When I finished my first novel, the only people who read it before it was published were my wife and my editor. I was nervous in anticipation of their reactions, but the suggestions they gave me made the book that much better. Luckily my editor looked at the content and quality of the story along with the punctuation and grammar issues.
My second novel went to a couple of additional readers. I had heard of the concept of beta readers and my editor participated as a beta reader for various authors. A beta reader is someone who reads your book before the final edit. They look for things like the quality of the story, continuity (if your book is part of a series) and the overall appeal of the book.
At first, as I looked at the concept of beta readers, I was hesitant to give away free copies of my book. It was both a matter of trust and economics. As a fledgling indie author, every sale counted. The idea of giving books away, in my opinion, took profits directly from my pocket. Then I looked at this objectively. If these beta readers liked the book, even if they told two friends about my work, my sales could actually increase. Beyond that, I would be able to publish a better product. I know from my work in the Information Technology field, where details are extremely important, additional sets of eyes can help you catch things that you might have missed otherwise.
The group of beta readers that I used for this first attempt at this venture was a small group of trusted acquaintances including my editor’s sister, an English teacher, and a couple of other voracious readers. The benefits I received in return for this preview of the new book were immense. One reader spotted continuity and consistency errors between the first novel in the series and this one. The English teacher spotted some grammatical and punctuation things that my editor missed.
Overall, this was a huge benefit for me and for the quality of the book. Sales were not affected as this book outsold the first by a large margin upon release. For my subsequent novels, I expanded the universe of beta readers somewhat and also moved on to issuing advance reader copies. I’ll have more on that topic in a subsequent post.
I encourage all indie authors to use beta readers. It has helped me improve my product and has helped me further engage with readers. One of the aspects of the reputation of indie authors is a lack of quality. The use of editors and beta readers can help us overcome this stigma and improve the quality of what we produce.
When you are looking for beta readers, you can start with people who have been engaged with you during your writing process. I would avoid family members or fans. You don’t want a flood of positive feedback. You want realistic and constructive criticism that will help you improve and gain more readers and exposure in this highly competitive environment.
So, here are the pros and cons of beta readers as I see them. Your mileage may vary.
- Improved quality of your work
- Identification of significant flaws
- Better continuity and consistency (if your book is part of a series)
- More exposure through word of mouth
- A better idea of how your book will be received
- Identification of flaws could mean significant rework and delays in releasing your book
- Compromising the security of your book. Dishonest beta readers could upload your book to unauthorized download sites. Piracy of eBooks is a huge problem.
It’s up to you whether you use beta readers. I have found benefits that I believe outweigh the downside.
As always, I would love to hear back from you. Tell me about your experiences with or as beta readers. Let’s help each other. Indie authors unite!