledge of the author’s chosen genre since every genre has its own nuances and rules to follow. But, as long as you’re doing your research, getting referrals, etc., and as long as you recognize the role they serve and that they are not professional editors, then using beta and even alpha readers can make all the difference in your manuscript in the end.
Before we bring in our guest host for today, let’s do today’s book plug:
Today’s book plug of the week comes to us from DM Siciliano. Her ghost story thriller, INSIDE has one of the best book covers I’ve seen in her genre in a long time. If you love a good, spooky ghost story, this is the book for you.
And Here’s the blurb:
It’s 1987 “Does it burn in the dark?”
Reid is a bully, but he’s still Alex’s best friend. When Reid pushes Alex and their friends into invading a historically haunted Massachusetts house, Alex knows it’s a terrible idea, but indulges his friend. What could go wrong?
Inside, a mysterious Shadow looms in the darkness. The door to the house vanishes, leaving them trapped. The group flees through the tiny, one-roomed house that defies logic, constantly shifting, presenting them with new doors, hallways, and rooms that seem to be plucked from their memories and fears. One by one, the Shadow hunts them, intent on burning them all from within.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
So head on over to Amazon now, or check out our show notes for a direct link to INSIDE by DM Siciliano, which is available now.
With us today to talk more about using alpha and beta readers (mostly betas) is Kat Brooks of Indies Unlimited. She runs a highly successful and helpful blog for authors that covers almost every topic you can think of that an author might need to know about when looking through the writing journey.
Let’s dive right in with Kat.
Okay, let’s welcome Kat to the podcast.
CK: Welcome to the show, Kat!
KB: Thank you very much, Christy!
CK: Sure, well let’s start by having you tell us a bit about you and your website and your blog and all you’ve got going on.
KB: Thank you. I write under the name KS Brooks and I run the multinational, multi author blog IndiesUnlimited.com which was touted in Publisher’s Weekly magazine as being one of the top six blogs for writers. Everything on the site for authors is completely free, there’s no charge. You can sign up for the newsletter for free, you can access our resources pages, our articles, we’ve got thousands of them. So we’ve got- it’s a little bit overwhelming actually- but we’ve got everything there free and we cover everything from getting started writing a book, getting published, formatting, book covers, marketing. In fact, today we have an article by Shawn Edmund, one of our fifteen staff members who are all volunteers about CPC, cost per click marketing for authors, kind of a beginners course. So that’s an idea of some of the subjects that we have on the site.
CK: Oh I bet. I like that you offer all of these resources for authors and they are all free
KB: Thank you
CK: Well, today, we’re talking about beta readers. I think the most important first step is to explain to my listeners…exactly what are betas and why do we need them?
KB: Well, beta readers are people who read your book, for free, before it is published, who will give you feedback so you can make changes to make your book better. It’s kind of like a beta tester in the software world who will purposely try to break a software program to make it better and make sure that there are no bugs. So a beta reader, while many of them will do editing, line editing, that’s not really their purpose. They normally read your manuscript to tell you whether, if its a romance, if the ropes are there if it’s a science fiction, if it fits the bill there. You don’t want a science fiction fan to be reading your romance novel because you will get feedback like “oh, I wish you had explained more about the computer system they are using” instead of “wow, did they get together” you know?
CK: Yeah, that makes sense
KB: And the most important thing is, you want feedback. You don’t want them to just be like “oh wow it’s really good!” cause that’s just not going to help you.
CK: You’re right. It doesn’t. Do you have any resources on your site you can share with my listeners as to how they can find beta readers? Cause that is something that I get asked quite a bit is “how do I even find beta readers?”
KB: Yeah, we definitely do. On the IndieUnlimited.com site we have a resource page for beta readers. And there are some articles about how to get a deal with them. I actually provide my beta readers with a survey AFTER they read the book, instead of before because I don’t want them going in with preconceived notions. And also, we have a very long list of websites that offer beta readers, and some of them are kind of like a dating service, and they match you up based on your genre and things like that. IndiesUnlimited.com site under the resources pages, beta readers. You know it’s toward the top because it is in alphabetical order (I’m OCD)
CK: Oh okay, that’s good. And we will link to that in the show notes so that my listeners can find that. So that’s great. How about this: how many beta readers should authors use for each manuscript?
KB: Different authors do it differently, of course, Martin Crosby, who is one of my Amazon success stories, his first novel. He and his second novel, I think he can use anywhere, I think he uses something like fifteen. I tend to go only two or three, because I want to save those people for my ARC, my Advanced Review Copy Reviews, and I also save some of my beta readers to do my proofreading at the very end because that’s not really what ARC readers are designed to do. And everyone should proofread at the end. Because you take your editors and your beta reader’s feedback and you put it in, and you use Microsoft Track changes, words that are mushed together, you need a proofreader. So that’s why I tend to not use as many as Martin does.
Before we go any further, with Kat, let’s take a break while I remind you that this episode of Write Your Best Book is brought to you by Top Shelf Editing. As you probably already know, Top Shelf offers a variety of services for authors, including editing and author coaching. But you may not know that I also offer phone and video consultations to any author even considering working with us. As of now, that service is free, but come March, it won’t be. Either way, authors who pay for the thirty minute consultation and then subsequently hire us for any other services will have that consultation fee deducted from their original fee. During this consultation, you can ask me, or my staff, any questions you have about anything related to writing, editing, publishing, or marketing your book. I have a huge database of resources on every topic, and if for some reason, I don’t know the answer, I will get the answer for you. Sometimes, authors find it helpful just to bounce ideas off of someone else and brainstorm together. You’re more than welcome to use your consultation to do just that. I can help you pinpoint any plot holes you need to fill, develop your characters, and more. Anyone interested in one of these calls or video chats can simply visit the show notes where there’s a link to my consultation calendar, or you can email me after visiting the contact page on my website at
Now, let’s get back to Kat and our discussion about beta readers.
Now, Kat, when do you think that authors should send their manuscript to a beta reader? I mean, at what point in the process? You know, is their manuscript finished? Have they had it edited? What do you think?
KB: Well, it should definitely be finished. And what I used to do, and it was purely an ego thing, was I didn’t want ANYBODY to see my book until it was perfect. But that kind of defeated the purpose of having beta readers see it because it is their job to look at something that’s not quite done and tell you where you’ve gone wrong and where you’ve gone right. So now what I do is I go alpha reader, beta reader, professional editor and then of course ARC reader. And the thing is, beta readers do not replace, they are not a substitute for a professional editor. They absolutely have to have it professionally edited.
CK: Thank you so much for saying that!
KB: You’re very welcome, it’s very true. They’re not looking for the same things.
CK: Right. Well how should authors deal with feedback that they get from beta readers, especially if they are not really happy with what they hear, because you know we can all be a little sensitive about our work.
KB: A lot of people are sensitive about their work but you can’t be. They are there to help you. And especially if you are hearing the same thing from a number of different people. Then it is something you really need to look at and consider changing to make your work stronger and better. My main concern is not hearing something and telling you “oh yea that was really good” when it is completely not helpful in any way. So that’s why I normally send a questionnaire afterwards, especially addressing the points that I am concerned with. And I don’t want to tell them that in advance because I’m afraid that they’re going to focus on it. And if you give them the questionnaire when they are done, and they don’t remember having a problem with that part then they didn’t and that’s good.
CK: How should authors implement beta reader feedback?
KB: You know, you basically have to weigh the options: does it improve the work? And if it does then you go ahead and you implement it. And if you feel it doesn’t, then you don’t. You know, I think that there is a lot of good feedback out there, and you are really- the thing is though, you really need to have the discussion with the beta readers. If you just talk to them, and not so much deal in email, but I think I find that when you are having a conversation, things will come out that didn’t come out in an email or didn’t come out in the track sheet changes or questionaire. So I think that that’s a good way to do it. Cause that’s where I found people were like “yeah, I don’t get why this character did that” but they didn’t say that in the email, you know? And that’s- and I think they are more comfortable in a conversational way and they are more willing to tell you what you need.
CK: Okay, well, this has been very helpful and very entertaining and insightful. So thank you so much, Kat, for joining us.
KB: My pleasure, thanks for having me.
CK: Yes, it was an honor to talk to you and a pleasure. We will talk soon.
KB: Alright Christy, take care.
Thanks again to Kat from Indied Unlimited for joining us today. It was an honor and a privilege to speak with you.
Well, folks. That’s all the time we have for today’s show. Join us next week when I sit down with Author Elizabeth Spann Craig and we talk about How to Make Time to Write in your already busy life. It’s one I’m looking forward to, as finding time to write is a huge struggle of mine, and I know I’m not alone in that struggle.
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Don’t forget to visit our website at http://www.topshelfedits.com and email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on how to work with me directly and get on my very limited schedule. Also, we have a link in the show notes to my calendar as mentioned earlier where you can schedule a 30 minute FREE consultation to discuss your book struggles or anything you want to discuss about your writing process.
Talk soon, and in the meantime, go write your best book!