Beta Reader Instructions

by Dax MacGregor
After you type those magic words (THE END) into your manuscript, you will want to have a few beta readers review it. Here are the instructions I give my beta readers.

After you type those magic words (THE END) into your manuscript, and you’ve made several passes through it to get the story right, fix grammar errors and misspelled words, you will want to get some feedback. Many novelists recruit beta readers for this purpose.

Before giving them a draft version of your manuscript, you need to be clear about what you expect from them. Below are the instructions I provided to my beta reader team.

My Beta Reader Team

For my novel, The Thread, I convinced a handful of people whose opinion I respected to be beta readers. The group consisted of:

  • My son, who is a published novelist
  • A novelist and blogger I met in a critique group
  • A school teacher
  • Three friends who are avid readers

My Beta Reader Instructions

Before I get into the details, I want to express my heartfelt appreciation for your assistance in completing my first novel.

What is a beta reader? Someone who assists the author by reviewing a pre-release version on a book.

What do I expect? I expect you to be harsh! Tell me what you are really thinking as you are reading. “I wonder why the character didn’t…” or “What the Hell? That came outta nowhere” or “This part seems really confusing.”

I am sure you will find typos, grammar errors and missing words. Please mark those so I can clean them up.

But I don’t want that to be your focus. I especially want your feedback on big picture items, like:

  • Does the story engage you?
  • Is the pacing proper?
  • Are there sections that drag?
  • Do the characters seem real?
  • Do they behave and talk in a consistent manner?
  • Did I leave too many clues so that you figured out the ending well in advance?
  • Or did I not leave enough, making you feel like I pulled a fast one at the end? (If I did it right, you should be able to look back and think I should have seen that coming.)

I have completely rewritten the story five times, tearing it apart, shuffling scenes, deleting and inserting characters and tweaking the plot. I am worried there may be plot inconsistencies or characters who know things they shouldn’t know until later. So please let me know if you find any of these issues.

Most of all, I want you to enjoy the read.

Oh, how soon do I want replies? I’m hoping to get your feedback within 3-4 weeks, so I can get on with getting this finalized.

Microsoft Word Format (docx)

If you are using MS-Word, please ensure that the “Track Changes” option is turned on (Review Tab), that will enable you to mark typos and add comments. Just save your updates and email the file back to me when you are done.

Portable Document Format (PDF)

Some PDF readers will let you annotate the file. If yours supports that option, then make your notes in the file and return it to me when you finish. If your reader doesn’t let you markup the file, then record your notes in whatever format is easiest for you (paper or electronic) and send them to me when you are done.

Kindle Format (MOBI)

The Kindle format can be read using any Kindle or Kindle App. To transfer it to your device you’ll need to email it to your Kindle’s email address (found under Settings). Be sure to email it from the email address tied to your Kindle, otherwise it will be considered spam and ignored. For help, see this article on Amazon’s site.

Although Kindle will let you highlight and annotate, I don’t know of any way for you to send those to me when you are done, so you’ll have to take external notes that you can send to me when you are done.

Let me know If you have questions or problems with any of the attachments.

Thanks again,

Dax

Summary

Whether you plan to send query letters to literary agents and publishers, or self-publish, beta readers are instrumental to getting your novel ready for publication. Be sure to properly express your appreciation and be prepared to reciprocate.

Comments

1 Comment

  1. Claire Nevins

    What do you do if they go beyond deadline? I gave my book to two people, both of whom were very “excited and honored” to give me some feedback. Knowing they were both intelligent and responsible people, I left them alone for 4 weeks while chewing my nails down to the first knuckle.
    One finally contacted me, a couple days before deadline, with many apologies but had had a major emergency that delayed her. She is now giving me splendid feedback and has opted for sending me back chapters as she goes through them. She’s loving the story, almost stopped reading because she was getting scared but is anxious to find out how it ends.
    I finally contacted the other, and she said the story really pulled her in but apparently she got too busy.
    How do you deal with slowpokes?? Should I have NOT left them alone?

    Reply

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