As an entrepreneur, validating an idea isn’t a new concept to you. Surely you’ve gone through a validating process when you’ve launched other things (courses, products, services). The concept is the same when it comes to a book: Ask the people who are your ideal clients (and thus likely your ideal readers) for feedback.
With a book, though, you might complete the validation process a few times: with your book idea/topic, with your cover, and then with your actual text. The text is our focus today, and in book publishing, we call this process “gathering beta feedback.”
What is beta feedback?
Beta feedback essentially boils down to gathering feedback from people who fall into your ideal audience: What do they think of the book? Of course, you don’t want to ask that actual question, because answers like “I love it!” and “Great!” — while ego-boosting — won’t actually help you fix anything that might be wrong with your manuscript. You want to see what is working in your manuscript and what is not (and why) so that by the time you publish, your book is as strong and complete as it can be.
The idea is straightforward: Choose a handful of people (I suggest three to five; more than that and the responses can get overwhelming) and send them targeted questions. Don’t rely on yes-no questions. Ask questions that warrant more thoughtful and detailed feedback (e.g., Were you able to follow the process I outlined for XYZ in Chapter 3? Was there anywhere that I lost you? If so, where?). Try to keep your list of questions on the short side and focused.
You want to see what is working in your manuscript and what is not (and why) so that by the time you publish, your book is as strong and complete as it can be. - @jodibrandon
Also remember as you go through this process of gathering feedback that everyone’s will be different. Reading is subjective (which is what makes book publishing exciting and maddening at the same time!). As the author, it’s up to you to decide which feedback to incorporate. (Pro tip: Common sense should prevail here. If one of five beta readers tells you a section wasn’t clear, but four don’t mention it, you’re probably fine. That reader might just need to re-read to understand your point. If five out of five people tell you that a particular section in unclear, though, it probably is. Time to revise!)
When should I ask for beta feedback?
Advice differs regarding when to gather beta feedback. If you only plan to do one round of feedback, then my strong suggestion is after your first draft, if you feel it’s strong enough. You don’t want to get too far into the manuscript/publishing process without being sure you’re on the right track. Incorporating beta feedback is then part of your revision process, during which you’re strengthening your manuscript even further.
If you have time in your publishing schedule and feel so inclined, you can gather more feedback after you’ve revised and created a new draft of your manuscript.
Why should I use beta feedback?
Your goal is to provide value to your readers, yes? Asking them if your words are meeting that goal will translate into better book sales, a wider audience reach, and more readers served. (That will, in turn, serve YOU and your business. Win-win.)
Writing a book can be a solitary process, especially if you aren’t working with a book writing coach or developmental editor. There will be times you want to bounce an idea off of someone (“Does this example make sense here?”; “Should I explain that process here, or in that chapter?”). Gathering beta feedback allows you to ask those questions to someone other than your dog or cat or three-year-old—not that you don’t want to know what they think, but if they’re not your ideal readers…
Beta feedback is important because if your book has any missing pieces or sections that need to be clarified, you want to know BEFORE the book is launched so you can easily change them! If you were writing a book, who would you ask to be a beta reader for you?