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I am considering uploading a trio of related short stories to Dropbox as a quick way to share them with potential beta readers. Before I actually link them elsewhere, I feel I should have at least some details nailed down, just to give them a rough idea of what they're getting themselves into. As far as I can tell, something like the following would be necessary:

  • Genre/potential target audience
  • Title (still trying to decide on this)
  • Rough overview (a paragraph at most?)

Is there anything else that would be required, or simply helpful?

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    Why would the title help a beta reader, unless of course you're looking for feedback on the title of the work? (Yes, I'm assuming there's some way to tell the three stories apart other than the title.) – a CVn Jan 9 at 20:29
  • @aCVn The title is basically a title for the overall series; I do have other stories planned in the same universe. EDIT: I was also thinking of naming the Dropbox folder as such just for my own convenience, but that's a side point. – Philip Rowlands Jan 9 at 20:31
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    I went ahead and answered but I am very confused when you say it's for reviewers slash beta readers. These are very different people who help at completely different stages. Beta readers are to prepare your work to be sent to publishers. Reviewers are to get the word out after your work is published. – Cyn Jan 9 at 20:35
  • @Cyn I actually didn't know there was a difference! My bad...this is aimed at potential beta readers. I will update accordingly. – Philip Rowlands Jan 9 at 20:36
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    Okay, I'll change my answer. You should also remove the [reviews] tag. – Cyn Jan 9 at 20:37
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Beta readers can be helpful in a variety of ways. They will of course help you with the content of your work. But if you have other elements in place, include them too. For example, try to set at least a working title so the beta reader can weigh in on it.

I would include the following:

  • Your full name (byline) and contact information.
  • The title of the collection.
  • The titles of the individual stories.
  • Genre (fantasy, mystery, etc).
  • Target audience (child, middle-grade, young adult, adult).
  • Word count (for each story and for the total).
  • If the pieces have been previously published and where (no need to state they haven't been).
  • Your publication goals (serialization in a magazine, collected in a short book, self-published e-book, etc).
  • A synopsis (not a teaser).
  • A few details about you (including previous publications) if you would like a critique for upcoming letters to publishers.
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    I think this is the better answer for my purposes, so I will accept this. – Philip Rowlands Jan 11 at 14:39
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I'd recommend against an overview. Short stories are short, and figuring out what they are and what they're doing is often a lot of the story's bulk. You want them coming in like a real reader would -- not knowing almost anything except what magazine or anthology they're reading.

General Genre/Subgenre. This is often a quick way for potential readers to gauge interest -- some readers can't stand Hard SF; others love a good fairy tale retelling; etc. etc. This helps you find the readers that are right for your story.

Similarly, keywords. Knowing the story has a trans protagonist, or mermaids in it, or astronauts, can help grab potential beta readers -- or keep away the ones who just don't like stories with that particular element. (P.S. Somebody please write a story about a trans mermaid astronaut, thanks)

Where you're at; what you're after. Tell the readers what you want from feedback. A lot of readers don't really know to focus -- and this can change depending on the author and the story. Do you prefer criticism be exhaustively explained, or are you just looking for quick pointers? Should readers indicate issues that would take a complete rewrite to fix, or assume the story's core is fairly well-set? Is this your first time getting feedback on your work, or your fifteenth? Will curt comments depress you; will overenthusiastic comments make you skeptical?
You definitely don't need to answer all these -- but do give some thought yourself to what kind of feedback you'd like, and what you've appreciated in feedback you've seen (or, what you'd rather avoid). Give the reader some points about how to write effectively for you.

Previous credits mostly work to your benefit if you've published things elsewhere, or are active in a particular community; etc. etc. It can be a way to signal, "Look, I'm serious about this," or "Look, I'm not some rando; I've had stories published in $MAGAZINE!

Questions you'd like answered. If you have specific worries or doubts you'd like readers to weigh in on, provide them upfront -- just make sure it doesn't wind up as an easily-avoidable spoiler.

That's pretty much it. Most readers pick a story up with little-to-no prep -- you probably want to preserve that as much as possible, which means you don't want to prep your beta readers too much either!

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    Somebody please write a story about a trans mermaid astronaut. :-) – Cyn Jan 9 at 21:36
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    I have a picture in my mind of the trans mermaid astronaut's spaceship, complete with rock pool... – Chappo Jan 9 at 22:03

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