Rare is the author whose work doesn’t need professional editing or beta readers. However, all authors can reach out to friends, family, fellow writers, and business colleagues as beta readers for evaluation of their work.
When to Get Feedback From Beta Readers
You can ask beta readers to evaluate your work at any stage. You might want to run a detailed outline past a professional in your field. They might tell you the subject is too big or too small. They may have suggestions that you can incorporate easily at this early and flexible stage of your writing.
I also recommend getting an evaluation of a first draft. Here, too, a reader can identify problems with content and flow.
Will Friends and Family Tell You the Truth?
Some people claim that no one who cares about you should critique your book because they’ll be too nice. In my opinion, if you’re nervous about this whole critiquing business, you should go for a “nice” one. A friend may say the same thing a stranger will, but they’ll wrap up the truth in a much more attractive package, and you’ll be better able to take in what they say and make the needed changes.
Be cautious, though, that you don’t seek out beta readers who will not tell you their honest opinion of your work. It is better to hear the hard truth at an early stage in your book development than to invest months of work headed in the wrong direction.
In “Why Use Family and Friends as Beta Readers?”, Paul Kilpatrick elaborates on this theme.
Other Valuable Beta Readers
You can make your list of potential beta readers focused by choosing those in your field and those who aren’t and are interested in learning more about it.
If you’re writing or have written a non-fiction book especially one that’s informative and/or instructional, think first of your colleagues. If your book is aimed at a specific audience: managers in a service industry, public relations people, or any specialized field, give your manuscript to selected people in this field (probably preferably in the first draft stage) and ask if it communicates what you want to teach and share.
You will find their professional advice invaluable. They may point out areas related to your topic that could enhance it. Because they are familiar with your field, they may come up with additional ways to clarify certain concepts.
Welcome any suggestions that enhance clarity. When you’re writing a non-fiction book, especially one that’s instructional, you can forget that what’s clear to you is not necessarily clear to the reader. You may rush through steps in a process because you understand the logic of their sequence. You might use words that others won’t understand.
To write an informational book, you need not only to know your subject but to be able to share it, to explain it. If someone asked you to explain how to ride a bike or drive a car, you might feel tempted to say, “You get on and pedal” or “You get behind the wheel and turn the key.” If you sit down and think about either of these processes, though, you know that you’re leaving out many important steps.
This is why it’s important for non-experts in the field to read your book. If you have written a book about indoor herbal gardening, you know how much sunlight certain herbs need, and you might forget to include a list or chart. The novice will probably notice the omission or may want to know what herbs are toxic to cats or children. This kind of feedback will enrich your book.
Once you’ve reached the final draft stage, you will get better feedback from a professional editor. She or he will not only evaluate content and writing style but will zero in on grammar and related elements. Your goal at this stage is to produce a polished manuscript that is ready to format for publication.
Further Benefits of Working with Beta Readers
If your readers like your work, they should be the first people you ask for testimonials and reviews. While this is a subject in itself, keep it in mind as you go through the beta reader process. One of my Writing to Get Podcast guests, John Saunders, had a unique way of using his beta readers to fund the publication of his book.
Be prepared for the eventuality that someone who does a beta reading for you may ask you to reciprocate. This is a common and mutually productive practice among authors. I recommend that you welcome this opportunity. You’ll have an invaluable chance to see how another person’s writing mind works. You’ll probably learn something.
Best of all, as you thoughtfully evaluate someone else’s reading, you’ll find yourself wanting to be helpful and to make useful critiques. You’ll realize that beta readers aren’t out to get you, and that will make the next set of critiques you receive so much easier to handle.
Pat Iyer enjoyed the process of using beta readers for her most recent book, Networking for Legal Nurse Consultants.