I read the acknowledgements pages of books with as much as interest as the books themselves. I’m hoping to find the secret to beta readers in those few words. Authors thank their agents, their editors, their publishers, their mentors, their families(not necessarily in that order). They also thank their beta readers, the people who first read their manuscript.
I’ve come to believe that those first readers are invaluable as the buffer between the author, who has read the manuscript so many times they no longer know if it’s good or drivel, and the professionals. But who are these mysterious people and where do you find them? Some authors have their families give opinions on their manuscripts. I’m not sure that would work for me. In twenty years my husband has not met a word I’ve written that he didn’t like. He’s pretty sure I slipped it into the wedding vows. “To love, honor, and support by loving everything she ever writes.” My mom, a voracious reader and former English teacher, is certain it’s part of the mom code. In my family, objectivity is not an option.
Recently I had been considering hiring a reader but I don’t really want someone to edit yet. I just want someone to read the manuscript and give me an overall feeling…what they like, what they don’t, what doesn’t fit. Then a beta reader fell into my lap. At my last writer’s group during a discussion about grammar(I know, we’re wild and crazy) a fellow member mentioned how I’d read a piece for her and corrected the grammar and she “owed me one”. She did? Why didn’t anyone tell me? As soon as the meeting was over I cornered her and started laughing about her “owing me one” before zooming in for the kill. Turns out I actually had a manuscript I wanted a few people to read before I sent it out to agents and since she owed me one maybe she’d read a few chapters? What could she say, she’d just told me in front of two dozen witnesses “if you ever need anything…”.
So I’ve snagged my first beta reader and while she peruses the first few chapters I’ve been making a list of a few other people who might be willing to read a few chapters. Some of these people are just acquaintances but that’s what I need, people who don’t feel pressured to like my writing. Most I’ve done a favor for here or there. Turns out that after you snag your first beta reader the rest are easy—you just need the right bait.
Do you have beta readers and where did you find them?
You can read more about Jodi's search for beta readers at Words by Webb. Jodi has plenty of experience with magazine writing but fiction writing is new territory for her as she polishes her historical novel The Cookie Ladies.