Beta Readers

In the video below, Janet Syas Nitsick and I talk about beta readers.  I’m also writing down the main points below for your convenience.

A beta reader is a person who reads your book before it’s published.  A beta reader is a person who can look at the overall story and give you their impression of it.  But they are not an editor.  The editor is the one who goes in and polishes it up so it’s ready to be published.

So what makes a beta reader good?

1.  He makes deadlines.

You should have a schedule set out on when you’re doing your first draft, when a beta reader goes over your book, when you add their input, when you give it to an editor, and when you publish it.  When you treat your writing like a business, you will have deadlines that you need to make.  In order to better make those deadlines, you need to give the beta reader a deadline.  A good beta reader will have the book in by the deadline or let you know, in advance, if he can’t make it.

2.  He knows the subject matter.

For example, someone who is familiar with horses would make a good beta reader for your book where you use horses a lot.

3. He enjoys the genre you’re writing.

Ideally, the beta reader will be a fan of the subject you’re writing.  They need to read your book as your target audience would in order to best help you.

4.  He needs to be honest (but nice).

You need to be able to trust this person.  While it’s important the person tells you what’s good, they should also be comfortable with letting you know what you can do to improve the story.  But do pay attention to how they tell you the stuff they didn’t like.  Saying, “What happened?  Did your kid write this part for you?” is different from saying, “I would like to see more angst in your hero during this scene.”

How do you find this good beta reader?

1. When starting out, you pretty much have to go to people you know and trust.

These can be friends, family, or other writers.  The key is that you trust them to be honest about your work (as explained in #4 above).

2. Social Media

You want to broaden out your search and find readers in your genre who are avid readers.  They make for the best people to beta read books because they love to read and know what your target audience wants.

You can find these people on various social media outlets.  I prefer Facebook for social interaction, but there’s also Twitter, Google +, discussion boards, blogs, and other places I’m probably missing.  The key is to establish relationships.  Don’t go in with the attitude you’re going to get something from someone.  Be a participant.  Engage.  Be friendly.  Give something of value to the group.  Share and exchange ideas and information.  Talk about your favorite books and authors.  Be yourself.  Sooner or later, you’ll come across a couple people who will become your friend.

3.  Another way is to let readers come to you and offer to beta read.  

People who love your books are often more than happy to have a part in helping you get your book into the world.  These are the perfect beta readers because they share your vision for your work.  They already love it.  They are in tune with you and have the same goal you do.

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So those are the tips Janet and I came up with to finding good beta readers.  Anyone else have any tips they’d like to add?

28 Comments

  1. I think a good beta reader has a work ethic to get things done and not get distracted or put it off to do something else. I had someone offer to be a beta reader for Reborn City, so I sent over a couple of chapters. They promised they’d get through it within two weeks. Two months pass and I ask them how they’re doing, and I’m rather shocked to learn that while this person had plenty of opportunities to read it, they hadn’t gotten farther than a few pages during that whole period. Needless to say, I haven’t sent them anything since. I’m not going to wait months for someone to get through a few chapters because after work or classes they’d rather binge on Netflix rather than do as they promised they would do.

    1. I agree. Beta reading is work. I’ve done it a couple times, and I always make it a point to reach the deadline I was given. If I have to go longer than I expected, I let the author know and offer them an “out” so they can drop me if I’m taking too long. I’ve only had to do this one time, and it was due to the kids being sick.

      As an author, I had one beta reader not get the story back to me until the book had been published for a month. I gave the person a deadline (which was a month out from the time I sent it to her), and I emailed and asked if she’d let me know if she couldn’t do it or needed to push the deadline back. She never got back to me. I gave up and assumed she forgot all about the project, so I was surprised when she sent it. Needless to say, I haven’t had her beta read since.

      1. I think once a beta reader has been problematic for an author, they tend to drop that person altogether from their list of people they like to beta read. As great as writing is, it’s still a business, and businesses will drop someone if they’re slowing down production or making things difficult. It’s not personal, it’s just what has to be done.

        1. I agree. When thinking of this as a business, hard decisions have to be made, and as much as it’s hard to disappoint someone, sometimes the best answer is no.

  2. ronfritsch says:

    I have two beta readers who like to edit as they read. I encourage them to do so on the ground that a writer can never have too much editing. Am I wrong about this? They’ve never delayed me. On the other hand, I’m not a writer who likes to impose deadlines. With every WIP I feel I have until the end of my life, whenever that happens, to finish it.

    1. I give my beta readers (and editors) a month. I rarely run into any delays, but if something happens, I will push back my publishing date to work around their schedule.

      If my beta readers want to edit, I let them. I see nothing wrong with this. You can never have too much input when you’re in the process of polishing up your book. Often, they’ll find things the editor does. I have one editor in particular who catches way more than anyone else does. so she’s my final go-to person with the manuscript. Her strength is in proofreading. If you have a beta reader who excels in that area, why not use their input? 🙂 I love someone who is great at details. It makes my life a lot easier.

  3. This is very helpful. Thank you for addressing my question, ladies.

    1. I’m glad this helped!

  4. giantblister says:

    Do you pay your beta readers to read your stories? Is it a good idea to offer pay for their work?

    1. giantblister says:

      and what would the pay rate be?

    2. I haven’t paid a beta reader. I do pay editors, but I’m expecting editors to do more work than a beta reader. Beta readers are more of a “read through this book as a reader in my target audience would” person. Their job is not to look for things through the same lens an editor would.

      Starting out, I would beta read in exchange for someone else beta reading my story. So it was a mutual exchange. Possible beta readers could be other authors that you exchange stories (preferably of the same genre and length so it’s as equal as possible). Or if you have a friend or family member you can trust to give you the truth about your work, I would ask them to do it.

      What happens after a while is that you’ll get readers who will offer to beta read, and they love doing it and don’t ask to be paid for it. Being able to read the book for free is payment enough. But to say thank you, I will offer a signed paperback of the book when it’s published. Janet will offer them a book by someone they haven’t read yet or give them a small gift to say thank you. Another idea is to give them a gift card at Amazon or B&N to say thank you.

  5. Vernie Dale says:

    I found some of my best beta readers through my membership in Detroit Working Writers.

    1. That’s an excellent way to find them that Janet and I didn’t even think about. Thanks for mentioning it!

  6. What y’all said about consistency made me laugh because I remember, in the first draft of Fire Wizard, I kept changing what kind of vehicle the “shero” drove. LOL

    Someone asked about paying beta readers. Beta readers do it because they WANT to. Editors are professionals who are paid, and they’re responsible for getting it right. Beta readers are more about giving opinions on what they think works and what doesn’t, but they aren’t responsible for making sure there’s a polished manuscript. Right now I have two authors and one avid reader as beta readers, and I’m about to add a couple more readers because they’ve expressed interest. One thing I like about beta readers is that they’re usually really excited about reading your book, and they’re usually really good at getting the word out. Beta readers can be some of the best advertising you can have.

    1. I caught name changes in my current work in progress. lol Who knows what I’m missing though? I’m catching most of the issues, but I know I’ll miss something.

      You’re right. Beta readers want to do it. This isn’t a job for them. I think the best beta readers are those who have a love for the genre you write in. They will be more in tune with what your audience wants. They often give the best feedback. 🙂

  7. Great tips! That they enjoy the subject matter is especially important – if they don’t you’re going to have a very rocky relationship. I do have a beta reader who doesn’t like or read vampire books and so he’s handy when it comes to some things (like not understanding the mythos and such – it forces me to explain better) but there are also lots of his suggestions I ignore because if I were writing in another genre they would be great, but in the paranormal genre they don’t work. That’s something to remember, as an author you don;t HAVE to take all the suggestions, but be sure that you’re reacting from a logical place and not an emotional one. Ask others if you’re not sure.

    1. ronfritsch says:

      I agree with you, Joleene Naylor. An author is free to take the beta reader’s suggestions for what they’re worth.

    2. That’s a great point. Our decisions should be based on logic, not emotions. Every time my emotions get in the way, I make mistakes.

  8. Oh, there’s something else I want to mention. If you have multiple betas readers (and you should), they will often disagree on a point. I had this happen recently (well, it almost always happens, LOL). In this case, you either have to listen to the one that makes more sense of what you’re trying to say, or you might not like any of the suggestions. What I find is that I might agree with one beta reader on a certain point and agree with another one on something else. And most of the time, the beta readers make suggestions on different parts of the story, so you don’t have them disagreeing all the time. One beta reader might suggest a change in chapter two, another one might suggest a change in chapter twelve. 🙂 I almost always take most of their suggestions, but if my gut feeling tells me I’m right, I won’t change it.

    1. Very true. The author has the final say in the book because it’s their work. 🙂

  9. Thanks! Do ya’ll know a few places where one might find a few willing beta readers? (This should also open me up,) correct? Trust and what not?

    1. When you’re just starting out, you pretty much have to go to people you already know because those are the easiest ones to trust. Otherwise, go directly to an editor who has a good reputation. Beta readers aren’t necessary. They’re nice to have, but it won’t kill you to not have them. What you do need is someone who has a keen eye for detail in helping you get your book as polished up as possible. So if you don’t know anyone who will beta read, then I’d say start with an editor or someone who is good at English to spot the typos, grammatical issues, etc.

  10. Thank you so much! Excellent tips 🙂

  11. cav12 says:

    Great tips Ruth. I have a small band of wonderful beta readers who’ve been a great source of feedback.

    1. A couple beta you trust are all you really need. No one needs a lot of them. I keep mine to 2-3. 🙂

      1. cav12 says:

        I’m glad you’ve said that. I thought one needed more!

        1. As long as you have quality beta readers, you don’t need a lot. 🙂

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