Sharing your manuscript with someone can be fairly nerve wracking. You’ve spent hundreds of hours working on it, most likely by yourself, getting up close and personal with your story, your characters, little details that make it all work. You’ve put your blood, sweat and tears into this thing and now you’re just going to share it with someone who knows nothing about it?
Yes. That’s exactly what you should do.
A beta reader is able to see your story from the outside, as a new experience. They can tell you if there’s a weird time lapse in chapter four or that there’s a significant detail missing about character X that may have gotten edited out two months ago. The little details that you’ve become so familiar with, you might not be able to see how a new reader will encounter them. Beta readers offer a necessary distance from the story to tell you what’s working and what isn’t.
If you’re part of a writing club or guild, or you have a group of creative friends, that would be a great place to start looking for beta readers. For those of you who are more of a lone wolf, it might be hard to find the right person to read and critique your manuscript. Here are a few things to keep in mind when picking a beta reader.
Make sure they’re comfortable being honest with you. Pick someone who will be able to read your book and not mince words or criticism in fear of hurting your feelings. If your mom is still in the “everything you do is amazing” mindset, she may not be the best beta reader for you. Find someone who is comfortable giving you praise but can also tell you where the story needs work.
Don’t be afraid of opinions. Not everyone is going to like your book, and that’s okay. But just because someone doesn’t fall in love with your characters the way you did doesn’t mean that don’t have useful insight to share about the way a reader will interpret your writing. Always take criticism with a grain of salt and really think about which opinions are personal taste and which can be used to improve your story.
Finally, find a beta reader who is interested in the types of stories you write. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it makes a huge difference. If you put out feelers on social media for beta readers, specify that you’re looking for science fiction readers or someone who likes romance. Someone who reads a lot of books in your genre is going to have a better idea of what works for your type of book.
The best part of sharing your manuscript with beta readers is finding the ones who love it as much as you do. Getting positive comments back gets you a little closer to the goal of getting your book published and into the hands of a reader who’ll love it.