Updated: May 2
As an indie author, my beta readers are gods. I wouldn't think of publishing a book without having them read it first.
The changes I make off their suggestions happen just before I'm ready to go to press. They are my last line of defense to make sure that I put out the best possible story.
With that said, there are some things to consider when deciding to use beta readers.
First, I wouldn't suggest using your best friend or family members. It is hard for family and friends to give critical, honest feedback.
If you have a critique group, you may ask some of them to be beta readers. This will be in a different capacity than what they do in the critique group.
I have asked a few people I met who really enjoy reading my books to be beta readers. People who have left feedback on my website, twitter, or even took the time to send me an email.
Whoever you ask to be a beta reader for you, it is imperative that you give them clear instructions on what you want and expect from them. This is why having a family member or friend do this can get dicey. You need to be direct in what you need from them.
I suggest you have a series of questions that you want them to answer. Here are the ones that I use with mine:
1. Did the story hold your interest from the very beginning? If not, why not?
2. Did you get oriented fairly quickly at the beginning as to whose story it is, and where and when it’s taking place? If not, why not?
3. Did the setting pull you in, and did the descriptions seem vivid and real to you?
4. Was there a point at which you felt the story started to lag or you became less than excited about finding out what was going to happen next? Where, exactly?
5. Were there any parts that confused you? Or even frustrated or annoyed you? Which parts, and why?
6. Was there enough conflict, tension, and intrigue to keep your interest?
7. Did you get confused regarding the characters? Were there too many characters to keep track of? Too few? Are any of the names or characters too similar?
8. Did you notice any discrepancies or inconsistencies in time sequences, places, character details, or other details?
9. Did the dialogue keep your interest and sound natural to you? If not, whose dialogue did you think sounded artificial or not like that person would speak?
10. Did you notice any obvious, repeating grammatical, spelling, punctuation or capitalization errors? Examples?
11. Which parts did you dislike or not like as much, and why?
12. If you have something to add that is not mentioned above, please elaborate here.
You can use any or none of these. Maybe they will give you some ideas to come up with your own. Either way, I merely want you to see what you can glean from the valuable input from your beta readers.
For me, if one beta says they didn't like one thing, and then one says they didn't like another, I weigh whether it was a personal dislike or if I need to really look at what they are saying and make changes.
Now if several say the same thing, then I pay attention.
I have learned that my beta readers are usually right in what they find wrong with my story.
I wouldn't think of publishing anything without running it by my beta readers. Mine don't hold back. They are honest and brutal. And as an indie author, that is what I need.
If you haven't considered using beta readers before, I hope this post helps show you the important feedback they can give you.