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ARCs, Betas, & Sensitivity: Organising your pre-pub readers

As a fiction writer, one of the most valuable resources you have during the pre-publication process is a group of dedicated readers who can provide feedback and help shape your work.


These pre-publication readers play a crucial role in identifying strengths and weaknesses in your writing, and ensuring that your story resonates with your intended audience.


Today we'll explore three types of pre-publication readers - Beta readers, Sensitivity readers, and ARC (Advance Review Copy) readers - so you know how to use them to your book's advantage.



 


1. Beta Readers - finding and utilising them

Beta readers read your manuscript in its early stages and provide feedback on various aspects of your story. They can be friends, fellow writers, or members of writing community who are willing to offer constructive criticism.


Beta readers bring a fresh set of eyes to your manuscript. They can spot plot holes, inconsistencies, and areas where the story might need further development. Their unbiased feedback helps you identify and address weak points.


But remember to choose betas who are part of your target audience, not just other writers or friends! Selecting beta readers from your target audience allows you to gauge how well your story resonates with the readers you intend to captivate. Their insights can provide valuable guidance on whether your characters are relatable, your pacing is engaging, and your overall storyline is compelling.


Beta feedback can shape your story into a more polished and well-rounded piece, saving you from potential rejections or negative reviews once it's published.


How do you build a beta team? When I'm looking for beta readers, I either reach out to my reader database, or simply post to my Bookstagram community to ask who's interested. Getting the best feedback team for your author journey might take a few books (there'll be people you need to weed out, for example if they don't return feedback on time, or if their feedback is rude and unhelpful) but it's an important source to cultivate as a career author.


You may choose to give the readers a questionnaire (this is my preferred method) with specific feedback that you want. For example, 'Did the main character's motives make sense to you?' 'Was the worldbuilding clear?', etc. Or, you might simply ask readers to comment on what they feel needs improvement, and what they liked/disliked.



2. Sensitivity Readers - Ensuring sparkling representation (i.e. don't get cancelled)


Sensitivity readers play a crucial role in ensuring that your writing accurately represents diverse perspectives and cultures. They provide insights and feedback on sensitive topics such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, mental health, and more.


These readers bring firsthand experience to assess how well you portray characters from marginalised communities. Their feedback helps you avoid stereotypes, clichés, and misrepresentations, fostering cultural authenticity and promoting inclusivity in your writing.


No, it isn't just about 'not getting cancelled'. It's about doing your job as an author to ensure that readers don't feel marginalised by books they're supposed to enjoy. Which is what you want as an author!


Sensitivity readers help you navigate potential pitfalls and avoid harmful or offensive depictions that might unintentionally perpetuate stereotypes or reinforce biases. Their feedback ensures that your writing is respectful, sensitive, and considerate to all readers, irrespective of their backgrounds.


Incorporating feedback from sensitivity readers widens your understanding of diverse perspectives and fosters growth as a writer. It allows you to approach storytelling with empathy, authenticity, and a more nuanced understanding of the experiences of others.


How do you find them? Some sensitivity readers will be friends who are doing you a favour, or people who are already part of your beta team. They don't have to be professionals - they just have to identify as a member of the minority community you've included in your novel.


However, some sensitivity readers are professionals, and they charge a fee for their services. Since sensitivity reading can bring up trauma and triggers, I believe it's important to respect the fees of people who ask for payment. They're offering you an invaluable service, after all.


If you need help looking for a sensitivity reader, please reach out to me for access to my reader database, where I've collated the details of several trusted sensitivity readers.



3. ARC (Advance Review Copy) Readers - Your first marketing team


ARC readers are gifted advanced copies of your finished manuscript to read and provide feedback before the official release of your book. They play a vital role in generating early buzz and fine-tuning your final product.


ARC readers should write honest reviews and share their opinions about your book before its official release. Positive reviews from trusted sources can generate excitement, building anticipation among potential readers. This is invaluable for authors, especially debut or indie authors who don't have a big audience yet.


Reviewers may even catch remaining errors or inconsistencies missed during the editing process. Their feedback helps you refine the final touches, ensuring a more polished and professional publication. This is an especially great advantage if you can't afford/don't have access to a professional proofreader.


Feedback from ARC readers can also provide valuable marketing insights. Their reactions to specific elements like characters or plot can help you understand what about your writing is working for readers, and what isn't, shaping the way you write and market future novels.


How do you find ARC readers? Traditional publishers will do this for you, sending out physical and ebook copies of your novel to their influencer database. Indies can do the same, although it will cost a lot of money to send out physical copies. I only recommend paying out of your pocket to send physical copies if you trust the reviewer and are sure their influence will be worth the cost. (For example, they have a large following that highly trusts their recommendations.)


I recommend asking friends and family to ARC review, and any professional connections you may have. If you already have a strong community on Booktok or Bookstagram, this can also be a great way to find ARCs. Just put out a post asking people to request a copy!


Remember that ARC readers are doing you a big favour by spending the time and energy to read your book and write a review (and do a social media post or two). There is no guarantee that they will review, and there is no guarantee their review will be positive if they do. This is something you have to be comfortable with as an author.


Since you can't expect all ARC readers to review, I recommend sending the book to more people than you think you need, raising your chances of getting sparkling early reviews.



 


Looking for beta, ARC or sensitivity readers? I keep a reader database (apply here) that my clients and friends are welcome to access.

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