The Power of the Beta Reader: How to Get Valuable Feedback Before Publication

The text The Power of the Beta Reader: How to Get Valuable Feedback Before Publication in all caps overlaid over an image of a woman looking into a microscope

Writing a story is a deeply personal process.

When you’re writing, you’re weaving a tale using only your brain. It might seem like your characters are in the driver’s seat at times, but it’s all you, baby. You’re the one pouring your heart and soul and guts onto the page. You’re the one turning fragments of yourself into words on a page. Naturally, you want those words to be wonderful.

You finish your first draft. You edit. You finish your second draft. You edit again. You think it’s good. You think it’s amazing. Does that mean you’re ready to publish it?

No.

And in your heart, you know it.

You have this collection of words made from pieces of yourself, and now you want some feedback—you need some feedback. You know that you’re not the best judge of your own writing. Who is?

Maybe you’ve heard something from a buddy who works in software about a beta tester. Does anything like that exist for fiction? Can you find someone who can tell you what an average reader of your genre thinks of your work? Is there anyone who can help you work out some of the bugs before you pay real money for an editor?

Absolutely. And that person is a beta reader.

A beta reader is the writing world’s version of a beta tester. They’re someone who will read your manuscript and give you valuable feedback from the point of view of a regular reader of works like yours.

While they aren’t strictly necessary, their assistance is invaluable. With their help, you can find out if your writing is up to snuff, learn more about your story’s strengths and weaknesses, and save yourself some time and money when you go to hire a professional to take a closer look.

After The End

So, here you are: You’ve typed “The End” on your manuscript, you’ve rewritten it, and you’ve self-edited it until you feel like your brain is going to leak out of your skull. You want it to be the best that it can be before you take the next steps, right?

You think it’s good enough. You think the characters are great, the dialogue slaps, the description sings, and everyone is going to devour this thing in one go like they’re starving for words. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re like me, and you think your story sucks flaming garbage through a melting straw because god, you have been poking at it for so long that you’ve lost all sense of what good writing even is. Maybe you’re feeling both! Or maybe you’ve done all that you can do and need another pair of eyes on your manuscript.

You’re not the best judge of your own writing. You know too much about the story you’re trying to tell to see the flaws. There might be an abundance of plot holes, inconsistencies, a complete lack of clarity, a ton of cliches, or all kinds of other errors. Or there might be a part that feels like a problem to you that readers will love. Either way, it’s not quite time to send it to a paid professional.

That’s where a beta reader comes in.

What is a beta reader?

A beta reader is someone who reads your manuscript like a reader rather than an editor, then provides you with valuable feedback about your work.

You consult a beta reader after you have finished your own rewrites but before you hire a professional. They could be someone who regularly reads the genre you’re writing in for pleasure and enjoys books similar to yours, someone working in a profession featured in your work or living in the area you’re writing about, or a sensitivity reader who is a member of a marginalized culture or group you are writing about.

A good beta reader will dive deep into your manuscript, then offer feedback from the perspective of a reader. You need someone who knows the conventions of your genre, the tropes and cliches that are musts or must-avoids. They should be honest about the areas of your book that are and are not working, such as the characters or the plot, and willing to offer their opinions about specific aspects of your story you’ve asked them to cover.

With the help of a beta reader’s insight, you can be even more certain that your story can and will become the best version of the story you want to tell.

Who is not a beta reader?

There are a number of people who may participate in the process to help you get published and gain readers. They might play a similar role to a beta reader, but they won’t be exactly the same. Some of those people are:

  • Alpha Readers: An alpha reader is the first reader of your manuscript. Most likely, an alpha reader will read it when it is still unpolished, perhaps while it is still unfinished so they can help guide you along. Unlike a beta reader, an alpha reader will offer feedback from the point-of-view of a writer. This should be somebody you trust with your unpolished story, who can help you guide you along your way to The End.
  • Critique Partners: Critique partners are quite similar to alpha readers. They are always fellow authors, and they will offer feedback from the perspective of an author. Usually, with critique partners, it truly is a partnership: you will help them with their story, and they will help you with yours. The two of you might swap chapters or whole stories, unpolished or unpolished drafts, or all of the above. Like an alpha reader, this should also be someone you trust with your story who can offer constructive criticism of your work.
  • Editors: An editor is a trained professional who typically dives even deeper into your book than a beta reader and makes big changes to your manuscript. There are several types of editors, like developmental editors, copyeditors, and line editors. Each plays a different but critical role in the publishing process, and is paid—often quite well—for their work.
  • Proofreaders: A proofreader is typically the last person who checks over your manuscript before publication. Proofreaders check for errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting, and ensure that all of your facts are factual and the rest of your story’s ducks are in a row. Like editors, proofreaders are typically paid for their work.
  • ARC Readers: Like a beta reader, an ARC—Advanced Reader Copy—reader reads your story from the perspective of a reader. However, an ARC reader’s role is promotional rather than corrective. An ARC reader receives a complimentary copy of your book before it is released in exchange for a review. Readers are more likely to buy a book that has reviews, and ARC readers make sure there are reviews waiting for the discerning customer once the book is officially on sale.

How to find a beta reader

So, how do you get a beta reader? Where can you look for one? Do you have to pay them?

There are several places you can look for beta readers: among friends, in writing communities, in your pre-established fanbase if you have one, on social media, on websites like Fiverr and Upwork, or even on Google. Whether or not you pay for one depends on whether or not they agree voluntarily or you hire them for their services. Most recommend having multiple beta readers for a full-length novel. Keep this in mind when you’re making your choice between volunteers, hired beta readers, or a combination of both.

These are your typical options:

  • Friends: When you’re a writer, it’s a good idea to make friends with readers and other writers—not just because they can do things like beta read for you, but because writing is such a lonely activity. You’re sitting around making up stories just by using your brain. That’s a lot of hard work, and it’s important to have friends who understand that.

    Once you’ve got yourself some good friends from your genre who you can trust, you can ask them to beta read your story for you. And sometimes they’ll say yes!
  • Writing-adjacent groups: Offline and online groups are another good place to look for beta readers. An abundance of groups for readers, beta readers, and writers can be found on the internet, on Facebook, Goodreads, Reddit, or even old-school message boards. Finding an in-person community is a bit trickier, depending on your location, but it doesn’t hurt to look!
  • Other social media: Social media beyond Facebook can also be an excellent place to find beta readers. Twitter has had an established writing and publishing community for a long time. Instagram, TikTok, and Tumblr can lead you to beta readers as well. And I’m sure that someday in the future, another social media giant will arise and steal the crown of the others. When it does, it is a safe bet that writers, readers, and beta readers will congregate there, too.
  • Among your fans: If you’ve been writing and publishing for a while, you might already have a fanbase that is champing at the bit to get a sneak peek at more of your writing. Ask them for assistance! They’re probably already experts on your writing and its style, and they can be especially helpful with maintaining continuity if you’re working on a series. Put out a request for beta readers on your social media or in your newsletter. The perfect beta reader might already be waiting for you.
  • Hire one: Most beta readers are volunteers. That, of course, comes with fewer guarantees. They might become too busy to finish beta reading your story, or have other issues come up that prevent them from finishing. Life happens. They might not be able to offer you the feedback you need. You might prefer to have more certainty when it comes to the people giving feedback on your book. Luckily, if you have the money, there are people out there with experience who can beta read your story for you. You can find these people on sites like Fiverr or Upwork, or social media, or through individual freelancers or organizations on Google. Rates are up to the individual beta readers, but these costs are well worth it for the security and experience a professional beta reader can provide.

Ultimately, whoever you choose to beta read is up to you. How many beta readers you recruit is up to you as well. As with most parts of the writing process, there is no one right answer to the questions “Who should I choose to beta read my story?” or “How many beta readers do I need?” The only one who can answer that one is you, my friend.

Sorry.

What can you expect?

The process of working with a beta reader is fairly straightforward. Once you have finished polishing your manuscript and have found a few volunteers, you can send them your work along with some questions you may have or areas you want them to focus on and a deadline, then wait for them to send back feedback. Every beta reader’s process is different, though. Make sure you’ve found someone who is a good fit to work with.

  • Questions to ask: Here are just a few questions you may want to ask your beta reader to answer about your story:
    • How did you feel about the main character? The antagonist? The other characters? Could you tell them all apart?
    • Did the story feel too long or too short?
    • Was there a point where you stopped reading and didn’t want to pick the book back up again?
    • What did you like most? Least?
    • And many more.
  • How do I send it? Every beta reader has their preferred setup. Some prefer to work in Microsoft Word. Others may choose Google Docs, or to work with PDFs, or they might be willing to work with multiple formats. You will have to discuss this with your beta reader before you send them your manuscript.
  • How will you get feedback? Again, this is up to your beta reader. Some will provide you with suggestions in the document itself, using Track Changes or the software’s equivalent. Others might send a document of their own with their input, or want to discuss it over the phone or via email. Make sure you know your beta reader’s preferences and that they are compatible with yours so you will have a more seamless experience working with them.

Once you have received your feedback from your beta readers, you can begin incorporating it into your story. You don’t have to agree with them on everything—it is still your story, after all—but with their help, you will surely wind up with a strong manuscript you will be proud to send on to the next phase of the publishing adventure.

Conclusion

When you are in between finishing your edits and hiring a professional editor, you might want another person’s feedback so you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for issues you could have fixed yourself. That’s when you should recruit the literary world’s answer to software engineering’s beta testers: beta readers. 

Beta readers will read your story from the perspective of ordinary readers, and then offer you valuable feedback on how to improve your story. Every beta reader is different, with different preferences and different processes. I highly recommend you have several of them—whether they are volunteers from your social circle, writing groups, social media, in-person acquaintances, or paid professionals, or a combination—look at your story.

With the help of a beta reader, you can vastly improve your beloved manuscript and ensure that this piece of your soul that you are hoping to get published is as exceptional as you can make it.


Have you ever used a beta reader? How did that go? What about the other side of the fence: have you ever beta read for anyone? Tell me in the comments!

While you’re here, need some tips on proofreading when you’re short on time? What about advice on filling plot holes? Or would you like an experienced professional proofreader to take a look at your stuff? I’ll proofread up to 400 words of your writing for FREE!

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Now, go do some proofreading!

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