Finding and working with beta readers

How to build and audience use beta readers in your publishing process
Evan Gow, indie developer of StoryOrigin
Evan Gow
August 3, 2022

I recently had a great conversation with Britney Bell about:

  • Building an audience from scratch (6,000+ mailing list sign-ups from StoryOrigin alone!)
  • Working with beta readers (combining StoryOrigin Beta Copies + Kindle Vella)
  • Boosting sales with cross-promos

She has a ton of great advice that's worth listening to, and her StoryOrigin stats speak to that:

6,287
MAILING LIST SIGN-UPS
13,110
UBL CLICKS
110
Review Copy Requests
22
Beta Copy Requests

From my conversation with Britney Bell, there were two things in particular that I wanted to highlight.

First is her editing process for her Kindle Vella series.

She's created this very unique and interesting just-in-time writing-editing-publishing process, where she:

  1. Writes a chapter
  2. Puts that up in the Beta Copies feature on StoryOrigin to get feedback
  3. Edits the chapter
  4. Publishes it on Kindle Vella

She does this a chapter at a time, so she's getting feedback on her work and building her story collaboratively with her readers each week.

Second is her tactic around promoting her own website via her newsletters.

In her newsletter, she will say, “Hey, if you want to see more sales and deals [books from her cross-promotions not included in this newsletter] go check out my website here.”

This provide a great enticement to click to link to her website.

Readers can then see the section cross-promos on her website, but readers will also naturally find her latest books in her series.

This is a great way to drive more traffic to your website, and do a soft sell on those other new releases that you have.

Brittany had a lot of other great advice. Here are clips from that conversation (edited for brevity / clarity).

How did you start your email marketing journey?

I was searching frantically for some organization help with newsletters and what I was going to put in it.

I needed author swaps and just overall what all to do with newsletters.

I had no clue at all.

I was trying to put a list together on the side, a calendar list with several author friends. Okay. I'll swap with you. You swap with me.

I was totally disorganized and somewhere along the social media world, I found a link to StoryOrigin.

I just started clicking and thank goodness I found StoryOrigin.

How did you grow your mailing list?

I uploaded a Reader Magnet (one I still use today), and I just applied to as many Group Promos and Newsletter Swaps as I could.

When I sent the newsletter, I really shared with the newsletter subscribers, “Hey, here's a ton of freebies.”

I still do that today.

Even though I wasn't publishing in 2021, I was getting the word out for so many other authors by sharing their information.

I was very open with my readership and said, “Hey, I know I'm not publishing this year so much, but enjoy all of these other great books out there in the meantime.”

It grew.

I also did two anthologies that gained some larger chunks of subscribers, but they were already coming through StoryOrigin before I even did the anthology.

A lot of those numbers that came in from the anthology were just duplicates.

So use Group Promos and Newsletter Swaps, and be honest with your newsletters, and say, “Hey, enjoy all these freebies in the meantime.”

Did you set up a welcome sequence at the start?

I did create a welcome sequence and fast.

It tells them:

  • “Thank you for joining my list” first and foremost
  • They're going to receive a bi-weekly email from me
  • Where to find my Kindle Vella stories because they can read the first three for free
  • Where to find a few of my other books (and then I just put the covers there)

I think the number one click on there is my Linktree.

I say, “If you're interested, if you want to know more about Britney, then click here.”

I have the Linktree listed in the importance of what's going on at that moment.

So if I have a giveaway going or running, then that'll be right at the top.

If I have a new release, if I have a pre-order, that'll be right at the top.

Then it goes all the way down through each of my books, through the website, and asks if they want to sign up for Britney's caravan. (That's my street team.)

How frequently do you send your newsletter?

I actually did a little trial and error here.

At first, I was doing it monthly, and then my audience showed some interest in it, so I went to bi-weekly.

I have a lot more interaction bi-weekly than monthly.

The clicks, the opens, the email replies back, the sales as well.

Now, if I do have a new release, I will send out a special newsletter that's just the new release.

Do you have any special strategies around cross-promotions?

I do have a strategy on the group promos, which I'll put my reader magnet in.

If they don't have time to read the newsletter, they can go to my website, and I have a page on there called “freebies and deals.”

I will list all of my group promos on my website.

Then on every newsletter, I will promote two to three of those group promos on the newsletter, and right below it, I have a banner that says, “if you want to see a full list of freebies and cells, please click here.” which will send them to my website.

At the top, it's got all series.

It's easy for the reader to click around, and they do generally.

How do you find and vet reviewers?

I've only really just stepped my little finger in the Review Copies.

I always get some requests via the “Review”-type Group Promos.

And then what I do to vet them as I look at, if they have reviewed before.

If they've accepted 50 and they've left zero reviews, then I go ahead and ignore those.

But if it's someone that has never requested another book, and this is their first time, then I normally will accept them, because maybe it's someone that's generally interested in my book.

Most of the time, I don't run into many that I have to turn away, because a lot of them have already reviewed other books before, so I accept those.

I will tell you that the people who are requesting, it's the right fit for them.

Their reviews come back very favorable.

I haven't had any issues in that regard either.

How did you get started with Beta Copies?

I didn't publish very much in 2021, but I was still writing.

So I threw all of it up as Beta Copies, then asked my Britney's Caravan if anyone was interested in doing beta or alpha reading.

I had a very, very good response to that.

The other thing that I'm extremely pleased with on the Beta Copies side…

I have Kindle Vella episodes, and it's kind of hard to keep track of all those because they're in serials.

I put those up as Beta Copies as well, so every time I go in and add one new episode, everyone that has been approved as a beta reader gets an email from StoryOrigin.

So they can automatically know to go in there and beta read it and put their notes.

How do you work with beta readers on your Kindle Vella story?

It's a matchmaking service that's a reality show, and we're dealing with four different couples, so it's extremely difficult for my little brain to comprehend all this.

I need help from beta readers to catch plot holes. For example, to say, “Hey, wait a minute. They didn't get together yet.”

But it's really interesting too, because they're helping me build the story.

After every episode, they're like, “Hey, I can see so-and-so going here or doing that.”

And I'm like, “Oh yeah, that's exactly what they're going to do.”

Where do you incorporate beta readers into your publishing process?

It goes to beta readers, then it comes back to me.

I make my edits.

Then, it goes to the proofreader.

Then, I publish it.

StoryOrigin Beta Copies vs other processes?

The process in StoryOrigin, it asks the correct questions and then it allows them to give the feedback that we as authors need.

Versus just out in social media, “Hey, you want to read my book? Can you beta, can you tell me what you thought?”

And then they send it back with “Oh, everything's great. You don't need to change a thing.”

“Well, thanks. I do need to change something.”

So I really appreciate how the Beta Copies feature on StoryOrigin encourages readers to leave feedback.

Do you provide your beta readers with critique guidance?

I like that about the Beta Copies, if I'm:

  • Stuck in one area
  • I'm just really not feeling it
  • I'm concerned about the character arc

I'll ask those specific questions chapter by chapter.

  • Did this character make you angry with their actions?
  • Do you feel like they were too soft?
  • Are you missing the angst in there?

I'm not an angst writer at all, so I have a hard time putting conflict in there.

I have to always have to ask them, “Did I put enough conflict in there to make the resolution believable?”

Another thing that I love about the Beta Copies is that readers put a five level rating each chapter for “Do they want to read the next chapter?”

It's very helpful. Very, very helpful.

How important are beta readers to developing your story?

Authors all the time, you get halfway in and you're like, “I am stuck.”

Then I'll upload it as a Beta Copy for an alpha reader.

I'll have one or two alpha readers come in and tell me what their feeling of it is.

These books are only halfway written.

I'll get their feedback, and then I'll be able to write the second half of the book.

Then, you can put new versions of it up in the Beta Copy, and go after and ask more beta readers if they want to read it at that point.

How do you know when it's done?

An alpha reader - that person's going to tell you the truth.

That's what moves the book forward. You need that critique.

When the Betas come through, you should be getting four and five anticipation levels.

If you don't at that point, then you definitely need to re-look at that chapter and maybe either add a whole bunch more to it or axe the whole chapter and start over or something.

By the end, you should have four or five anticipation levels all the way through.

How do you find beta readers?

I tried social media and social media is really hard nowadays.

Your posts aren't being seen and things like that.

So I went back to my newsletter.

I sent out a newsletter to say, “Hey, anybody want to help Britney out writing her next story? Just send your request here on StoryOrigin.”

Don't do that all the time because you only need three to five beta readers.

I openly state in the newsletter that I will only be selecting 3 to 5.

What requirements do you have for beta readers?
  1. I'll ask if they're able to read the book within a certain timeframe, because I still have to stick to deadlines.
  2. Tell them if there are potential triggers in the book as I only want them to request the book if it's a good fit for them (If not, I'll suggest they request a different Beta Copy of mine)
  3. Tell them it's not edited. It's not proof-read. Thus, if they get easily distracted by typos, it won't be a good fit for them
What advice would you recommend to an author just starting out?

Take one thing at a time and learn that one thing before you add something else.

For me, I started with the Group Promos and just went after all the Group Promos.

I'm like, “okay, I got the group promos down now.”

So then I started diving more into the Newsletter Swaps.

Then, I went into the Beta Copies.

Then, I went into the Review Copies.

So just take one thing at a time.

StoryOrigin has so much to offer that even I haven't even done all of the things that there is yet, but you just gotta take one chunk of it and just start somewhere.

About the author: Evan Gow is the indie developer of StoryOrigin