Beta Readers: What They Do (and How To Find Them)

Congratulations you’ve finished your book! It’s a moment to be celebrated; you’ve done it. 

You have edited and re-edited, and you’re pretty happy with how it turned out….But you’re not finished.

You want to find out more before you invest any more time and money in your publishing and marketing:

  • Is it any good? 
  • Have you achieved what you set out to do?
  • Can it be improved with a few small tweaks?

Not sure if you can answer these questions? Well, hand it over to a beta reader or two to get some answers.

If the term “beta reader” is new to you, we’ve got you covered…

Welcome to our complete guide on beta readers.

What is a Beta Reader? 

A beta reader is an essential, game-changing part of the journey from the first draft to paperback.

They are the people you want to read your book before you publish it.

Note that they are not professional editors.

But why are they called “beta readers”? The term has been borrowed from the software industry. Beta testers identify bugs in a piece of computer software before it is released. 

Beta readers are there to find the bugs in your work, and help you identify any elements that need fixing before you send it off to a paid editor. 

What Beta Readers Do:

  • Read your manuscript from start to finish with the eyes of an average reader
  • Offer critical feedback on story, character, plot, pacing and dialogue
  • Check continuity
  • Check the tone of the piece for your desired audience/genre

Why Do You Need Beta Readers?

But why do you need one? 

Because you want more feedback on your work. Beta readers are there to give you that.

You might not want to hear this, but there is something wrong with your book.

Wait…Hear us out!

This definitely does not mean your book idea isn’t good. But there are always areas that need fixing.

At times, one is blind to their weaknesses and typos. So having a fresh set of eyes to check out your work helps you catch any mistakes. It saves you from any sloppy writing whilst pushing you to new levels with your craft.

Not every author starts out as a Shakespeare with perfect manuscripts.

Enlisting a beta reader can help you polish your manuscript as thoroughly as possible before you start submitting it to your agents, publishers, or professional editors.

Let’s be honest, you would rather someone tell you the faults when you have the time to fix them than for that person to write a one-star review on Amazon.

How To Choose Your Beta Readers

So, you probably worked out that it is not a bad idea to get some beta readers. 

Now let’s talk about how you can choose one. 

Ideally, your reader should not be friends, partners, family members, colleagues, or anyone you have a preexisting relationship with.

Why? Because the purpose of a beta reader is to get honest and direct feedback. 

Although your friends and family may seem like good choices, you want to get objective feedback from someone who doesn’t know you already.

That is not to say you can’t use your close relatives but make sure they are not afraid of offending you by giving honest feedback

In an ideal authors world, a beta reader has some of the following qualities: 

They Represent Your Target Audience

Above all else, you want to make sure who you choose as a beta reader represents your audience. We recommend when finding beta readers, it should be people who enjoy and understand your genre.

If you give your fantasy novel to an avid romance reader it is likely you are not going to get the desired feedback unless there is some gripping romance in the fantasy world of your book. But ideally, you want to find a fantasy novel addict.

They Have Experience

An experienced beta reader knows the drill, and they know how to give coherent and honest feedback. If you are looking at beta readers with no experience in the field, they should at least be avid readers. 

They Are Interested in Your Storyline

Before you start searching for beta readers, take a moment to sit down and write a synopsis of your plot. 

You want to make sure the beta reader makes it to the last page. They are more likely to do this if they know the basis of your story or message before committing.

They Are Skilled at Critiquing 

You want to use them to get detailed feedback, not simply someone who gives you generic answers like: “Oh, it was funny…”

Look for people who will get down to the nitty-gritty.

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How Many Beta Readers Do I Need? 

I am sure by now you have noticed we have been referring to beta readers, plural. You may ask, will a single beta reader be enough? 

Well, the answer is: not really… 

Having multiple beta readers is the preferred route.

You want to gain as much feedback as you can. Having more than one beta reader allows you to gain insight from different perspectives.

We recommend looking for at least 3 beta readers.

An ideal number would be between 3-5 beta readers. You could do even more than 5! But you don’t want to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of feedback.

Some writers even go all out and form larger groups of beta readers. We’d recommend starting smaller and getting a feel for it. You can expand out if you feel it’s needed.

In the end, the amount of beta readers you use is up to you. The correct number will be the number that you find most helpful and most manageable for what you want to get out of it.

How To Find Beta Readers

Now you probably have a good idea of what a beta reader is and what you should be looking for in your beta search.

But how do you find them? Where do you even start?

We’ve got some ideas to point you in the right direction:

Ask a writer

If you know one or two writers, that would be a great place to start Especially if they have similar writing styles, then you’ve found your go-to beta folks. 

Reach out online

Reaching out to your online community is a great way to go. They are your target audience so you’ll get invaluable feedback. If you don’t have an online community we recommend using social media or building your website. Use your online community to reach out to any fans who would like to see your draft in exchange for their honest commentary.

Facebook groups

On Facebook there are writing communities such as Fiction Writers, Your Write Dream, and Writers Helping Writers. Reach out to anyone there who could be your next beta reader. 

Goodreads

Goodreads has an active community of readers. It helps connect writers and beta readers.

Your Website

Your author website is another great option. A mailing list is a great way to reach out to possible beta readers. Or if you have a blog on your website why not reach out there? 

Online beta communities

Below is a list with links to the ones we recommend in no particular order: 

What Makes a Good Beta Reader Possess? 

  • Good beta readers understand what makes a good book. They consider things like the plot development, characterization, and structure. 
  • They should understand what creates suspense and what draws a reader in. 
  • If your book is in a specific field, they should have the knowledge and experience in that field or at the very least a strong interest in it. For example, if your book is centered around nuclear medicine you most likely want a beta reader who understands nuclear medicine, not a fiction romance novel reader.
  • Ideally, they are clued up on the publishing world and have good instincts on what it takes to get a book noticed. 
  • As mentioned previously, a good beta reader for you would be someone who reads a LOT of books from your genre. They should have vast knowledge from reading various books in a specific genre. This can help offer you insight into what your audience would enjoy. After all, they are your target audience.

When is The Best To Test?

You can test at any stage of your writing, but for most writers, it is best to wait until you have completed your messy creative process and finished revising. 

You need to feel confident in your draft; it is as good as you can make it. 

Do Beta Readers Get Paid?

Beta readers usually do not get paid for their services. They are seen as volunteers, a helping hand in your writing, and not in it for what they can earn but for what they can read and learn. 

Although no money changes pockets, a great idea is to give your beta readers the finished copy either an ebook or hardcover with your autograph as a thank you.

Another gesture would be to include their names in your book’s acknowledgment section, especially if you feel they have added value to the published copy.

Tips for Working With Beta Readers

You want to make the most of your beta readers and make sure you receive the best feedback for your book.

Here are our key tips for working with beta readers so you both achieve the desired experience: 

  1. Seek out a variety of opinions. Having a range of opinions is important when it comes to feedback.
  2. Work with multiple beta readers. As previously discussed, you ideally want to have more than three beta readers, and maybe a few backups in case some beta readers drop out or miss the deadline. 
  3. Ask questions. Prepare a list of questions to ask your beta readers, like what worked, what didn’t, and what they think of the beginning or end. 
  4. Respect your beta readers’ time. Be grateful for your beta readers, and give them guidelines such as the deadline for their view. 
  5. Respect your beta readers’ opinion. Once you receive their feedback, check to see if any patterns in their opinions emerge and use it to improve what you’ve written.

Beta Readers vs. Similar Roles

Beta readers are there to give you their feedback on the manuscript. 

Avoid confusing beta readers with other roles that involve reading an unpublished draft. 

These include:

  • Alpha Readers: An alpha enters the feedback process way before the beta reader comes into play. Alpha readers provide commentary on your manuscript whilst it is in process, and beta readers give you feedback on a complete manuscript.
  • Critique Partners: They would be another author or writer who reads your book and offers constructive criticism from their point of view. Many authors belong to or form critique groups for the purpose of having fellow writers critique their work.
  • Editors: There are many types of editors, each responsible for troubleshooting various aspects of your manuscript before it goes to publishing. For example, a copy editor pinpoints flaws in logic and formatting; a substantive editor identifies plot holes. 
  • Proofreaders: A proofreader identifies grammatical errors and typos in a book as they read.

Wrapping Up The Beta

The ideal beta reader is someone who knows what they like to read and has opinions. They will read a work in progress and offer feedback to the author from the point of view of an average reader.

Beta readers can help you make your manuscript 10 times better than it was before. Even experienced writers need second opinions on their books. 

We hope to have given you a good perspective on beta readers, how you can find them, and how to pick out the ones you want feedback from.

Get out there and share your manuscript with those eager beta readers!

Use Your website to Get Beta Readers

Having an online presence as an author is invaluable. Especially an author website, where you can share your world with your readers and use it as a tool to attract good beta readers. 

We’ve built websites for million-bookselling authors and debut authors just starting out in their book-writing careers. Feel free to reach out to us to learn more about our author website design services.

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