Beta publishing and working with beta readers are fantastic ways to cultivate fans and market your book and you can start before it's even half finished. Beta publishing is pre-publishing or publishing “small,” before you go “big.” by distributing your final book to online retailers, bookstores, and libraries.
Beta readers are people who love to read, who you enlist long before the publication of your book, to help you with the storyline, narrative arc, character development, plot, theme, facts, continuity, and other storytelling elements.
Jumpstart Your Marketing
Sharing your early writing not only helps improve your writing but helps market your book, since these early readers become superfans who help spread the word, providing reviews on launch date, and sharing news on their social media channels. This is where marketing your book starts!
Beta readers help you avoid embarrassing mistakes that will haunt you to the end of your writing days. Because, once you’ve distributed your print book, it will appear forever on Amazon for resale. Even if you’ve replaced it, new or used copies of that original will come up for sale by various third-party resellers with that horrible self-created cover and all those copyediting errors in your manuscript—not to mention that character you later wrote out because she seemed a bit too much like your litigious ex-roommate.
Jumpstart your marketing and avoid the embarrassment of premature publication by engaging your readers early to help identify issues in the beta-publishing stage.
What’s the Incentive?
What is the incentive for someone to read and comment on your book? Many people are avid readers and hungry for free books, especially readers of genre novels. Others are writers who may also want feedback. You can form virtual writing groups with these people. If you write nonfiction, you’ll find people who really need the information in your book. If you need an expert in a certain field to cross-check your facts or help with scenes, they may be thrilled by a mention in the acknowledgments.
You likely have already shared your writing with family and friends, in person and on social media, in blog posts (including guest blog posts) and newsletters, and in articles in magazines. Some of these people will be among your growing number of fans and supporters. They may love what you’re writing, they may need what you’re writing, they really like you! Embrace it!
How Many Beta Readers?
The more beta readers you have, the more feedback you get but don’t choose too many. Just think about all the information you'll be juggling, and it’ll often be contradicting. You can’t please everybody! The optimum number will differ depending on your genre and the complexity of your book. For example, with a business book, you may enlist experts to focus on just a chapter or part, with a few general readers reviewing the entire book.
Use Your Professional, Personal & Social Connections
You probably know what sites, magazines, and anthologies publish work like yours. Reach out to them. Give them great content, for free. Media properties always struggle to find good content, and you can help each other out. The byline, author photo, bio, and link to your website will bring readers to you as well. This is just as good as paying for an advertisement and you can also make this an opportunity to ask the editors for feedback. Editors are amazing beta readers.
Use Your Social Media Network
Work your blog, social media platforms, and email list for beta readers. Start by publishing stories in places like Facebook Notes and your blog. Ask for honest input and see what happens.
Use Your Writing Group
Critiquing stories and books is exactly what writing groups are for, so join or start one. Way back in 2003, I found two other authors with unfinished books who agreed to work as a team over an intense period of three months. We met every week at an Indian restaurant that offered bottomless chai with dinner. We sat for hours to critique 20-50 pages of each of our books. It was good, hard, work and incredibly effective.
Ask a Book Club
Ask friends if their book clubs might be interested in beta critiquing your book. The great thing about book club members is that they’re used to discussing plot, theme, pacing, emotional impact, and all the stuff you want to know that your book has, or doesn’t. It’s likely they will be thrilled to become part of an author’s process.
How to Interact with Beta Readers
Once you’ve found your beta readers, you’ll need to help them with the process. Be very specific about the kind of feedback you want. For example, you want storyline, narrative arc, and character development critiques, not copyediting, spelling, and punctuation. Thank them, in advance, and over and over again. They’re working hard for you!
It’s also helpful to include a preferred time frame for the critique in your initial pitch. If you need feedback before a certain date, ensure your betas know that before they agree to read your book.
Working with beta readers should be a pleasure. It's important to find the right ones, offer them a reward that is valuable to them, and to maintain communication.
There are a ton of places to share your writing before you publish your book. These include forums and communities, social media, dedicated story sharing and critique sites, your email newsletter, free giveaways on your website, and dedicated social media and beta publishing sites.
BetaBooks is a new platform for sharing your manuscript and collecting feedback from your beta readers. Your readers will love how easy and professional it feels to read and comment from any device and you will love the way it centralizes all the feedback. Free trial with monthly and annual programs at $0 for one book with a max of three readers, or $149.99 (unlimited books, 20 readers) and $349.99/annually (unlimited, embeddable signup, MailChimp import and other features). I’m on the $349.99/year plan and consider it an awesome value. After all, beta readers are book reviewers, too.
Forums like Reddit can be good places to post stories for nonfiction authors and some fiction authors. Join the community and post your work. There are lots of writers forums and special interest forums on Reddit.
AbsoluteWrite is a large forum for different genres of writers. AbsoluteWrite moderator Maryn advises that you “become a regular presence on your genre’s board. Ask questions, or answer without being a know-it-all. Get reading suggestions. Share a few titles you really enjoyed. They’ll feel like they know and like you in a matter of weeks.”
Facebook Notes: A safe and easy place to beta publishing is to publish on social media sites. Facebook Notes is nice because, after all, Facebook is already populated with your friends, family, and people who like you. Try uploading your book scene-by-scene or chapter-by-chapter, and ask for feedback from your friends. You can restrict access to a group of friends and followers or open it up to everybody.
Social publishing sites: You may already know about the dedicated social publishing website Wattpad, or a social publishing site in your genre, such as FanFiction.net. The E.L. James 50 Shades of Gray phenom was developed on a fan-fiction website. These sites are all about sharing and commenting.
Story sharing and critique sites: There has been a boom in story sharing and critique sites in the last decade. Scriggler, Booksie, WEBook, Quotev, Critters… They each have their own personalities. Take a look!
Subscription-based tools: Can you consistently offer valuable or entertaining information that people will pay for? Most authors can. Consider using subscription-based publishing platforms for providing written, audio, and video content to your readers or members on their platform and on your own site. Three of these platforms, Drip, Patreon, and Steady do much the same thing. You create content on their site and they handle membership, subscription, delivery, and payments. Flattr is a browser extension that follows subscribers around the web and pays you based on the amount of time they spend on your website and social media properties. PayPal handles your subscription and other e-commerce but does not deliver content.
Blog your book on your own website. Whether fiction or nonfiction, you can serialize your book on your own blog, creating a fan base and providing a comments area where people can give you feedback.
Create free giveaways: Provide an ebook as a free giveaway when someone signs up for your email newsletter. This is also called an ethical bribe. Make sure to follow up and ask your subscribers for honest feedback. Keep giving them free stuff and they’ll love you forever.
Publish stories: Grow reader (consumer) awareness of your writing by contributing articles to magazines and submitting stories to anthologies. You can even create an anthology, recruiting other authors who write in your genre. (Tribe!) So think of eBooks or booklets, anthologies, articles, and other work you beta publish, as marketing tools, too.
Authors Cross Promotion offers a $30 service to find three beta readers. If you’re unhappy with one for any reason they’ll replace him or her, up to three times.
Bublish is a multi-faceted publishing tool that lets you create, share, take preorders, and publish your book to the Big 5 eBook distributors while taking advantage of beta feedback during the process via social media. $99/annual subscription for book creation tool and unlimited books, a public author profile, social metrics, EPUB creator, and premium resources.
Critique.org online workshops/critique groups is actually branded “Critters,” which was originally founded for serious writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror but expanded to include mystery, thriller, and adventure writing to mainstream writing, kids, young adult books and more. You get your work critiqued in exchange for critiquing the work of others. Critters also has a special program for getting entire novels and other large works critiqued quickly.
Critique Circle launched way back in October 2003. Today there are over 3000 active members, over 100,000 stories and over 600,000 critiques have been posted, with over 35 million visits to the site.
Scribophile is an online community where writers can post their work and get critiques from other writers. The site works on a karma system. Before you can post your work, you must earn karma points either by critiquing someone else’s work or when other members like your critiques.
Scriggler is a writing, blogging, and debating platform. They provide promotional tools and also promote their authors via all social media channels. You also get a 25% discount on ProWritingAid electronic editing software.
Here are more places I’ve heard about, that you may want to try.
- 10 Minute Novelists (Facebook Group)
- Absolute Write
- Agent Query Connect
- Beta Readers and Critiques (Facebook Group)
- Christian Woman Critique Partners and Beta Readers (Facebook Group)
- Christian Writers
- Indie Author Group (Facebook Group)
- KidLit 411
- Lit Reactor
- My Writers Circle
- Writer’s Carnival
- The Writer’s Workshop
Your Feedback is Important!
I review writing and publishing tools in my free Consumer’s Guide and count on you to keep it valid and up to date. So if you have any feedback on any of the tools I mention, please let me know. I appreciate it!
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