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!

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Kate M. Colby is an author of science fiction, fantasy, and nonfiction. When she is not writing or working, Kate enjoys playing video games, antiquing, and wine tasting. She lives in the United States with her husband and furry children.

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Posted in Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles
44 comments on “Beta Readers: Who are They, What Do They Do, and How Do You Find Them?
  1. […] find any plot holes, character development issues, etc. For more on finding/using beta readers, see this post. Likewise, if you know someone who is very skilled at catching errors, you could ask him/her to […]

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  2. […] As many authors noted in the comments, beta readers can provide content editing (for free). Read this post for more on finding/using beta […]

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  3. […] At this point, I will hire a professional editor and send my manuscript out to a handful of beta readers. Hopefully, these individuals will catch what I have missed and help me whip my manuscript into a […]

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  4. […] out advance reader copies or beta reading copies of your […]

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  5. […] Find beta readers. Beta readers are people who will read your manuscript before it is published and critique it for […]

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  6. Kara Jorgensen says:

    For my first book, I ended up only having one beta reader, which was my professor who was acting as my advisor for the project. I sent it out to a few people, but no one got back to me with anything more than typos. It wasn’t helpful at all unfortunately. Luckily, with my second book, I found three people who I knew would be helpful and targeting them for that reason. One was my alpha reader, who then went back and read the entire thing over again and send loads of great feedback/edits. The other two were friends of mine and were chosen because they are lit savvy. One was a fellow author (who had read and enjoyed book one) and the other was my friend from university (also read and enjoyed book one). The second book’s beta read process went a lot smoother than the first time. I say, get people you trust and know will be honest with you. Having people who are lit savvy also helps as well because they’ll have better feedback than pointing out typos and saying what was good.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. D.I. Ozier says:

    Excellent advice. I would also recommend that current students consider asking creative writing teachers and professors to act as potential beta readers, sense they’re often knowledgeable about the field and helpfully critical.

    Also, many colleges and universities (and even many high schools) have dedicated creative writing student groups, where it’s easy to meet other students who are also interested in writing and would be happy to critique your work.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I already knew about beta readers and i had a few alpha readers myself. (My poor sister and my friend…) It’s always fun to have feedback. =)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. amo says:

    Yup, agreed. Although, I wouldn’t use beta readers after editing – it’s a waste of your editor’s time and your money if you end up chucking portions and re-writing them.
    And I also don’t know about using beta readers who are outside of your target audience. I write romantic fantasy, and I have a couple of betas who, almost every time, tell me “Well, I don’t usually read this genre, but…” – the one of them being a high fantasy writer who doesn’t “get” the gentler romantic aspects, the other a romance writer who doesn’t get the fantasy. Their suggestions always tend towards the “make your story more like mine” kind of feedback, which is not useful at best, and confusing and disheartening at worst.
    But yes, more beta readers are better, so you can take the common consensus. If one person criticises something, you take note of it; if two do, you know they’re onto something. And if everyone says it, get out your pruning shears!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences and opinions, Amo! I agree that using beta readers after editing is not the best idea. However, I have known writers that have done it, so I figured it was worth including from an “FYI” standpoint.

      Two of my beta readers were outside of my target audience. While I agree that these readers didn’t necessarily “get” my novel the way most readers will, I found their feedback valuable. After all, not everyone who decides to take a chance on my book will be in my target, and I wanted to anticipate how it might be received by these readers. Plus, I found they were less likely to get “caught up” in reading the story, and therefore, better able to help me spot logistical and cultural inconsistencies in my novel. But, of course, that’s just my experience!

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      • amo says:

        Yes, I see what you’re saying! If all your betas are people who LOVE your genre, they can be too willing to be amused and don’t see the flaws. Comments like “This is the MOST AWESOME BOOK EVER!!!”, while flattering, are not helpful. 🙂

        BTW, I also thoroughly agree on the alpha readers. I have two (husband and daughter). My real doozies of plot problems never make it out the door because they spot them long before my poor beta pigs (beta reader/guinea pigs) get to see the stuff.

        Liked by 2 people

      • That is great! I always feel bad for alpha readers for having to read our rough work; they truly are their own kind of saints.

        My husband acts as an alpha “listener,” I suppose. I tend to talk out my plots to him, which gets rid of a lot of issues. My friend, Jess, is my alpha reader. She has been a huge help in ironing out plot issues and adding depth to my story.

        Liked by 1 person

      • amo says:

        Yes, my two are actively involved in writing the story, too. Quite a few of my plotlines wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for their suggestions!

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Jonas Lee says:

    I have more alphas than betas by that definition. One of the best sites I was directed to acts as a beta reader. http://www.critiquecircle.com – It has a great system for chapter by chapter feedback. I plan on gathering betas together on my last book as a project to help decide the published outcome.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Enjoyed this post, Kate.
    Love my beta readers.
    One mistake I made a few books ago and will try not to make again: I gave my book to my proofreader before my most helpful beta reader got back to me. Then, having made some changes at her suggestion, I needed the book to be proofread again.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Reblogged this on cicampbellblog and commented:
    Ever wondered what beta readers do?
    Here’s a good, simple explanation from Kate Colby.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. That’s Late for this precious tip & hints… me too I never heard before of beta-reader 😉
    I use to exchange favour (barter) to my readers, it worked out fine; never thought of paying s.o. actually. I’m now following your blog which I quote very interesting, I shall read your older post too!
    serenity 🙂 claudine

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Claudine. I’m glad you have found my blog helpful. I don’t necessarily recommend paying for beta readers, as readers and fellow writers will usually do it for free. But it is an option.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Another way to find beta readers is by becoming a member of BookGarage

    “Those Precious Beta Readers” http://bookgarage.com/blog/2015/05/22/those-precious-beta-readers/

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Outstanding advice. Thanks so much. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Alice says:

    Excellent post. As for the compensation, if your project demands a lot from a beta reader who still has a day job then some compensation should be considered especially when there are deadlines. Just my two cents.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Great and helpful information. A caution for writers – A beta reader is intended to give you “unbiased” feedback. A close friend or family member may not be able to do that.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. […] As many authors noted in the comments, beta readers can provide content editing (for free). Read this post for more on finding/using beta […]

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