There are a lot of writing guides on this website - a few of them are mine, even. How to develop characters! How to write a plot! How do publish! How to edit! The list goes on. But one thing that people never seem to write about is beta reading - specifically, how to request a beta reader. Every single beta request I've been given begins with, "Um, well, I'm not really sure how to do this, but..." I've started my own beta requests this way. But why shouldn't we know? It's not that difficult.
This essay was inspired by a beta request I just received that almost literally saying, "Hi, will you read my story?" and that's it. This is not an acceptable request. We beta readers are human, too! First of all, why do we need to write good beta requests? As a beta, I do have a semblance of a life outside of FictionPress, and I want to be able to enjoy my beta process. If you have a well put together request, I am much more likely to want to work with you. It says a lot about you as a person and your writing ability. So let's get started. There are several components to a good beta request, and I'm sure every beta is different, but here's the skeleton of my ideal beta request.
Part 1: Introduction
Pretty self-explanatory. "Hi, I'm iowehvnd." I know I can read your name at the top of my screen, but it's a nice gesture. And it takes like negative four seconds to type. You can also include whatever degree of personal info you want. Questions I always ask my beta requesters are, favorite books, favorite authors, age group (under 21, 21-40, over 40 - because I feel awkward beta-ing for someone older than me), how long they've been writing, etc. These aren't necessary, but your beta will probably end up asking you these things anyway.
Part 2: Kissing Up A
This should be short. We betas like to be complimented! This can refer to pieces you've read on the beta's profile (and yes, you should read a few pieces before sending a request), or it can refer to what they said on their beta profile. "I found your beta profile and you seem to be just the kind of beta I'm looking for! I want someone who [restatement of beta profile]." Or you could say, "I came across your profile and really enjoyed reading some of your work!" and then mention something about beta-ing right up front.
Part 3: Pitch
I haven't done a lot of research into the publishing world, but I do know that you're going to have to learn how to pitch your story eventually. Betas are more forgiving than editors when it comes to pitching, but it's still important. The worst is when someone doesn't include a pitch at all. It's up to you whether you want to do a simple summary of the story (paragraph, maybe 2) or a more traditional pitch with the "Will he make it out alive?" hook at the end - although personally, I prefer the first. Regardless, it should be more comprehensive than the 300 character summary that you post when you publish a story on FictionPress. A pitch will also include a description of your main character. It's very irritating to we beta readers when people don't include a summary with their request.
Part 4: Goals
After the pitch, it's important to say what you're expecting from the experience. You should not go into a beta partnership without knowing what kind of advice you want, how much you want to edit, etc. I know almost all betas know what they specialize in, so you should know what you want them to do for you. We love to help, we just want instruction, or else it's too daunting a project to take on. Are you looking for help with character development? Are you looking for plot holes? Are you looking for grammar correction? Are you looking for help with world-building? This is similar to Part 2, because you should be matching your goals and expectations with what the beta profile says.
Part 5: Kissing Up B/Conclusion
This should be your conclusion - again, short. It's like wrapping up a thank you note by saying "Thank you!" one final time. Something along the lines of, "I hope you can take the time to work with me, as I would really appreciate any advice you can give me!" would easily suffice.
Not every beta reader is for you, and you are not for every beta reader. We all have preferences, and although it is awkward to turn someone down, we beta readers are not above doing so. Whether it's because we're too busy or whether we can't help you or whatever it is, you need to be prepared for someone to say no. Finding a perfect beta reader takes time. It's important to realize that beta reading is as much about personal connection as it is about literature.
So there you have it! A non-comprehensive guide to writing beta requests! Hopefully this has helped you polish up your technique, and I hope anyone looking will find the perfect beta reader soon!