Beta readers are early readers who give you feedback after you’ve gone through developmental editing.
Who to enlist: Readers in your target audience (the type of reader who would enjoy your book). Who is your ideal reader?
How many readers: 5-???
This number is up to you. The more beta readers you have, the more feedback you have to sift through. You want a large enough sample that you feel confident in the feedback, but not so much that you’re overwhelmed by the amount of feedback.
When to enlist them: After you’ve finished developmental edits and big-picture revisions.
Where to find them: Ask folks you know (these people don’t have to be close to you; they just need to like the type of book you’ve written). If you have a newsletter, ask your subscribers who would be interested in beta reading for you. This is a great way to engage with your fans, but remember that you can (and should) be picky with your selection. Say yes to the folks who regularly engage with you.
You can also reach out to local book clubs; check in with a local writing group; or hire a professional.
Hiring a professional beta reader is a great idea when you’re struggling to find beta readers on your own or you have a hard-to-reach audience, i.e. children. Both of my daughters beta read for Quiethouse Editing, and they love giving authors feedback.
What to ask for: Come up with a handful of questions to guide your beta readers. You can ask about characters (do they like them?) and plot (any boring parts?) and any areas you’re unsure of. Make clear that you’re not looking for help with spelling or grammar.
Next Steps: Be gentle with yourself. No matter how thick your skin, receiving critical feedback can hurt. Take time to feel sad or embarrassed or angry. Then, when you’ve had a bit of space, dissect the feedback. What resonates with you? What doesn’t? Did readers agree about what worked and what didn’t? Was there an outlier? Once you’ve gotten clear about the feedback, dive back into revisions. And be sure to thank your beta readers, even if you disagree with them.
Pro Tip: Use a Google form or a survey platform to collect reader feedback.