After doing another round of beta reading for several authors and being sent manuscripts in various stages of completion, I’ve been considering which is the best point in the life of a manuscript to send it out to beta readers, bearing in mind that an author may also be sending out ARCs at some point, too.
Here’s the conundrum, as I see it:
a) When it’s totally, utterly, finally finished, polished to within an inch of its life and proof-read to perfection. It’s cost the author a great deal in time, and possibly money. He or she may have hired an editor and a proof reader and as far as they’re concerned it’s ready to be released into the big, wide world. But is it? What if the betas come back with lots of issues? What if they think the plot is weak, or the main character is unlikeable? You could argue that a good editor should have picked up these kinds of issues well before the proof reading stage, but not necessarily. An editor is only one person, and they might love the direction your plot takes, but five out of seven of your betas don’t. So then it’s back to rewrites and the whole process starts again.
b) When it’s got past the rough first draft stage, but it still has errors? Will your betas be forgiving of these, or will it affect their enjoyment enough for them to report back that the book isn’t for them? The obvious advantage to this option is that the author hasn’t invested too much time (and money) in the project before he/she knows they’re on the right track plot wise and character wise.
Personally, I lean towards b), and am quite happy to accept a less-than-perfect manuscript from an author myself when I’m beta reading. In my opinion beta readers aren’t the same as reviewers and therefore perhaps shouldn’t expect a manuscript which is ready for publication.