Next to editors, beta readers are your next best friend. They’re generally our biggest champions and friends, and they are always eager to read our work.
Beta readers help us find the problems with our novel before it gets released to the rest of the world. Best of all, most of them want to read your book. And most will do it for a free copy of your book or a shout out in your acknowledgments section.
Let’s take a look into what they are, where to find them, and how to pry the best advice out of them.
What are Beta Readers?
Congratulations! You finished writing your book!
Unfortunately, your work isn’t done yet. You’ve got to go through and edit your book, shop it around to literary agents and publishers, and get it in front of readers.
Well, there are a couple of extra steps in there. One is to get a professional editor to look over your manuscript – trust me; it’ll be worth the expense. And the other is to get a beta reader or two to look it over as well.
But what is a beta reader?
A beta reader is usually a test reader of an unreleased work of literature or other writing (similar to beta testing in software), who gives feedback from the point of view of an average reader to the author.
They point out the things they did and did not like about your book, highlighting the elements that writers can become blind to during the revision process. Don’t confuse them with critique partners, though. Critique partners look at your book with a writer’s eye to find any craft issues.
Considering that our job is to write for our readers (and ourselves), it’s a great idea to get a reader to look things over for us. So, where do we find them?
Where do You Find Them?
Thankfully, beta readers aren’t hard to find. You can ask your friends or family to look it over. But unless they’re brutally honest, you may need to look elsewhere for some feedback.
Engaging a complete stranger to look at your book can give you the candid feedback that you need. Here are some places to look:
- Online or local writing groups. A group of like-minded people get what you’re going through and are probably looking for a beta reader themselves. Reedsy has a list of online writing communities that you may want to check out. Your city also likely has some writing groups you can find beta readers in.
- Your author website or blog. You probably have some followers who are dying to get a look at your work. Why not let them?
- Goodreads. Goodreads is more than a bibliophiles heaven. It also has forums that support writers, like this one, which is aimed at connecting writers with beta readers.
- Existing author connections. You know other authors, like me, either via social media or from attending conferences and meet-ups. Why not ask them?
Honestly, finding a bet reader isn’t going to be a problem. It’s getting the best advice from them that can be a challenge.
How to Work with Beta-Readers
First off, it’s good to have multiple beta readers to look at your writing. Why? Well, no two people read the same, giving you a variety of answers on what works and what doesn’t.
You want to look for beta readers that read your genre and those who don’t. The ones who know the genre can help you spot played out tropes or key elements that haven’t ended up in your manuscript. And looking to those outside of our genre is a great way to market and also look for some other details to make it more attractive to non-genre readers.
Aside from using non-genre and genre readers, here are some other important details to keep in mind:
- Deadlines. This way, everyone knows what’s going on and when things are expected. That being said, don’t be an unreasonable jerk either. Set something that’s realistic and be flexible.
- Don’t give them a draft. This depends a bit on who you’re working with. I send a lot of my work as drafts to my friends with the caveat of it being a draft. But if you’re sending this to someone you don’t know, make sure it’s polished – word spreads.
- Be open to feedback – but don’t act on it right away. Let’s face it very few of us get it right the first time. Be open to improvement – it’ll help you in the long-run. Make sure you really think about the advice you’re given and how it’ll impact your novel before applying it.
- Don’t forget to thank your beta reader… This person just took time out of their schedule to help you make your book better. Recognize that effort with a personalized thank-you note, a shout in the acknowledgments, or with a free, signed copy of the book.
- … or to return the favor. If another author reads your work, don’t forget to return the favor for them if they ask.
The final, most crucial thing you need to remember about working with beta readers is to give them guidance. This means instructions on how to access the book, how to use Google Docs, etc.
It also means a series of questions you want them to answer.
Questions to Ask
The entire point of you asking someone else for feedback is to make sure that you get that feedback.
What I like to do is sit down with my reader afterward to talk about various things, like if they liked the protagonist, overall story, what worked, what didn’t, etc. Or I ask them to make comments on a Google Doc while they’re reading.
Regardless of how you go about it, here are some things that you should ask your beta reader for feedback on:
No matter what types of questions you ask, remember to tailor them to the book you’re currently working on. There’s no need to ask about something that isn’t even an issue in your book.
Beta Reading for Someone Else?
If you’re looking into being a beta reader for someone else, I’d suggest checking out this video by Jenna Moreci first:
Words to live by: Be kind. Be honest. Be thorough.
The main take away is to be useful to the author. Provide them with good, actionable feedback. It seriously helps create swoon-worthy stories, like The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, The Shining, and so on.
According to K.M. Weiland, you should also keep these three additional things in mind:
- Respect the author’s guidelines. Don’t do a line edit if the writer doesn’t ask you to do one. It could kill some of the writer’s enthusiasm for their story, and we don’t want that.
- Respect the author’s autonomy. The writer has the right to make whatever changes they want to make. So please don’t get mad if they don’t take all of your advice.
- Observe standard editing protocols. Make things easier for all involved by observing standard editing protocol. Used the tracked change function for an online document or standard editing symbols for marking up a hard copy.
Weiland also has some etiquette for writers getting feedback from beta readers that is worth a read as well at the bottom of the article.
There you have it! All that you need to know about working with beta readers or working with an author as a beta reader.
Remember, beta readers are just one of the many steps that it takes to get your novel from idea to published. It is also a fun part of the process (for me anyway) because you finally get to see people’s reactions to your story.
So enjoy working with your beta readers. And if you’re reading someone else’s story, please be kind, honest, and thoughtful.
Have you used beta readers before – or have been one? What was the experience like?
Speaking of beta readers and writing groups… (Okay, mostly writing groups.)
I was wondering if anyone would like to start an online writing group with me? If you’re interested, let me know in the comments below or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
I think it’ll be bi-weekly. Everyone will take turns and have their work in progress critiqued by the whole group. It’s open to all fiction writers and poets.
Like I said, please let me know if you’re interested.
Stay safe, everyone!
Until next time!