Choosing a beta reader

Credit: Stefan Steinbauer on Unsplash

Since I first heard of them, I’ve found choosing a beta reader quite tricky. I’ve been wondering who to ask to read my novel and give me feedback. And once I found my perfect beta reader, I was stuck for questions to ask and unsure of the best approach.

Choosing a beta reader just isn’t easy. I started off with a long list of potentials:

  • one who I got back in touch with briefly on LinkedIn – we were friends ages ago, met on a writing course at City Lit, but she moved back to Scotland and I haven’t seen her for nearly 20 years
  • my sister – who has a fantastically analytical mind
  • my oldest friend – who’s lovely and really fun to talk about books with
  • a woman I know from the London Writers Club, but thinking about it I haven’t seen her for years
  • a friend of mine who’s a historian, and who will give me an honest opinion but in a constructive way because she’s also a writer.

So taking away the two that are hard to get back in touch with, I whittled it down to four. Then there’s my lovely friend – she’s probably too nice. My sister is family and may not feel able to tell me her thoughts, or she might. She’s still a possible. I have to think about it.

As usual, I consulted the internet and found some blogs offering advice about this. That’s when I decided to only approach “one or two that I trust”.

I texted the historian. She said ‘yes’ and I’m so thrilled. (To be honest, I had mentioned it ages ago when we were on a walk just to see how she reacted.)

What to ask the beta reader

This is the other thing that has made me procrastinate about the ‘beta reader’ thing.

The Writing Cooperative comes up with 15 questions to ask and Selfpublishing Whiz has 20. I’m not going to ask about grammar and spelling, because I think that’s a bit cheeky. I’ve proofed the manuscript and will proof it again – from back to front – before I self-publish it. Secondly, I’m asking someone to read 78,000 words in their spare time and I feel like that’s a big favour already. Asking someone to check for spelling on top, seems like ripping the piss.

I think the task will be easier if I give my beta reader a few headline things to look out for. I could be wrong here. I’m not experienced – never done this before – so maybe I’m making a massive mistake.

(And this by the way is for my novel, not my short story collection – the book I was planning to make my self-publishing mistakes with. But, as all of those stories are either previously published or have been placed in competitions, I’m not sure I need a beta reader.)

Questions for my beta reader

Reading these lists of questions was really useful and from them I’ve made come up with five things to ask my beta reader:

  1. did the story catch or hold your interest? If not, can you tell me why or where you lost interest?
  2. did you care about the main character?
  3. was there any point where you felt the story lagged?
  4. were there any parts that confused you?
  5. did you notice any discrepancies or inconsistencies?

And in the body of my email, I’ll say that I’d be happy to hear any other thoughts she has about it, because she’s intelligent and I’m a big fan of free speech.

Alpha or beta?

Towards the end of my online research on choosing beta readers, I discovered there are (of course!) alpha readers, as well as beta ones. This confused me. It’s not that the alphas have better teeth or muscle definition or anything. In fact, the more I read, the less I could tell the difference or how much it matters. If you’re want to know more, the website Ingram Spark has a blog about it.

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