I have to start out this post with my main thought, which is, beta readers are fantastic. I don't know where I would be if it weren't for the handful of readers that I've shown my work to and discussed feedback. However, I feel like my first foray into the land of beta readers is different from most people's perceptions of what it must be like all the time. So, I thought I'd share my journey for anyone who is currently looking to use beta readers so that they know what to expect aside from the stories from established authors with a devoted team of readers.
I don't have a devoted team of readers yet. My start into the world of beta readers began first with my mother (I know, not an unbiased opinion, but she is a great beta for the beta). I gave her the first half of the manuscript and she read it...really...slowly. It also isn't her cup of tea for genre. However, she made it through the entire first half, so I completed the second draft and set out to find people I know who would read it.
I started with people I work with. They aren't writers, for the most part, but they are readers. I found two co-workers who read extensive amounts of romance and paranormal to check out my manuscript. I also looked for people I went to school with - mostly in different states now, so they haven't seen me physically in about two years. Once they agreed, I sent out the PDF via email, and waited to hear back.
To be fair, I gave my readers about a month to get through the entire 230 pages - that page count being 250 words per paperback page. Yes, I did the math, and the page count on the PDF did not match the page count I gave them, which was deceiving. Still, my first beta reader, one of my college friends, read the manuscript in a weekend and was instantly texting me thoughts and errors where I'd messed up the typing.
When it came to my co-worker, the voracious reader, she got through the first half of the book and gave me some feedback that was very useful and discussed the ending with me since she hadn't made it that far. She is killer at remembering tiny details and showed me a few plot threads that I hadn't explored. I used those threads to add a twist to the finale that I really like and think adds a bit of depth to the epic battle between good and evil.
But, beyond those two people, nobody else has reliably read any of my book. They were too busy, or life took a turn, and they didn't manage to get past the first chapter.
What do you do when this happens? For me, I needed to be gracious because these readers, even though they all knew me, were reading my book for free. The only payment they receive is a free copy of my eBook and a mention in my special thanks section. This is my first book as well, so I've never done this before. I don't have anyone outside of my acquaintances who knows who I am or has looked at my work aside from some Harry Potter fan fiction.
So, as you go into your first beta reading experience, be prepared for people to not read your work. They may be busy, or the book might not be their preferred genre, but for whatever feedback you do get from some of them, guard it like a treasure. I wrote down everything that my friend Sam told me because it was so incredibly valuable to me. I want to be prepared as much as possible before I hit "publish". The good thing about writing is that there is always another book to work at, so even if this one doesn't hit the mark for some readers, I can try again with the next.