Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

Beta Readers: Who are They, What Do They Do, and How Do You Find Them?

kindle-381242_640In the comments section of my post about the different types of editing authors need, many authors chimed in about the value of beta readers as a first line of editorial defense. A few authors even stated that they use beta readers in place of developmental/content editors.

When I first began my long (oh, so long) road to learning about independent publishing, I had never heard of beta readers before. While I hope my audience is not as clueless as I was, I recognize that it may be helpful to new authors, like myself, to explain exactly what the role of beta readers is in the editing process and how one finds beta readers.

What is a beta reader?

A beta reader is someone who reads the novel after the author writes it, but before it is officially published, and offers feedback and criticism.

What feedback does a beta reader offer?

The exact nature of a beta reader’s criticism is for the author and beta reader to determine. Most commonly, a beta reader will critique developmental and/or content issues, such as noticeable plot holes, character development, setting, story arc, etc. However, some authors also ask their beta readers to help with grammar and proofreading.

Who can be a beta reader?

A beta reader can be anyone — a friend or family member, someone who falls within the author’s “target audience,” a fellow author, an unbiased stranger, an avid reader, etc. Personally, I advise finding a mixed group of readers who fall into your target audience, fellow authors, and readers outside of your target audience for a wide range of perspectives.

How many beta readers can I have?

As many as you like. However, the most common “rule of thumb” is to have 3 or 5 beta readers. Keeping the number low prevents too many conflicting opinions. Having an odd number prevents opinion “ties” on debated areas of criticism.

Should I pay for a beta reader?

Some readers do offer paid beta reading services. However, I would say no. You should be able to find people within your circles who will be willing to beta read for you for free or for a favor in return. The quality of their criticism will likely be unaffected by the lack of monetary payment.

When should I ask for beta readers?

Again, this is up to you. One common time to use beta readers is before a professional editor. This allows you to fix obvious issues with the manuscript (thus lowering the work for the editor, and perhaps your cost as the customer), and perhaps even get enough feedback to forgo paying for a content edit. Another option is to use beta readers after the novel is finished with editing, but before it is published. In this scenario, beta readers can help catch any last-minute problems and/or typos and even provide reviews for your novel before it is published.

How do I find beta readers?

Much like finding an editor or someone to date, finding beta readers can be accomplished in dozens of ways. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Ask well-read friends or family members
  • Ask your blog readers/followers
  • Ask fellow authors from online communities or writers’ groups
  • Join a critique partner website
  • Put out a call on social media
  • Search social media for people who read books like yours, then ask them
  • Ask your email newsletter subscribers (that’s what I did!)
  • Put out the first chapter on a free reading site, like Wattpad, then ask interested readers

What should I say to my beta readers?

The more detailed you can be in your request, the easier the critique will be for your beta readers. In your initial request, simply explain who you are (if they do not know you), share a brief description of your book, and give a quick explanation of what feedback you want to receive. it is also a good idea to warn them about any violent content, sexual content, offensive language, or anything else that may offend them. Of course, it is good manners to thank them for their time/consideration.

Once your beta readers accept your request, send them detailed information about the areas you would like critiqued. This may take the form of a brief questionnaire, where they can write their responses to your specific inquiries about your novel. I also advise providing them with a soft deadline and the assurance that you are happy to return the favor in the future.

A note on alpha readers:

Not all authors use alpha readers or distinguish them from beta readers. Personally, I do. An alpha reader is someone who reads your first draft before any editing takes place. For many authors, this may be a spouse who is anxious to read the “complete” story, or a trusted friend who will help with developmental issues. In the end, an alpha reader is basically the same as a beta reader, only s/he reads the book even earlier in the creation process and usually in an informal context.

That’s the skinny on beta readers. They are generous, book-loving, gluttons-for-punishment who are willing to read your unpolished rock and help you shine it into a gem. How many you gather, how you find them, and what you ask them for is up to you — but make sure you find a few to help you whip your manuscript into shape and put that author ego (whether sky-high or Marianas trench-low) in its proper place.

What other questions do you have about beta readers? Where have you found your beta readers and how do you work with them? Share your thoughts below!