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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Beta Readers and How Does it all Pay off in the End?

I had two excellent comments the other day and they're sparking a full blog post.

The first was by Han Hills and he asked about tips on finding the right beta readers and the etiquette involved. He also wondered how to find those people with more expertise in structure and narrative flow and even those interested in non-fiction.

Oddly enough, the best place to find beta readers is online or in a writing group. I belong to a group of writers with over 20,000 members. The group is big and diverse. We come from all over the world. That gives a person looking for beta readers a huge pool to pull from. When someone asks for beta readers in the group, they give a synopsis of their book and asks if anyone would be interested in beta reading. Depending on the genre, the person could be swamped with responses. So right up front, be super honest about what your book is about. If it's a novel, then let them know and what genre it is. Some people won't touch certain genres and it's better to weed them out early. If it's non-fiction, definitely say that. I'm a person who cannot read non-fiction to save my life. I would never offer to beta read in that situation.

Several people say it's handy to have a form detailing what they expect from their beta readers. On that form, it could ask specific questions of things you're looking for. Things like structure and narrative flow. ;-) If you want someone to help you hunt for typos and grammar errors, then include those. If you just want to know if someone liked the story, then say that. Also, include if there's a deadline for when you need the feedback. Hopefully, if someone knows they can't meet the deadline, they'll back out then instead of leave you hanging. Another thing is, the more the merrier. Always expect some people to flake out. As you go through the final responses, you'll start building up your own directory of people to ask for help again in the future. You'll also know who to avoid.

Patsy hopes I'm right that all of the steps I outlined previously will pay off in the long run.

I can actually tell you a story about this, Patsy. Back in January, a young man in the group I'm in came in and asked us what we thought of his new cover. I'd never noticed him before. I never saw his book go through on promo days, but I was immediately drawn to the cover art. A lot of us asked him what the book was about and I went out and bought it. I saw the old cover and I can tell you, I would NOT have been interested based off that and his blurb.

In reading the book, I noticed a ton of errors. A lot of typos and odd uses of punctuation, but his 'rough draft' caught my attention and sparked my imagination. I will admit I gave it a rating it did not deserve. But I loved the story line so much, I was willing to overlook the errors. Most people aren't that lucky in hitting just the right tone with a story. And he has the reviews to prove that people were quite annoyed with the errors.

Since that time, I have followed that book through each of its versions. It went through a good editor and came back tighter and cleaner. It went through several beta reads and small things were caught and cleaned up. I was the proofreader on that book and helped with the final polish to get it as shiny as possible.

That book has jumped from barely being noticed to having over 100 reviews and is holding steady at a 4.8 rating on Amazon. It was also put into print at the beginning of this week. Until now, it had only lived as an e-book. The book was originally published 3 years ago. Since it underwent its transformation, it's climbing the ranks and starting to sell better. The reviews keep coming in. He is now preparing the second book in the series to come out early next year. Only this time, it's not being published until it has gone through the process.

And that book is Grave Beginnings by R.R. Virdi. We featured it on this blog twice... On accident. ;-) But I will admit it was fascinating to watch as it underwent its transformation and to see what each step of the process did for sales and reviews. If there is an audience for your book, then having it in the best shape possible is definitely the way to go. Don't jump the gun. You don't want to wait three years for your book to stumble its way to being "found" and recognized for the gem it should have been at the beginning.

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