One of the biggest pieces of advice when I started writing seriously was to find a group of “beta readers” to give feedback on my work. It was a totally alien concept for me at first, but since then, I’ve learned just how important and helpful it can be.
But finding and retaining good beta readers can be easier said than done. So I’ve put together a guide with my own lessons learned as well as tips and tricks from around the web on the entire process – from first contact to feedback.
What the heck are beta readers?
Beta readers are people who read your unpublished manuscript and provide overall feedback. Simple right?
What’s the difference between beta readers and critique partners?
The terms are often interchangeable, but there is a big difference. Critique partners are writers who exchange their work whereas beta readers don’t necessarily have to be writers. Just readers.
In my experience, critique partners are often a little more involved in the process with things like brainstorming, problem solving, etc. Since they are writers too, they can look for things the average reader may not recognize (plot holes, lagging plot, weak character development). But beta readers will be able to identify bigger picture issues – especially with the help of a list of questions for them to consider.
Personally, I have a few critique partners that I work with on a daily basis to brainstorm, exchange chapters as I go, solve plot problems, etc. And then when my manuscript has been drafted and is no longer a total mess, I send to 3-5 beta readers for feedback.
Today we’re talking specifically about beta readers. But both are extremely useful and make the work a little less isolated, and both are crucial to have BEFORE you send your manuscript to agents or editors.
NOTE: Neither beta readers nor critique partners should be expected to line edit your novel. They may point things out if they’re noticed while reading, but line edits are a very grueling process that should never be expected for free.
Where can I find beta readers?
The only way to find beta readers is to get involved in the reading and writing community. And since writers are often introverts, this can be a challenge. But the good thing is that both communities are extremely welcoming.
While in person writing groups are great, some people are too nervous, too far away or too pressed for time. Social media is the major way I’ve found beta readers in the past, and once you start making connections, it gets easier and easier. Here are some of my favorite resources for you to check out:
- Your Write Dream
- All the Kissing
- 10 Minute Novelists
- Writers Helping Writers
Twitter Chats and Hashtags
- #StorySocial (every Wednesday at 8pm CST)
- #Chance2Connect (the second Tuesday of every month at 8pm CST)
- #WritersPatch (every Sunday at 10am CST)
- Absolute Write
- Goodreads Beta Group
- Destructive Readers
Joining a writing association (such as WFWA or RWA) is also a great place to find readers and writers in your similar genre!
And often times, the easiest way to find a beta reader is to offer to be one! They’ll most likely return the favor. And who knows it may evolve into a CP-relationship.
NOTE: I typically advise against asking family and friends to serve as beta readers, just because they may be afraid to point out negative aspects in case of hurting my feelings. But if you’ve never had someone read your work before, it may be a good place to start!
How can I be sure they’re a good fit?
Not all beta readers are created equal, and I’ve had some stinkers. So before you – and they – waste a lot of time and energy, you want to be sure you’ve found the right reader.
K.M. Weiland has a phenomenal infographic that details a six-step checklist of finding the right critique partner, and most of it is just as relevant to beta readers. Instead of repeating it all here, I highly recommend checking it out.
In addition to her advice, there are a few other points that should be considered before diving in.
– Test one chapter before sending the whole thing. This is a great way to test their feedback to see if it will be helpful for you and to ensure they will enjoy your story and writing style.
– Be clear about your expectations and intentions. For example, I like people to be totally brutal. Rip it apart, so that I can put it back together better than it was before. Not everyone assumes that though, so I always make that clear up front.
– Set a deadline. This is important for both parties: for them to know when you need feedback and for you to be able to hold them accountable. If they balk at setting a time frame, it may be a sign to move on. But if they agree, don’t bother them until that deadline is up.
It’s also a great idea to have multiple different types of beta readers. Take a look at this post Ryan Reudell for a recommendation!
What questions should I ask them?
There is no better way to get good feedback from beta readers than by sending a list of questions for them to consider while reading.
First things first is to ask them to be as specific as possible. While “I loved it!” is nice to hear, it’s not very helpful. Here’s some other questions that they should be able to easily answer while giving you some great insight into what is or isn’t working.
NOTE: If you have a preferred method of feedback – whether via email or phone, typed up notes or comments in the document itself – this is the time to ask!
- What most grabbed your attention and kept you turning the page?
- Were there any points where you felt yourself getting bored or skimming?
- Were you confused at any point in the story?
- Who were your favorite and least favorite characters? Why?
- Did the dialogue feel natural?
- Did the descriptions make you feel like you were there?
- Does the writing style fit the genre?
- Do any scenes seem unnecessary?
- What do you wish there was more of?
- Which of your predictions came true?
- Was the ending satisfying?
Sometimes the answers to those questions may hurt at first, but you have to remember that it’s coming from a helpful place and will only make your story that much stronger. And next week we’re going to talk about just that: how to handle critical feedback!
Have any phenomenal experience or lessons learned with beta readers? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!