Authors Answer 37 – Beta Readers

Authors rarely work alone. They usually have professionals doing editing, book cover, and so on. However, before the book is published, many authors like to get help from other sources, unpaid sources.

320px-Modern-ftn-pen-cursiveQuestion 37: Do you use beta readers? How many?

Allen Tiffany

I absolutely use beta readers! But let me share my definition of “beta readers” so I can answer this clearly. I think of beta readers as someone who will read a manuscript “cover to cover” and provide at least as much feedback on the story as they do on grammar, word choice, paragraph structure, etc. Often – for better and worse — betas are not writers.

One thing about betas that we must be attentive to is that they are generally hard to find, and they don’t want to be asked to repeatedly read works in progress, so you usually only get to use them once per novel…maybe twice, if you are lucky. They expect the manuscript to be in very good shape when they read it. And you want it in very good shape when you give it to them to get the most useful feedback they can give.

Separately, I greatly value workshops such as CritiqueCircle where I can submit a chapter a week, and get detailed feedback from 10 – 12 readers who are also writers. This method generally results in detailed reviews of the writing down to the word choice, sentence structure, etc. The readers each week are not consistent, so with this model I usually only see about 50% consistency from week to week. By the time I put an entire novel through such a workshop, only a handful of critiquers have read the entire manuscript. So unlike betas, there is little valuable feedback on the story as a whole.

Both workshops and betas are are extremely valuable, because both provide different insights.

Last, and related, I do use a professional editor. Our contract is that she focuses on line editing, word choice, grammar and the like. Inevitably, though, she will also provide some feedback on the whole.

Back to betas: I generally have five or six. The first three are family. There is of course a built in bias (if not stigma) about using family, but they can be extremely helpful. In my case, I’ve got  well-read twin 16-year daughters who enjoy my work, and my wife has a Masters degree in English Literature. She also enjoys my stories (and she is capable of calling BS when I write poorly and will share great detail as to why some sections don’t work…). The downside, of course, is that not only do they have a built in preference for my work, they think like I think and see the world as I see it to some extent, which makes them blind to what other people – perhaps many other people – would object to.

Beyond them, I can generally find about  three more people to ask to read a manuscript. It is not a consistent three at this moment, though. In the past, some have been writers, one has been a fifty-year old academic, one was a man in his sixties, one was a teenage girl, etc. So it has been an eclectic mix. No matter who they are, my view is that betas, workshop critique partners, and a professional editor are all critical to creating a quality product.

Caren Rich

No, not yet.

D. T. Nova

I’ve only had one experience with beta readers so far. I sent my draft to three, only one of whom actually finished and supplied feedback.

That one was very helpful, though.

Eric Wood

I have never used a beta reader, but I’m curious to read what others have to say about them.

Gregory S. Close

I used about 5 for In Siege of Daylight, through different stages of the process.  I don’t think there’s a right or wrong number, but it would distract me if too many readers opinined on plot, writing, characters, etc.  I’d rather get less volume but higher quality of feedback.

H. Anthe Davis

I use beta readers constantly throughout my process.  The highest beta count I had was on Book 1, where 15 people read through it and gave me varying levels of feedback; that decreased to four and a half on Book 3 (one beta got hijacked by real life and never finished it), but all four (and a half) are solid and extremely helpful betas when their lives permit it.  One of them reads my dailies or weeklies, depending on how quickly I’m going, and gives me immediate feedback on characters and dialogue; one reads full chapters; and the other two and a half read the full document once I’ve finished a draft, then give their advice and opinions on it as a whole.  Then we go through the same process on the rewrites!  I’m fortunate to have some very literate friends who also love my genre and have the time to spare — but then I beta read for one of them regularly, and two more whenever their own writing is in need of a critical eye.  So it’s a good relationship.

Jean Davis

I used to use beta readers and made some good friends that way, but when I happened across a critique group, I received exactly the kind of feedback I was looking for, and I’ve stuck with that ever since.

Linda G. Hill

I’m currently using as many beta readers as I can find. It’s not easy to find them when offering up a novel of 166,000 words. As a rule though, regardless of the length of my book, I’d want at least five. If all of two out of three give the same critique in a section of my work, it’s not the same as if two of five think it. And they say that if the majority of your beta readers say the same thing, you should fix the issue. For me at least, it’s a big deal to change what I’ve written.

Paul B. Spence

Yes, I have a small core of people I trust to give me unbiased feedback. I don’t want someone to tell me they loved it. I want to know what they loved. What worked and what didn’t.

Things didn’t quite work out with my last book, and my beta readers didn’t all get the book at the same time. It seems to have worked out.

S. R. Carrillo

I try to. I didn’t for my first novel and I think it shows. But I did for my second and I also think that shows. I try to keep the circle small – with no more than 5 people, but no less than 3. If I had more people whose eyes I trusted, I might reach out to more hands, but at this point, that’s not the case. I find beta readers nearly invaluable.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

I think that beta readers are a definite must, but I don’t have a huge amount of experience with them. For “Nowhere to Hide” I had precisely one beta reader, and I loved her, but that was a bit of happy luck. We already knew each other and decided to swap novels, and it turned out that we synced very well as each others’ beta readers. We had similar opinions on the way things should be written, and every suggestion she made sounded completely reasonable.

That’s the key, I think, is finding someone with whom you can agree with their suggestions. It’s no good having a beta reader who picks the ever-loving hell out of every aspect of your novel and makes you feel like it’s a complete piece of crap that can’t be fixed. You need a beta-reader who understands how to convey good advice and hold their tongue when an issue they have is a matter of opinion that needs not be changed.

Jay Dee Archer

At the moment, I don’t have any. I’m not at that stage yet. But when I do get to that stage, I hope to have several beta readers. But for now, I’m using Critique Circle for similar reasons. But one thing that beta readers do that critiquers on Critique Circle don’t do is read the entire story. It’s good to have beta readers for consistency. But it’s also good to be a member of a critique group where you can get a variety of opinions, though not always what you want.

My question is, when do I start getting beta readers? And who? And how? I need to research about that.

How about you?

Are you a writer? Do you use beta readers? If so, how many? Let us know in the comments below.

31 thoughts on “Authors Answer 37 – Beta Readers”

  1. When I’m ready for beta readers, I’ll have at least 2 (my clone, plus LR — stands for “Loyal Reader” — who already beta reads for Paul), but I think I’d like to have a couple more. (I am NOT willing to go back to the peer critique site where I first met LR. I can only stand so much ‘i like it keep writing lol!!!’ and other nonsense from people who don’t even read what they are supposedly critiquing, to say nothing of the poet groupies. *shudder*) Perhaps one or two of my clone’s fans would be willing to beta read MY stuff, since it’s all interconnected. (“Beta readers wanted! Be the first to find out what’s REALLY on the other side of the Andover Anomaly…!” Yeah, that could work.)

    I know a lot of people say beta readers should never comment on grammar, etc., but should instead focus entirely on big-picture stuff like overall plot and character arcs. Personally, I don’t want to share my writing with anyone until that stuff is mostly decided to my own satisfaction. I DO want beta readers to point out any errors I’ve made so I can fix them. (Yes, even professional editors miss things.) I also want beta readers to tell me what parts of the story they especially liked (or didn’t like), and WHY. I want beta readers to tell me what doesn’t make sense, what needs more description, what dialogue doesn’t sound quite natural or in-character. But never underestimate the encouragement value of having a beta reader spontaneously geek out over a scene they loved.

    1. It’s nice to have grammar mistakes pointed out. I generally get that from critiques, and I think Critique Circle is pretty good for having good critiques. None of that “I luv this, it’s so grate!” Since they are all quite serious about writing, They put in a lot of time writing critiques, and some I’ve received are incredible.

      Actually, a couple of the Authors Answer people found this through Critique Circle.

  2. I love the idea of being a beta reader.
    I tend to read books with a searching eye for mistakes of plot problems, but that’s because I love to review books. And I think that deep down there is the childhood dream of working as an editor, but I am not confident enough in my spelling and grammar skills…

    1. You may be a good beta reader, then. I guess spelling and grammar aren’t that important for a beta reader, since all that editing should be done by then anyway.

      1. I do see some but not all spelling and grammar problems, and well if anyone is looking for a beta reader, I am there (just not for horror)

            1. I may have something interesting about a guy who’s dying and it’s his final wish to tour the solar system. But he has to aid in some scientific/technological research. And some psychological stuff thrown in to form the basis of the story.

            2. Why not?
              Sorry, for some reason WordPress unfollowed your blog, I was missing the posts lately. Now that I checked I realised I was no longer following.

            3. And would you believe that, even though your subscription dropped and you followed again, you have now become my 1,000th follower? Admit it, you did that just so you could become the 1,000th 😉

  3. Good question. Interesting to get different answers. It seems the consensus is to have at least one beta reader, but not too many. And finding them is not easy. I haven’t published a novel yet, but have used Critique Circle very successfully for chapters (but I don’t anymore because I realized I’ve advanced enough in my writing to where I don’t need line by line advice. I need beta readers for the big picture, novel as a whole.).

    Has anyone seen or heard of a resource or website where authors can pair up with beta readers in their genre? I’d think that might be a win-win for authors to help other authors by exchanging manuscripts for beta reading.


    1. That’s a very good question. I’d like to know, too. It’s not at all easy to find beta readers. Maybe a little research is in order.

  4. I’ve had a few beta readers in the past for various projects, at various levels. They are extremely hard to come by sometimes, but usually when I ask them to read it’s for specific things in the project. With some I’ll bounce ideas off them to see if it’s something worth following up on (sort of ‘does this sound logical/realistic/ridiculous to you?’), others I’ll have read the text. My writing process is a bit unconventional so I don’t always have the best version of the story to give to betas until the last possible second, so often I’ll have them read passages instead of the whole thing.
    Really, though…I’d love to be able to get a few more people willing to be beta readers, but it can be hard, especially when everyone has Real Life getting in the way!

    1. Real life got in the way of my replying to comments for five days, so I know how that goes. I really have to wonder how easy/difficult it’ll be for me to get beta readers. Probably also depends on the genre.

  5. My beta readers are all highly literate friends/coworkers with some time on their hands, who enjoy my genre. I’m fortunate enough to have a lot of those, whom I met either from online gaming or through my workplace, the library. Don’t really know how you find betas outside of those parameters, alas.

    Anyway, with most of them, I’ll send out the document and request general comments, then ask them specifics about their area of expertise (one of them specializes in critiquing my character relationships, one has an eye for combat, etc). With my primary beta, though, we do that for the rough draft then cover the second draft with comments in GoogleDocs — I beta her work too, so it’s a fair trade.

  6. Writer’s group is the first line, the editor next and beta readers are a litmus test for what the general public would think. I ask for general reaction to story and whether the characters feel authentic. If they find spelling errors that’s important. In Someone’s Clone I had both men and women of various ages. I keep it to five or six because otherwise it gets out of control. I love Beta readers.They are important.

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