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By Nina Amir

Gathering reader feedback on your manuscript before you to print might be the most valuable step you can take toward producing a successful book. You can obtain this information in a variety of ways depending upon how you choose to write your manuscript.

In fact, you can even get early feedback before you write your book. This type of test marketing can save you a lot of time and energy spent producing a manuscript that might never sell.

The goal of getting early reader feedback on your book idea or manuscript is simple: Incorporate the valid suggestions you receive to help you craft the best possible book.

The following five strategies provide you with the means to get beta readers or reviewers for your ideas and your work. Each has a different set of benefits, and each is useful at a different stage. Choose one that suits your style, your point in the book-production process and the work at hand.

  1. Blog Your Book

    The main benefit of blogging a book, purposefully writing your book post by post on your site, comes from the author platform you build by doing so. As you produce the first draft of your book on the Internet, you gain loyal blog readers and subscribers. They are your potential book readers or buyers even though they have already “bought into” reading the first draft of your book—your blogged book.

    Your blogged-book readers are highly likely to engage with you and your book. They might leave you comments about your book—especially if you ask them for feedback in a call to action at the end of each post. They also might provide you with their experiences—anecdotes you can use (with permission) in the final version of your book. All of this information can be used to improve (or to write) your manuscript.

    If your blog readers don’t leave comments (or if they do), you can poll or survey them. Ask pointed questions about what works or does not work in your book and what they would like to see more or less of. They will be happy to tell you what you’ve left out, how you need to improve your manuscript, and what they like or dislike.

    Additionally, your blog statistics program gives you targeted information on what parts of your book are well received—or not received at all. You can watch as your unique-visitor, page-view and time-on-site statistics go up and down based on what you write and publish on your blog. For example, you might notice that when you published the ten blog posts that comprised a particular chapter you had fewer readers than when you published the posts that comprised other chapters. A drop in readership is a clear indication that that chapter was not a big hit with your readers, and you need to take another look at it prior to publication.

    A blogged book is a test-marketing experiment. If your book idea is a good one, and if you carry it out well, your traffic grows. If you haven’t targeted your market or written your manuscript well, you won’t find a readership. Either way, you discover if you have a marketable book idea.

  2. Blog on the Topic of Your Book

    If you don’t want to blog your book, blog about the subject of your book. This strategy provides another way to test market your book idea.

    Based on unique-visitors, page-view, and time-on-site statistics, you can determine if anyone in your target market has an interest in your book’s topic. Look at individual blog posts to see which subjects have the most interest to your readers; as you write your manuscript, focus on these.

    Again, you can evaluate reader comments and use them to help you decide how to write your book and what to include in your manuscript. You also can employ polls and surveys to get specific feedback from your blog readers about what they might want to read in a book on the same topic as your blog.

    If your site grows quickly—if you gain many unique visitors and subscribers and your readers are engaged (respond to your posts with comments)—you have the knowledge you need! Write a book that’s similar to your blog! (You may even be able to “book your blog” by repurposing some of the content you have already published.)

    Your loyal blog readers can serve as early readers of your work as well. Select a small group to become beta readers for your manuscript. They will be thrilled to give you feedback. Then incorporate this into your work in progress.

  3. Ask Beta Readers for Feedback

    The classic way to get early feedback on a book idea or manuscript involves asking a select group of people to read your manuscript and offer suggested improvements. This group of readers receive a “beta” or early version of your manuscript, which may be your final version prior to sending it to an editor or press. However, it’s still a beta—untried—version. The beta readers “test it” by reading the manuscript. Then they tell you if it has any glitches or bugs. They also tell you what parts work well.

    Like blogged book readers, beta users have a huge amount of buy-in to your book. After all, they’ve had a sneak peak! Therefore, they are likely to purchase the book once released and to provide reviews of your book either before or after release.

    Note: The next two strategies apply only to nonfiction books.

  4. Use Your Manuscript as the Text for a Course

    If you offer online courses, or if you plan to provide a course related to your book, obtain early feedback on your manuscript from course registrants. To do this, make your draft manuscript required reading for the program. Stipulate in the registration documentation that those in the course must give revision notes on the course “text.”

    Those who use a book—or a manuscript—as a resource in a learning environment tend to put the information to use. They study your words. They complete the exercises. They consider all your suggestions and act upon many of them. Therefore, these early provide valuable and applicable suggestions for manuscript improvement.

    Like other types of beta readers, your students are inclined to provide you with book reviews or blurbs.

  5. Use a Course as the Basis of a Book

    You also can reverse the process posed in the previous strategy. In this case, you run a course to determine if anyone in your target market has an interest in your book idea. You don’t provide a beta version of your manuscript but rather ask students (if any enroll) what they would want to see in a book on the same topic as the course. Or ask for feedback on the course content, which, hopefully, you modeled after your book idea.

    With your student’s suggestions in mind, write your book. Then use strategy #3 or #4 to get additional feedback once you complete the manuscript. If you opt to use strategy #4, include your new manuscript as the text for the course.
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