Working with Early Readers, Part 2: BETA READERS

This is Part 2 of a series for indie authors.
To read the series intro, click here.
To read Part 1: ALPHA READERS, click here.

How many beta readers should you have? Some people say one or two; others say as many as you can get!

I used to be in the latter camp, but when I had over twenty beta readers for one book, I did find it a bit overwhelming. I think twenty is probably my max, but you’ll have to figure out what works for you.

I got a lot of inspiration for my beta reading system from one of my favorite authors, Michael J. Sullivan, and his wife Robin. Robin runs an amazing beta team for Michael. I’m not on that team, but in Michael’s newsletter, they’ve been kind enough to share how their beta reading process works.

Image source: pixabay.com

Let’s jump in!

Here’s are two keys to a successful beta reading round:

  • Provide betas with a manuscript that, while imperfect, is already in good reading condition. Typos, grammar issues, and plot issues will exist, but they shouldn’t be so egregious that your beta readers don’t even want to finish the book!
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Then communicate some more. People are busy. You’ve got to help them remember their commitment to beta read, and give them enough guidance to do so successfully!

Where can I find betas?

As with alpha readers, I started with people I knew! Sure, they weren’t all fans of the genre, but they were people willing to read my work. You gotta start somewhere!

  • I started a newsletter (mostly friends and family from Facebook) and asked my subscribers to apply as beta readers.
  • I asked on my personal Facebook page.
  • I started a Facebook author page (again, mostly friends and family) and asked there.
  • Once I’d been through this process on one book, I sent special requests to former betas to repeat their roles.
  • I’ve also invited people on Twitter to apply as beta readers.
  • When I request beta readers, I’m very specific, telling them about the book, how long they’ll have to give feedback, etc..

How my beta-reading process works:

  • Prospective beta readers fill out a beta reader application.
  • Just filling out the application shows a certain level of commitment! So when I first started writing, I accepted everyone who filled out the application. Eventually, I reached the point where I became selective. Now, I choose approximately 20 to 25 betas. That’s more than many people use, and you may prefer fewer.
  • Even if I communicate very well with beta readers, I’ve never had 100% follow through. Life happens!
    • When working with an entirely new group of beta readers, you can reasonably expect at least 50% follow through (betas who read part or all of the book and provide feedback) if you communicate very well with them.
    • My highest-ever follow through has been 93%! This number was high because I had so many returning betas, and they were more likely to follow through than betas I’d never worked with before.
  • Once I’ve chosen my beta team and the book is ready, I send each of them an intro e-mail. I’m very clear on their deadlines (usually four weeks for a novel and at least two weeks for a novella) and what I’m looking for. Here’s my intro email for Birth of Magic:
  • I give beta readers a feedback form with questions that will help guide my revisions. It’s so helpful to them and to me.

How I decide which feedback to incorporate:

  1. First, I go with my gut. Does the feedback feel right? If it does, I change it.
  2. If more than one person has the same feedback, I might change it, even if it didn’t initially strike me as necessary
  3. And of course I change grammar errors, typos, etc. that my betas find!

Once you’ve made revisions based on beta feedback, it’s time for final polishing. That might involve a professional editor and/or proofreader, or an additional read-through by you, the author, or even another beta round…whatever you need to get your book ready for ARC reviewers.

Want more step-by-step instructions and resources that will help you create a successful beta reader team? My new book, Early Readers Catch the Worms, includes…

  • Access to a Resource Pack full of editable resources and templates to help you build early reader teams (including the beta-invitation email, beta application, welcome email to betas, feedback form, and follow-up email).
  • Suggestions for how to improve beta follow-through.

Buy your copy of Early Readers Catch the Worms: How Alpha, Beta, & ARC Readers Can Help You Publish a Better Novel by clicking here!

Cover of Early Readers Catch the Worms

Click here for Part 3 of this series: ARC reviewers.

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Working with Early Readers, Part 1: ALPHA READERS

This is Part 1 of a series for indie authors. To read the series intro, click here.

Finding critique partners or alpha readers can be scary! Your book is your baby, but you know it’s pretty rough because it’s in early-draft phase. Sharing it requires vulnerability. However, I’ve found my alpha team immensely valuable in crafting better books.

If you’re just starting out, it may work best to gather one or two trusted friends or family members (who will give you honest feedback) to be your alpha readers. Give them chapters or chunks of the book as you write it, and get their feedback.

My most faithful alpha readers at first were my sister and my mom. My sister in particular has a good eye for story issues and gave me a lot of extremely valuable feedback.

People will say, “Don’t ask friends and family for critiques! They won’t be honest!” But I say, start with what you’ve got! You’re a new author–you don’t have a fan base yet. But you do know people!

However, there are also ways to connect with other writers. I find Twitter to be an amazing writing community. (I’m @CBethAnderson.) Hop on, introduce yourself using the hashtag #WritingCommunity, and find some friends. Maybe some of them can be your alpha readers or critique partners!

Now that I have books released, I have a private Facebook group for my alpha readers. (I tried this method when I started writing, but it really didn’t work well. It was easier to build an alpha community once I’d earned their trust by publishing a trilogy they enjoyed!)

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

Here are the details of how I work with alpha readers:

Where can I find alpha readers?

  • At first, I invited my street team (see Part 3 of this series) to be alpha readers. I was honest with them: “You’ll be reading books in chunks, which isn’t always a satisfying way to read. It’ll be rough, with lots of errors!”
  • People joined my alpha reader group. After several months, I reached out to anyone who hadn’t given feedback to ask if they still wanted to be in the group. I took out those who decided it wasn’t for them (no hard feelings.)
  • Now, my alpha reader group is invitation-only. After I culled the inactive members, I invited a few excellent beta readers I thought would make good alpha readers.

How alpha reading works in my Facebook Group:

  • I post instructions in the group. I tell them I’m looking for “big picture” feedback at this phase, such as plot pacing, characterization, and worldbuilding. I don’t want feedback on grammar or typos; it’s too early to worry about that stuff!
  • When I’ve completed about 1/4 of a book (1/2 if it’s a very short novella), I format it as mobi (for Kindle), ePub, and PDF (print version). (Yes, you can distribute in other forms, such as Word or Google Docs, but I find most readers prefer to read on a device, and ePub and mobi are ideal for that.)
  • I use StoryOrigin to create a page where my alpha readers can download the partial manuscript.
  • I share the download link in the private Facebook group and encourage people to read and review. I tag everyone in the group when I post so they don’t miss it!
  • Alpha readers give feedback within the Facebook group. That way, we get into some good conversations. The readers often agree with each other, and sometimes they disagree. All that is helpful to me!
  • I always respond to feedback, thanking the alpha reader and usually addressing specific elements of their feedback.
  • As I write, I continue to provide the book to readers a quarter at a time. (But when I publish the second quarter, I also include the first quarter, so someone who hasn’t started reading yet has it all in one place.)
  • I use a ton of this feedback as I revise for beta readers, and sometimes I update alpha readers on how I utilized their specific feedback!

Want more step-by-step instructions and resources that will help you create a successful alpha reader group? My new book, Early Readers Catch the Worms, includes…

  • Access to a Resource Pack full of editable resources and templates to help you build early reader teams.
  • Detailed pros and cons of various formatting programs (some of them free!)
  • Suggestions for how to set up and maintain your alpha reader group.

Buy your copy of Early Readers Catch the Worms: How Alpha, Beta, & ARC Readers Can Help You Publish a Better Novel by clicking here!

Cover of Early Readers Catch the Worms

If you’re ready for more, click here to go to Part 2 of this series: BETA READERS.

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Author Resources on my website are 100% free. But if you’d like to buy me a coffee to thank me, click the “Tip Me” button at the bottom of the page!

Working with Early Readers (Alpha, Beta & ARC): A Blog Series

Hi, fellow indie authors!

Over the course of two fiction book series, I’ve developed reliable, incredibly helpful teams of alpha, beta, and ARC readers. I’ll share these systems with you in this blog series.

Photo by Perfecto Capucine from Pexels

First, some definitions:

  • Different people use the terms alpha readers and beta readers in different ways. Here’s how I use those terms:
    • Alpha readers read my manuscript as I’m writing it, and then they give me feedback on chunks of it. Essentially they’re reading the first draft (though I do read through chapters once before moving on, so it’s more like a second draft.)
    • Beta readers read my manuscript after I’ve already done extensive revisions and polishing, and then they give me feedback.
  • ARC readers are given ARCs (Advance Review Copies) to read and review. An ARC is a completed novel, as error-free as possible, just distributed before the book is published.

Click here to go to Part 1 of this series: ALPHA READERS.

This blog series is a good start for those trying to build early reader teams. but if you’d like more step-by-step instructions and resources, check out my new book, Early Readers Catch the Worms.

Cover of Early Readers Catch the Worms

Buy your copy of Early Readers Catch the Worms: How Alpha, Beta, & ARC Readers Can Help You Publish a Better Novel by clicking here!

Want to be notified every time I post an Author Resource?


Author Resources on my website are 100% free. But if you’d like to buy me a coffee to thank me, click the “Tip Me” button at the bottom of the page!

Author Resource: Sales and Royalties Spreadsheet

Hi, fellow indie authors!

I’m really excited about the spreadsheet I’m sharing with you. I wanted a place to track all my sales from various venues.

You might find this spreadsheet useful if you are US-based, have fifteen or fewer book titles for sale, and sell these books in any or all of the ways below:

  • Amazon KDP (e-books, paperbacks, Kindle Unlimited)
  • ACX (audiobooks)
  • IngramSpark paperbacks & hardcover books
  • Your own website (selling paperbacks, etc.)
  • In-person sales (such as book signings)

You don’t have to sell in all those ways to use this tool; just leave the parts blank that you don’t need.

I’m geeking out over what this spreadsheet does. You’ll enter your book titles once, and they’ll be shown over and over throughout the sheet. You’ll paste in data from reports (such as the downloadable KDP sales report) once a month, and the spreadsheet will add it all up for you, even making the necessary calculations to convert from other currencies to U.S. dollars!

It doesn’t do everything for you! Like I said, you still have to paste in data. If you do in-person and/or website sales, it’ll take a little more work to enter those. But most of your work will happen once a month when you download and paste in data from your various reports, and that shouldn’t take longer than fifteen or twenty minutes once you get the hang of it.

The result? Data, data, data. Monthly and annual sales broken down by book and by where the sale happened (such as US, UK, or Other.) Charts, so you can see which books are performing the best, which months you make the most money, which book formats are earning you the most, and more.

Below are a couple of teaser images from the spreadsheet.

Ready to get started?

Click here to download the Book Sales and Royalties spreadsheet.

Click here to watch a half-hour YouTube video on how to use the tool.

Feel free to share this with others, preferably by pointing them to this blog post.

Revision notes:

2-7-19:

  • Added some functionality for those who distribute both paperbacks and hardcover through IngramSpark. These are broken down separately on the IngramSpark tab but are still in “one pot” on the Running Totals tab. (And if you’re selling in person or on your website, there’s still no way to indicate paperback or hardcover.)
  • There was an error in the KDP Paperbacks formulas for January. The spreadsheet on Dropbox is now corrected.
    • Need to make the correction yourself on a spreadsheet you’ve already started using? Follow these instructions:
      • Navigate to the “KDP Paperbacks” tab.
      • Highlight all the rows containing January data: Rows 11, 26, 41, 56, & 71. (To highlight all of them, hold down the CTRL [PC] or Command [Mac] key on your keyboard. Keeping this key pressed down, click the 11 next to that row, then the 26, etc., until all five rows are highlighted.)
      • Go to Edit-Find-Replace.
      • In the “Find” field, type $Q:$Q. In the “Replace” field, type $B:$B.
      • Click “Replace All.”
      • Excel should confirm 180 replacements have been made.
      • Save the spreadsheet, and repeat if you have multiple versions saved (such as a blank version to use next year.)

Note on ACX Audiobook Sales: As of February 2020, the ACX spreadsheet has changed. To get it to fit in the sales spreadsheet, highlight Column R, right-click, and delete that column. Then copy & paste the data into the spreadsheet. (Another note: As of April 2020, this appears to be fixed.)

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Author Resources on my website are 100% free. But if you’d like to buy me a coffee to thank me, click the “Tip Me” button at the bottom of the page!

Author Resource: Trilogy Rapid Release Checklist

Hi, fellow authors! When I decided to rapid release a trilogy, including e-books, paperbacks, and audiobooks, I knew I needed to do it in an organized way!

I’d like to share the spreadsheet checklist I used to guide me. You’ll need to tweak it to fit your own business.

Next to many of the tasks on the checklist, there’s an “Info” link. Click on it, and it will take you to another page of the spreadsheet with links and other info to guide you.

Here’s a screenshot:

You can download your own copy from Dropbox by clicking here. If you don’t have Microsoft Excel, just download it and import it into Google Sheets or whatever other spreadsheet program you use.

Feel free to share this with others, preferably by pointing them to this blog post.

Happy writing . . . and publishing!

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Author Resources on my website are 100% free. But if you’d like to buy me a coffee to thank me, click the button!

Author Resource: Word Count Spreadsheet

I’m starting a new blog series for fellow authors. I’ll share tools I use in my own writing and publishing business. (Click the menu item at the top of the page to see all my Author Resources.)

First, this is a simple spreadsheet to track the number of words your writing. (Edit: It’s updated to include 2021.) It’ll automatically add up your weekly (Sunday – Saturday), monthly, and annual totals. Just enter the number of words in the white cell next to the date, and it’ll do the work for you. There’s even a column to enter goals and another column to let you know how many words you still need in a week, month, or year to meet your goal.

Screenshot of the spreadsheet:

You can download your own copy from Dropbox by clicking here. If you don’t have Microsoft Excel, just download it and import it into Google Sheets or whatever other spreadsheet program you use.

Feel free to share this with others, preferably by pointing them to this blog post.

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Author Resources on my website are 100% free. But if you’d like to buy me a coffee to thank me, click the button!