How to Work With a Beta Reader: 5 Tips for Success

How to Work With a Beta Reader: 5 Tips for Success

For fiction authors, beta readers are an important part of your team.

Beta readers are non-professional readers who “test” your book before it’s ready to hit the market. They might point out plot holes, confusing character motives and issues with believability in your story.

Usually beta reading takes place after you self-edit but before a professional edit. That way you can iron out the kinks before putting the finishing touches on your book.

Preparing to work with beta readers? Consider these five tips.

1. Work in batches

One strategy to help strengthen your stories is to work with beta readers in batches.

You might send your first beta reader draft to two or three people. Then you’ll implement their feedback and send the next draft out to the following group two or three people. Do this a few times depending on how much work the book needs.

The reason I don’t recommend sending out your manuscript to all your beta readers at once is because even after the first batch of feedback comes through, there might still be kinks to catch.

Also, let’s say you rearrange scenes, add an epilogue or rewrite some parts of the book. You’ll want to get feedback on the new version, too.

2. Send your beta readers a list of questions

Since beta readers aren’t professionals, they don’t always know what to look for in your manuscript. Ask them questions to help guide their experience.

Those who have beta read before — either for you or another author — will have a good idea, but if they’re new to beta reading, asking smart questions helps to give them some guidance.

Some generic questions you might ask include:

  • Did the opening scene capture your attention? Why or why not?
  • Did you notice any inconsistencies in setting, timeline or characters? If so, where?
  • Did you ever feel confused or frustrated with the story? If so, at which parts?
  • Was the ending satisfying and believable?

If you have specific concerns about your story, be sure to ask about that, too.

I suggest keeping your list of questions short (about 15 or less). Too many questions might turn some people off.

3. Ask your beta readers to take notes

Another way to maximize the impact of feedback is to ask beta readers to take notes while reading.

It helps you pinpoint where changes need to be made and gives you a feel for how they reacted while reading.

Remember, your readers are doing this for free. I never require anyone to answer my questions or take notes, but making the suggestion helps guide them and improves the type of feedback you receive.

4. Send a thank-you gift

It’s not customary to pay your beta readers. They are non-professional volunteers, so it’s different than paying for a professional editor.

However, a thank-you gift is a nice gesture.

I’ve found that all the beta readers I’ve worked with have been more than happy to simply receive a book for free, even if that means they have to leave feedback on it. Most are surprised and excited when I tell them they’ll also be receiving a print copy of the book when it’s finalized.

I send gifts because it’s really the least I can do in exchange for them helping me out.

You don’t have to send out print books, but do make sure your beta readers feel appreciated for the time they put into helping you.

5. Work with new people

Avoid working with the same people for every book.

As beta readers become more familiar and comfortable with your writing, it can be difficult for them to see the flaws.

Try to add a few new people to your team each time, preferably one or two who have never read your work before so you get fresh eyes on your work. You can connect with new people by asking your current beta readers for suggestions. They probably know a friend or two who’s willing to help out.

For people you stop working with in the beta reader stage, consider moving them to your Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) team. They’ll still get a free copy of your book, but it will be closer to finished, and won’t need the same in-depth feedback. Instead, your ARC readers will help you gather reviews for release day.

The beta reading stage can be long and sometimes difficult if you don’t already have a team in place. That said, it’s definitely worth it, and your beta readers can do wonders for your story.

What’s your beta reader process like? Share with us in the comments!

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  • Judith Haran says:

    I’m having trouble getting even relatives or people I know to read my work (which is not as awful as this comment suggests!). Those who have read my writing, although known as literate people, are unwilling to make written comments, and their verbal comments have been so generic as to be almost useless. People I’ve met at writers conferences have turned me down flat. No one seems to have any free time. My question is simply, where are you getting these beta readers?

    • Try a critique site like Scribophile. You can upload your work and make it private to all except specific people. You have to give in order to get, but you learn from every critique you give.

  • Neil Larkins says:

    Wow, Judith Haran, this could be my post. I have been just as unsuccessful as you. Friends, family, you name it. No luck. I belonged to a local writers group for twelve years (I still belong but have not attended for the last five years now) and got no takers there…despite the group head encouraging members to do that very thing. I’ve volunteered to be a beta reader just to get people to read my stuff. No one’s taken me up on that either. Nothing has worked. Those few (very few) who have read my published e-books say I’m an excellent story teller, so it can’t be that. (None of those people have agreed to be beta readers.) But I’d like pre-publishing input to improve my craft, which everyone needs. Just where do you find these folk, Alicia? Surely you know.

    • Judith Haran says:

      Perhaps this whole concept is just another way to make those of us without “beta readers” feel unsuccessful, so we’ll drop out of the race, leaving more room for those who created the concept. Or is that just my uber-paranoid side speaking? I don’t know. It is discouraging.

  • Have you two tried Goodreads? There are several groups that will give reviews and there is at least one beta reader group. I know this for a fact because I am a member. Look me up on Goodreads for more info. 🙂

  • Alicia, this was helpful. Do you know if beta readers are typically used in memoir?

  • Judith and Neil: check out Facebook. There are a lot of online groups there for writers who are looking for beta readers. If you can’t find a public group with beta readers, join a public writers group. Once there you should be able to connect with writers in private groups that are more focused. Other options might be the English department at your local college (two- or four-year).

  • Lisa says:

    You can find beta readers on Fiverr – and pay them a fiver to read your work. Full disclosure, I do this, and I also pay for beta reads on my work. There’s no waiting around, friendly reminders and someone is getting a small reward for their work.

    • Judith Haran says:

      Finally, a great tip. Thanks so much. I had never heard of this site. I’ve had unrewarding experiences with local writers groups, and based on that I would not be too eager to use FB. (Local groups have featured wildly uneven writing abilities, and have often turned into time sinks as the whole group sits around discussing something that quite frankly is not worth any of our time. Another local group that I tried to start had to be summarily ended because someone who was inappropriate/disruptive/probably ill showed up and would not leave.) Anyway, I like the looks of Fiverr and will give it a try. Thanks again!!

  • Thanks, Alicia. Good information. In addition to free copies of my book, I offer a random draw for an Amazon gift certificate.

  • Colin says:

    Sounds like a good idea for long term projects where you’ve reached first draft. Need to watch out that originality is not replaced for commercial conformity in an overcrowded market.

  • Alicia Rades says:

    My first beta readers were family and friends as well as some friends of theirs who didn’t know me personally. Now I have bloggers and readers on my team who I’ve connected with on Facebook. If you have a newsletter, you can put out the word there to see if any readers are interested. Or if you’re starting from nothing, you can do as Lisa said above.

  • Susan says:

    I just started work with one author as her Beta Reader. I would not want to do it with someone who is a friend or relative. Not sure I would be comfortable with that. But so far, this is right up my alley.

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