Working with Beta Readers: A Quick Guide for Authors
Authors have always relied on beta readers as a way to get feedback from their target audience and make improvements to their manuscripts before publishing their books. If you want to have a successful book, getting beta readers is essential because they provide valuable insight that you’re simply not objective enough to come up with. Beta readers identify the elements that aren’t working in a draft, usually before the writer sends their manuscript to a professional editor for an in-depth analysis, providing an essential service during the writing process. You want to ask strangers, not family and friends, to beta-read your manuscript because you know they’ll be honest. The people closest to you aren’t objective enough.
In case you’re ready to start working with an editor, check out our manuscript critique services. If you’re still working on an early draft and are looking for some feedback, you might be wondering where you can find beta readers.
Where to find beta readers
As we said, beta readers are essential to the writing process, but where do you find them? You can always ask friends and family although it might be harder to get tough criticism from them, so we suggest looking outside your immediate social circle if possible. Your family and friends may have useful insights to offer, but you definitely want your manuscript in strangers’ hands as well.
One way to find beta readers is through social media and online writing communities. Online forums and boards dedicated to writing are great for meeting other authors and avid readers and for reaching out to anyone who may be interested in going through your manuscript. Some readers may enjoy beta-reading your story simply because they like being part of the writing process. You can also join local writing groups or ask authors you already know if they’d be willing to read your work, maybe in exchange for reading their work. Be honest and thorough when beta-reading for other authors—give their books the same attention you want them to give yours.
Keep in mind that you should have multiple readers for your book at the same stage so you can compare their notes and find any critiques they all provided—these are the notes you want to pay the closest attention to. How many readers you need will depend on you and the amount of work your manuscript requires, but we suggest rallying between five and 11 readers to get a diverse pool of opinions and perspectives. Just make sure they fit into your target audience—getting someone with no interest in fantasy books to beta-read your fantasy novel is a waste of time for everyone.
What qualities should a beta reader possess?
The basic requirements for a beta reader are that they enjoy reading and are willing to give you notes on your unpublished manuscript, but there are some qualities that will make readers stand out.
First of all, you want someone who actually enjoys the genre or topic you’re writing about. A beta reader is a sample of your target audience and should therefore represent the type of reader who would buy your book. Thus, try to get people who already know and enjoy the genre and will be able to point out clichés, tropes, or missing elements. That being said, aim for a diverse pool of readers—someone who isn’t your target audience might offer a fresh perspective as an “outsider.” Beta readers who hate your genre or would never consider buying your type of book are effectively useless, but someone who’s on the fence makes a good beta reader since they can help you make your book more palatable for those who aren’t fans of the genre.
You also want someone who won’t be afraid to give you their honest opinion about your work, whom you can trust with your unfinished project, who wants the best for you, and who understands how to give positive, constructive criticism. Getting a writer is a bonus: Writers are more likely to offer honest feedback because they understand the value of constructive criticism.
How to work with beta readers
Good communication is key to building a positive relationship with your beta readers. Don’t be afraid to state what you need from them and when you need it by, and be clear about any compensation up front. Are you paying them or bartering for their time? Do you have a deadline? Are there specific questions you want them to answer after reading your manuscript? Remember that this entire exercise is about learning what readers think about your book before you publish it, so use it to your full advantage. Creating a survey for your beta readers to fill out is a good idea—that way, you can be sure to get their input on the questions you want.
Ask them specific questions about the characters, pacing, and world-building. Did they get bored, or were there any unclear scenes? What was the most memorable part of your story for them? Did they feel lost at any point? Ask about their overall impression, whether they would recommend the book to a friend, and whether they would read another work of yours. Inquire about what they liked and what they didn’t, and don’t be afraid to solicit detailed answers—make their feedback a dialogue, and don’t get defensive. Remember that you asked for this, after all. If there are particular scenes or moments you’re unsure about, let them know before they start reading so they can think about their reaction to that specific part.
Finally, give yourself time to absorb their feedback. Don’t just implement or dismiss everything they tell you—some notes will work and others won’t, and it’s up to you to discern which is which. If everyone is saying similar things, that’s a strong indication that you should listen. Consider how their suggestions can affect your story as a whole, which notes might strengthen it, and which can weaken it before you start making changes. Sometimes, the advice from beta readers may not work for your story, but the feedback can tip you off that certain scenes are confusing or misleading.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the thought of implementing these ideas or are looking for an expert to guide you through the structural and developmental changes your story needs, head over to our manuscript critique services and start working with a professional editor right away.