You’ve done it: you just finished the first draft of your manuscript! Once that adrenaline-surging moment of completing such a monumental task has passed, you can’t wait to have someone else take a look at your work…and, okay, you’re probably a little nervous about it, too. Will readers “get” it? Does the development and flow of the book work? What about the fact that you sometimes have a hard time remembering the difference between “its” and “it’s”? (Don’t worry: you’re not alone!)
We’re often asked by authors how many beta readers should read a manuscript before it’s ready to be sent to a professional editor or straight on to a literary agent or publisher. While there’s no magic number for how many eyeballs should be on your work before it’s ready to go, there are some important things to consider when sending out your work to be reviewed by someone.
What is a beta reader?
You may have heard the term mentioned in a writers group or online and wondered what a beta reader is. Basically, a beta reader is a layperson who reads a writer’s work to offer constructive criticism, or to help edit the work. This could be your partner, parent, a friend, colleague, former English teacher—anyone. The point is that this person is a trusted reader who may or may not have experience with writing or editing, but can give valuable feedback on the manuscript in some way for the purpose of helping you revise.
Consider the source
As mentioned earlier, we don’t recommend a specific number of beta readers—that’s a personal choice. NFAA founder and CEO Stephanie Chandler says, “Crowdsourcing can work well (Guy Kawasaki built a huge audience for his publishing book by crowdsourcing beta readers). But Stephen King says you should only give it to a few selected people that you trust to give you useful feedback. So it depends on what the author feels most comfortable with.”
And it’s also important to know what you think your reader(s) will offer you in your revisions. Is this reader a layperson in terms of knowledge of English grammar or spelling, but reads your genre a lot and will know if it feels like it “fits”? Is that reader good with development of an idea, concept, or story? Can this reader spot typos or inconsistencies of some kind that will tighten your prose? Readers also appreciate knowing what kind of feedback you’re looking for from them, so giving them something specific to look for as they’re reviewing your work will help them give the most meaningful insights, and will keep you from getting confused by too many opinions by letting you focus on whatever you’d like that particular reader to offer.
A note about editing
When you’re ready for a more nitty-gritty edit (for flow/development; or spelling, punctuation, or grammar), it’s helpful to have more eyeballs on your work to minimize things like lapses in thought, inconsistent headings/numbering, or typos. So, once you’ve received feedback from your beta readers, it’s also a good idea to have a professional editor perform an official copy edit, since he or she will follow a specific style guide (a set of standards in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and usage), such as AP or Chicago Manual of Style, to give you a consistent, tight manuscript ready for the eyes of the public.
Amberly Finarelli has worked in the publishing and writing world for the past 10+ years as a literary agent, manuscript evaluator, copy editor, proofreader, and writer. She currently produces content for the Nonfiction Authors Association’s blog in addition to running her own editorial business. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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