What I Learned About Betas

Another post, coming at you live from the girl who is currently too busy doing absolutely nothing to be responsible and schedule posts like she should!

Yes, I have conquered the two monster sicknesses that tried to annihilate me earlier this month and all your kind get-well wishes were truly touching. So why am I still behind on everything?

I’m being lazy.

Shocking, I know. Children and puppies everywhere no longer look up to me.

But at least I’m here, right? I’ve managed to scrape up a post at the last minute two times a week for last several months. That’s kind of impressive, in a depressing kind of way.

We’re not here for a pity-party, however. Today I want to talk about sending your book to beta-readers. Hence the self-explanatory title.

The surreal truth is that I am now a veteran of handing my book off to beta-readers. Back in October, in a moment of great bravery or great stupidity – I still haven’t decided which – I clicked “send” on an email that sent my little story out into the wide world.

And now I feel like I’m qualified to give a bit of advice to those who haven’t yet attempted the Great Sendoff.

First of all, let’s clear up the terminology. A “beta-reader” is simply someone who reads an early draft of your novel and looks for big plot issues that you might have overlooked. Ideally, their input will help you edit and polish your novel into a thing of beauty.

Personally, I think these individuals should be called “alpha-readers”? From everything I can gather, they are the “first” people to ever read your book. So the whole “beta” thing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

Whatever. Let’s talk about some things I plan on doing differently next time, yeah?

Pro Tip 1: Content Warning

I thought I was prepared – maybe even over-prepared – to send my book into the hands of my friends and family to read. I wrote a lengthy letter to each of them, detailing everything they needed to know about my novel.

The one thing I didn’t think of was to detail what sort of content could be expected from my story. Looking back on it now, that would have been a good idea and saved me quite a bit of confusion and trouble.

So, my friends, go ahead and write out a list of things your potential readers should know about. I’d include violence, themes, any abusive language, and romantic relationships and how far those go. Cover the basics.

It will remove unpleasant surprises later.

Pro Tip 2: Edit

My first drafts are quite clean, from a writing perspective. So I can write something and it’s not that embarrassing for me to let other people read it right away without editing it first.

That said, I think firstdrafts are deeply personal. Maybe it’s just me but… part of my soul gets vomitted onto that page. And showing that to someone else? It’s terrifying.

So even though you are impatient – like I was – to send the book off so that you can get all that delicious feedback, consider going through it once or twice to edit a bit. Keep in mind that this is no longer just a story to please you. Other people are going to see it.

Write for yourself. Write because you are in love with it. But don’t feel like you have to give away something that is too raw for others to see.

Pro Tip 3: Expand The Team

I’m going to go ahead and say it – I know that you are afraid of people stealing your book. I know. The fear is real. But I promise you that those kinds of people are fewer than you might think. Most people will not steal your ideas, your characters, your title, any of it.

Don’t just open it up to anyone. Don’t let a hundred people have access to your precious story. Don’t be stupid, basically.

But consider expanding the team. I selected five people but one couldn’t do it and two were far too busy to be of any use. Someone else dropped out halfway through.

In the end, I had one lonely beta-reader.

I know there are writers out there who are highly private and can only bear to give their stories to a sibling, best friend, or editor, and absolutely no one else. I would encourage you to send your novel to six or ten people.

There can’t be a majority with only two people. You can’t notice repeated patterns – everyone mentioning the same thing – if you only have one beta.

Pro Tip 4: Timing

To put it succinctly – don’t be Kate.

I sent my book off in October. Late October.

Do you know what comes after October? That’s right. November.


And then December. Christmas. January. New Year.

Just… don’t.

Send it off in the summer. Early summer. Or spring. Anything but during NaNo. You don’t want your novel to be an awkward obligation that makes your betas feel guilty for enjoying the holidays with their families.

I’ll say it again – don’t be Kate.

That’s all I’ve got in the tank, my friends. Here’s to hoping that I can schedule some posts ahead of time and stop being such a couch potato… Speaking of which – who’s enjoying the Olympics? Have you ever sent a book to beta-readers? Do you have any burning advice for first-timers?