How I Got 50 Beta Readers For My Fantasy Novel in 3 Weeks

At a recent writing/publishing meetup in Minneapolis, MN, I was asked by an author Sarah Stonich how I’d gotten 50 readers for phase 1 of my beta reading on the latest draft of my weird epic fantasy novel.
 
My response:

I simply asked.

Really, that’s what I did. In a variety of ways. Okay, but how did I really do it?

I built relationships.

Then I asked.

Before I asked, I needed to be ready

Two important things I did first:

  1. I wrote a readable draft of my novel
  2. I created a system to receive feedback on the novel

If you have questions about #1, write your question in the comments here on Medium and I’ll definitely answer them! Seriously, do it :)

As for #2, here’s what I did.

Sometime in 2015 I noticed Slackin posted on Product Hunt. I’m not technical, but I followed the instructions on Github and figured it out.

Then, I used it to create this signup landing page for my beta reading team. Anyone who agreed to read at least part of the book was sent here:

Over the next 2 months (October and November 2016), readers will give feedback as they progress through the book. I’m getting useful reactions and input which will improve the novel. I’ll then do some rewrites and prepare for beta reading phase 2.

Early feedback from the friend of a friend I found through Snapchat. (I’m e.vanmech on Snapchat, btw)

I’m meeting other interesting people and writers. Some of whom I hope to join forces in a formal writing group as we progress through our careers, like Sam Moss.

One of my readers is also a writer and a developer, so we can jam on that :)

Where Did I Find Readers?

Pretty much everyone reads. And no matter what you’re writing, there is probably an audience for it. You just need to find it.

I wasn’t sure exactly where I’d find readers for my particular style of weird fantasy, but I didn’t discount anyone at the start. I’m glad I didn’t, because sometimes a friend would know someone else for whom the book would be a good fit.

Here’s a few things I did:

  1. Started a Medium journal to document my novel writing journey
  2. Created a Revue newsletter with fun things I’m reading (I read a lot)
  3. Messaged friends on Facebook [friends helped me find the right readers — one of my former coworkers at Target’s cousin is a novelist in India and he recruited his cousin to join the beta reading team]
  4. Contributed to Fantasy-Faction on Facebook, and several other Facebook groups [one of the community members liked one of my novel recommendations and joined my beta reading team]
  5. Shared stories about my progress on Snapchat (follow me @e.vanmech) [my friend, who’d been living in London, saw my story and sent me a writer he knows looking for a writing group!]
  6. Messaged people on LinkedIn [for some of my contacts LinkedIn is the only point of connection…funny that]
  7. I emailed people one by one [one of my friends who teaches high school shared my novel synopsis with his class — three of his students are now in my beta reading team]
  8. I searched for writers and readers on Quora, some inside my contacts and some outside [I found one of my favorite beta reading contributors so far this way]
  9. Talking to people IRL. I live in an artist community in Minneapolis — I’ve gained a few readers just through bumping into people in the hallways or through short chats in the elevator.

Wow, reflecting and making that list made me realize I did a decent amount of work to get readers! Maybe not as simple as I stated in the outset :)

One other observation just to make this clear:

  • About three quarters of the people in my reading team I’ve had some contact with before.
  • The final quarter were new connections.

Despite this early success, I’m excited to expand on the ways to get in touch with people for phase 2 of the beta reading. Making a novel great is nothing if it isn’t hard work.

Helping other writers and finding the right readers

One strategy I’ve found very helpful is to help other readers. Most writers get better with feedback from the right kind of reader (or from a dedicated writing group). I’m looking to add value to other writers’ work and in exchange get help from them as readers on the next phase of my beta reading.

I also have few things I want to try as I find the right people for phase 2 of beta reading:

  1. Reddit: there are some awesome communities here, like /r/fantasywriters or /r/worldbuilders
  2. Fantasy Faction: there is a really cool critique group I want to get involved in
  3. Minneapolis/St. Paul writer meetups (there are some great meetups I’ve heard about but am yet to attend)

What I’ve learned so far in building a team

It’s been incredible to see how my relationships brought people to help me.

I hope I can continue working hard, staying patient, and doing the right thing to give help and accept help from others. Writing a novel is no small task, nor is it impossible.

In the long term, I want to tell stories for a living.

But I’ve also found I enjoy connecting people and building communities. On a tangential note, I’ve just started helping Yu-kai Chou (yukaichou.com) with email management for his Octalysis Prime community, which is in turn helping me think about how I’m building and intend to continue building my own writing/reading community. These fall into three categories:

  1. Beta reading team
  2. Writing group
  3. Readers and Fans! (TBD, since I haven’t published a novel yet)

What are you building?

I’d love to hear from you if you’re building a community. I’m interested in how you do outreach, how you onboard, how you make people feel welcome and make sure they know what to do, and how you keep people engaged.

Please don’t hesitate to leave a short comment. And if you got even one new idea from this article, please tap the green heart so other community builders can find this and learn from it too — much appreciated!
Sometimes the love I feel from people makes me feel like I’m flying ! :) :) :)