Another question from a reader who thinks I know what the hell I’m talking about. Please, everyone, don’t spoil the fun. I dig these posts. It’s like writing fiction, but with less research!
How do I find beta readers on the internet who I can trust to not upload my mobi/epub to a pirate site? Any suggestions for finding IRL beta readers, besides the obvious ploy of roping in family, friends and coworkers?
Great question, Matt! Beta readers are like a writer’s best friend. They’re like a writer’s best friend when you need a sofa moved. Or a loan. Or when you’re a leper and you really just want a shoulder to cry on. They’re like those best friends.
Before I tell you how impossible it is to find them, allow me to allay your concerns regarding your work being stolen and posted for free somewhere. Here’s what you need to do to protect yourself: Go ahead and post your work on a website of your own. For free. And pray someone reads it.
I didn’t show up on piracy sites until WOOL was a bestseller. I threw digital copies of my Molly Fyde series everywhere. I sent them to potential reviewers, friends, family, complete strangers, just hoping someone would read the entire thing and want the next one. Getting started in this industry requires giving your work away for a good period of time. As indies, we should be pricing our stories where people would feel guilty for stealing them if they enjoy them. We should be thankful for anyone who invests time in reading what we’ve written. That’s my attitude, anyway. I felt giddy when I saw that my works were being pirated. It meant I had arrived.
With that out of the way (and with 90% of you having browsed away from my blog in disgust), on to the challenge of finding betas. In the beginning, you might have to exchange services. Writing groups are great for this. You take turns having your work critiqued, even though you never have time to go through an entire novel. Members, however, will often read in exchange for being read. Being someone else’s beta will make you a better writer, guaranteed. So look for opportunities to swap rough drafts with other writers. Start threads in writing forums like KB. You’ll get takers.
Try bribery. Offer signed copies of physical editions in exchange for a beta read. Let them know they’ll be thanked in the acknowledgments. Another thing to try is to post the first dozen chapters or so on a blog and point everyone to the free sample. If you don’t have people begging for the rest, you need to reexamine what you’ve written. If you do have people wanting more, see if they’ll help you clean up your draft. Again, don’t be scared to give your work away. Neil Gaiman, even after becoming a household hame, experimented with giving his book AMERICAN GODS away online. The entire book! Guess what happened? Sales for both the digital and print books exploded. We, as authors, want to be read. Make it as easy as possible for this to happen.
It bears mentioning that once you have some sort of established readership, getting betas for subsequent works is much easier. Contact people who have reviewed your work or emailed you as a fan. See if they’d be interested in a sneak peek at the next book in exchange for any typos or plot holes they can catch. Save this list for future works. And take what your betas say to heart. Believe the negative comments and discount the positive ones. You’ll be seeing the same feedback in your eventual reviews, I promise. Only louder. With all-caps sometimes. And bad grammar.