Your manuscript and/or your proposal needs to be flawless. You only get one shot to impress an agent or publisher, and even a single error won’t.
Thanks to Microsoft Word and a million online resources, it’s fairly easy to triple-check your work for typos and other no-nos. For grammar, I highly recommend Grammar Girl. For style, get yourself a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style (I don’t recommend their online subscription service). And for putting the whole thing together, I have a great Font & Formatting Guide here.
What’s not-so-easy is making sure you haven’t dropped any plot points, forgotten to include a key ingredient, or presented everything in the best possible light. That’s where other readers come in.
Not Your Friends or Family
I know, all of your friends loved your book. Of course they did. They’re your friends. No matter what they say or how smart they are, they are not objective readers. They can’t be. They love you too much to tell you the truth should it crush your dreams.
You need good, qualified strangers to read your book. We call them “beta readers.”
What’s a Beta Reader?
A beta reader is someone you don’t know personally or too well that can objectively critique your work. Ideally, they should be in your target audience, familiar with your genre, very well-read, and a good editor. Not everyone is a grammar goddess, so you might need more than one beta: someone to proof-read and someone to plot-check.
Not everyone will be a good beta fit for you. You need to find someone you can work with who won’t offend you at every turn. And as soon as you really get to know and like your beta reader, you’re probably too close, and will need to find another one.
They are hard to find, and since they are human, you might do well to have more than one so you’re not sitting around waiting for months for feedback.
Where Do I Find Beta Readers?
It’s hard to find a great match, so you might want to try more than one, or all, of these ways:
- Local Writers Groups
Google the words “writers group” and the name of your town.
- Meet Up
Go to MeetUp.com. Put the word “writers” in the search box and hit enter. Writers groups near you will appear, although you might have to expand the search area to 25 miles or more from your house.
- Social Media
This one is more hit-and-miss because I do think you develop real relationships with people online, but I have many author friends who have found their beta readers through Twitter and Facebook.
- Absolute Write
I cannot recommend AbsoluteWrite.com highly enough for all things relating to being a writer. The site is a wealth of information, but it’s the Forums that I adore. They have boards relating to every genre, amazing writers (lots of big published names) willing to help, and even a daily “office party” where you can have virtual drinks and let your fellow writers talk you off the ledge. Oh, and a full section for Beta Readers.
How Much Should You Pay for Proofreading/Editing Help?
In my opinion, nothing. There are professional editing companies galore willing to take your money for their services, but it’s not necessary. Beta readers are free. Why? Because you generally enter into a beta relationship as an exchange: I’ll show you mine, and you show me yours.
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