You’ve been slaving away writing a book. Untold hours have gone into it, and now you want some beta readers. Sounds reasonable enough, doesn’t it? It’s time for some of that hard work to pay off, and for a few lucky people to tell you how much they love what you’re working on. Of course, they’re going to make a few criticisms so you can be even better, but you’ve earned that pat on the back for your hard work.
So what do you do? You get straight onto twitter, Facebook, the table at the local cafe, and you scream ‘READ MY BOOK! YOU THERE! READ IT, READ IT NOW!’ Or words to that effect. You might get a couple of people to browse your work this way, but by and large, this approach is akin to white noise.
Reading takes time. Being a good beta reader takes even more time. So it’s important that you think about how you can make potential beta readers feel like they’re getting something from looking at your work. ‘But wait!’ I hear you shout. ‘They’ve got the chance to read the most brilliant thing ever, and they’ll love it.’ Perhaps they will fall in love with your story. But if you’re absolutely certain of this, why do you even need beta readers in the first place? Hopefully, they’ll enjoy themselves, but never forget this one simple fact. Unless you are giving them something else in return, they are essentially doing you a favour.
Occasionally, I’m happy to do this favour for someone. If I’m looking for something new, I might read an early draft. But by and large, I hardly even notice standard requests for readers. The problem is that there is no forethought for how to add value to the process.
Value, thankfully, can come in a variety of forms. The one that will almost always work is to actually pay people to read your draft. However, if you’re anything like me, you don’t have the money to do this. But fear not, for there are other ways.
You could offer to read someone’s manuscript in return. Trading critiques can be an effective way for both of you to grow. If you go down this route, don’t be afraid to be honest. Be nice, but don’t rose tint your answers just because you’re worried the other person might slam your work in return. If you can’t find a critique partner, there are some great sites out there for just this purpose. http://www.scribophile.com is a great example. You have to post critiques to earn enough points to upload your own work for review. That means that you’re pretty much guaranteed to get reviews, as well as seeing what other people are doing.
If you have other skills, see if you can bring that into the equation. If you look at the picture for this blog post, you’ll quickly see that I’m no artist at all. If someone said ‘Read my book, I have an art degree and I’ll do a drawing for you,’ I would snap that offer up like a shot. I’d also be much more inclined to read thoughtfully, and work out the best feedback that I could possibly give.
At some point I hope to have my writing up to the point where I’ll be looking for beta readers. My own plan for adding value is to use my music degree. I’m thinking of composing piano pieces specially for my beta readers, probably around thirty seconds in length, complete with sheet music and an mp3 of me playing the piece. That way, they’ll have something to take away from the experience whether they love or hate my writing.
Last, but by no means least, remember to thank everyone who reads your work. A heartfelt message that shows you have read their comments goes a long way. Rather than just ‘k thanks,’ go a bit more in depth. If they said they liked your dialogue, but couldn’t picture your locations, mention how helpful you found that. It helps bring out the social side of writing. And that adds value for everyone.