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How to Self-Edit Your Novel: Beta Readers

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

Have you thought about having Beta Readers for your manuscript? I was really happy I had some friends read my book, to give some honest, "average reader" feedback. Today's post will show you how to get the most from your Beta Readers.

As I've mentioned before, I'm not an editor. These tips are gathered from books and tips scattered across the internet. I found them helpful, so I'm sharing them with you!

This is the fourth post in the series!

I have covered a lot of editing tips

in my last three posts:

What is a Beta Reader?

A Beta Reader reads your manuscript before publication and gives feedback. They are generally unpaid, book-loving readers, who have hopefully read other books in the same genre. They can be family, friends, or volunteers from your website mailing list

When and how to use Beta Readers so you're both happy

Have you thought about having Beta Readers for your manuscript? I was really happy I had some friends read my book, to give some honest, "average reader" feedback. Today's post will show you how to get the most from your Beta Readers., with ten questions to ask them! Photo credit to Alexis Brown on Unsplash

As I've mentioned before: Do not edit until you are done your first draft.

Nothing stifles creativity quite as much as self-doubt and nit-picking. Sit down and write your book paragraph by paragraph and don't look back.

The same goes for Beta Readers. Don't let people read your first draft as you go.

When you're done your first draft, take a break, then go back and do your First Draft Edits (See above post for some tips!)

After I had cleaned up the story, I asked for two people (You can ask for more, but probably not more than five people.) to read the book at this point and be my beta readers. It's a little scary to do, because your book will still be pretty rough. I liked getting some input at this time to see how the story was working out.

I find readers are faster reading a hard copy, rather than a digital.

I don't know why, but that was my experience. I printed it off in fast draft to save ink and put it in a binder for them. I did this for them because I want to make the process as pain-free as possible for them. (They are volunteers, after all!)

Remind them that the book is confidential, and not to be shared in part or whole with anyone or anywhere.

Give them questions and things to look for ahead of reading

Allow them to pencil on the manuscript to make it easier on both of you. Ask them to ignore grammar and spelling errors. This isn't the time to fix them.

1. Have them mark the place where they first put the book down. (Check and make sure this wasn't because the reader was feeling bored.)

2. Have them mark where they felt the story really got going. (Helps with pacing.)

3. Have them mark any places where things were happening too fast and they were confused, or too slowly and they were bored.

4. Were the characters believable?

5. Who was their favorite character?

6. If they had to ax one character, who would it be? (Some characters are fun, but unnecessary to the story)

7. Are the settings/history believable and clear?

8. Does it fit in the genre you are writing?

9. Did they feel the story built to an exciting climax where everything felt like it could fall apart?

10. What did they think of the ending?

I also asked a few specific questions about the theme of my particular story. I had a few points I wanted to be sure the reader was getting, and some subtle symbolism I wanted to be sure they caught.

Make sure to tell them to be honest

THIS BOOK IS NOT YOUR BABY. It can handle some constructive criticism. I know, I know, you've put your heart and soul into those words, but unless you are writing purely for yourself, this is a job. If your Beta Readers are too afraid to tell you a character is flat or the story line is confusing, you will regret it later when things start to fall apart in later drafts.

Give them a deadline

Two weeks should be enough time.

Invite them out for coffee to chat when they are done!

Chat about their reading experience and go over their answers. Remember to be open and don't throw up a wall if they pick apart something you love. Really listen.

What to do after Beta Readers

Once you have your information in, go over it thoughtfully and implement the changes you feel are necessary. You don't have to take their suggestions, this is still your book. However, if the majority of readers feel strongly about something, this is a big hint.

Remember to save numerous drafts. It is easier to make big changes if you feel secure that you can always revert back. Keep a copy on a flash drive someplace safe in case of tech problems. (I lost an ENTIRE book when a computer crashed and I hadn't backed it up. Never again!)

Make all your next level edits and changes. Polish it up!

When you start feeling like you're nearing the end of your edits, change the format you are reading in. A change in margins, font, or switching to a hard copy will help you notice errors that you scanned over before.

Beta Readers round two!

When you've got the book the best you are able, get some more Beta Readers to read it again (or the same ones if they're willing).

This time, if they notice a typo or grammar error, let them mark it.

The same questions as before still apply.

I talked to my Beta Readers one-on-one, but the next time around I'm going to invite them over for dinner and have a real gab session. Hearing them discuss the book among themselves should give me a good idea if my message shone through!

After fixing any errors your readers found, it's time to either hire an editor for self-publishing or work on finding a publisher if you haven't started that process already.

You can hire an editor for different levels of edits—all the way from ground floor substantive edits, where they help you from development on, to simply proofreading and checking for errors.

So what do you think about Beta Readers? If you've used them before, were they helpful? Drop me a comment below!

This is the end of this series on self-editing your novel! If you want to see how I did with my own editing, feel free to critique my self-published fiction books Dividing Sword and As the Stars: 45 Bible Fiction Short Stories!


About the Author
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Hey There!

I'm Katrina, and I'm a wife, mom, and a Christian Historical Fiction Author. 

I love words. I love digging into hard questions. I'm passionate about writing stories of faith.

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