Hayley, Developmental editor
Seeking betas and what to ask them.
Updated: Mar 12, 2022
Seeking beta readers and what to ask them.
If you are a writer scouring the internet, Facebook or Goodreads for beta readers, you will often come across posts giving you a list of things you should ask your betas. Sometimes these lists can be very extensive and in depth, asking all manner of things, and you as a writer think, ‘Great. I will copy and paste this list of demands along with my manuscript off to my beta, and then you wonder why your utterly-overwhelmed beta doesn’t reply and you get ghosted.
Perhaps you are asking too much.
I had one novice writer send me off down the rabbit-hole of accessing their work through a beta reading app, the name of which escapes me, where I had to sign up, verify my email, log in, read the first chapter and then answer a bunch of questions before I could read chapter 2. Good lord.
I read chapter 1 and none of the questions they asked were relevant to what I had read, or what I wanted to say, and I gave up. Their concentration seemed to be on using the app, and building a beta reader network, rather than their own writing.
Then I had to unsubscribe to stop my inbox filling up with twaddle
Writers are a needy lot. I know it myself as a writer; part fear, part desperation, part validation; fighting imposter syndrome, writer’s block and ‘oh my lord, it is a load of made-up rubbish’. You have written your story, your partner or friends do not or cannot help you and so you need the help of strangers (which in my opinion is the best and cleanest advice of all anyway).
Personally, if I sent my story off to a free beta reader, I would not ask them any questions at all initially. At first contact, get to know them a little and tell them a little about you. Find common ground, in perhaps the genres you read, or novels you love. Perhaps just send them a taster, to begin with, which is why as a professional beta reader, I often request just the first 10-15k of a manuscript to see if we are a good fit. Often, manuscripts are not beta-reader-ready, at least not for the whole thing, and a short section is much easier to work with.
I can see right away if:
1. I like the opening.
2. I want to read on.
3. I can visualize the world, the setting.
4. I identify and relate to the characters.
5. The dialogue is natural and moves the plot along.
6. The world building is well paced.
7. The manuscript is clean enough for me not to stumble over.
8. There are POV switches and head hopping.
9. Whether I LIKE IT.
So that is my offering of a list for you to send to your betas. In fact, you might want to reduce it even further, to my first suggestion; no demands at all.
Follow my suggestions and:
You are more likely to get a response.
The beta can respond within their comfort zone of what they feel qualified to answer.
You can follow up with my list or a mix thereof, where of course No.2 and No.9 are the most important things you want from a beta.
Professional beta readers.
Now this is a different kettle of fish.
Of course, budget is an issue, so you want to do this only once; the same goes for any editing service, so make sure you are beta-reader-ready (or ready for whatever editing service you require) and a professional beta reader or developmental editor is a good place to start.
Many professional beta readers will also, as I do, offer a developmental editing service, as the two often go hand-in-hand. You want all your ducks in a row, before you send off to a line editor. You do not want to find plot holes or perform large rewrites or restructuring at this later point, as cost may increase.
Reedsy states: What are beta readers?
Beta readers review finished manuscripts before they're published, providing the author with feedback from the reader’s point of view.
Yes, and no.
Some click-and-buy beta-reading services suggested you go to an editor first. Of course they do; they want a fast, clean read, ‘Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.’
I do suggest you get beta-reader-ready but paying for line-editing first is likely to be beyond contemplation for self-publishing or novice authors. Most writers seeking betas are not at the publishing stage. They are just looking for readers to see if they have something or not.
Now you can introduce your extensive list but do check it for what you want. Where do you think your story is flagging, what do you feel is your weakness? Are you a novice? Is English your second language? Have several free betas given you similar feedback or are there multiple issues they have raised, and you are now quite confused?
This will help the paid beta give you what you need.
Do the work and create your own list.
Get a sample from the paid service. Many will be reluctant, they want to get paid, and samples take a lot of time (I know), but it is your money, and as I mentioned, you only want to do this once. Use the free betas, then use a professional.
It is always worth it, if you pick the right one.