You need to trust yourself to write your book. However, you are not the best person to critique it after a certain point. When you think you’ve gone as far as possible in reading and revising it, you will benefit from having it read from a fresh perspective. This is usually your beta readers.
A beta reader is not a critique partner. You and a critique partner will read each other’s manuscripts. A beta reader doesn’t get or need this benefit. He or she will read the manuscript strictly to help you.
I’m focusing here on beta readers for non-fiction.
What Makes a Good Beta Reader
Say, for example, that you’re a lawyer. You’ve written a book about landmark cases in the area of immigration law.
You may think, “That means I need a lawyer to read this book.” You’re on the right track. If you can find a lawyer who specializes in immigration law, you may get even more valuable feedback.
In some ways, having such an authority read your book is almost mandatory, as he or she may catch errors in your book that others wouldn’t.
However, you could also look for other readers, such as a non-lawyer who works with immigrants or a journalist who extensively covers immigration issues. They can focus in on the human aspect of immigration and tell you how appealing your book is.
Beta readers should also be the target market for your book. If you wrote your book to help people achieve a green card, find a few people who are in that situation who are willing to assist you.
These criteria apply to any non-fiction subject. If you’re a nurse practitioner writing about issues in nursing homes, you may want to turn not only to your peers but to social workers with experience working in nursing homes. You want more than one perspective.
Keep the number of beta readers small, two or three. Otherwise, you may get a host of conflicting opinions. This can confuse even an experienced writer. If you’re a beginner, you may get lost. You’ll spend far too much time wondering whose opinion you should trust most, and you may get discouraged.
In approaching your potential beta readers, provide a summary of 200-300 words so that they’ll understand the subject matter. Say how long the book is. State by when you need the feedback.
It is very important to be clear that beta readers are not editors. They are not going to copyedit, proofread, or anything in that realm. They will give you their overall opinions of your book.
Specific Questions For Beta Readers
Help out your beta readers by providing some questions.
1. Did the book immediately get your attention and interest?
2. Did you quickly grasp the purpose for writing it?
3. If you found parts boring, list them.
4. Please tell me about any repetitious material.
5. Did the factual information slow down the pace of your reading?
6. Did you feel the book had enough stories to illustrate the points?
7. Did you feel that a reader who doesn’t have your expertise would learn from the book?
You may have other questions specific to the nature of your book.
Choose to either send batches of chapters at a time or the entire book. I think getting feedback as you have chunks written is ore helpful than waiting until the book is done.
A few weeks before the target date for responses that you gave, send a friendly email to remind people of the due date.
Once you’ve received feedback, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification of any comments that seem unclear.
Thank each person who responds. If someone is especially enthusiastic, consider asking him or her for a blurb or advance review.
Remember, you owe them. Your beta readers might write books, too, and they may ask you to read theirs. If at all possible, say yes.
Whether you’re a beginning writer, you want to polish your skills, or you need the determination and inspiration to finish a project, this book will help you. It covers a range of subjects from grammar explained simply, how to skillfully edit your work, essentials of blogging, and how to capture and keep a reader’s attention. 52 Writing Tips: Fast and Easy Ways to Polish Your Writing is the guide you’ve been waiting for.
Pat Iyer is an editor, author, book coach and ghostwriter who helps individuals create books that encourages their expertise to shine and advances their businesses.
Pat’s first book was published in 1986. Since then, she has written or edited 48 books.