Beta Readers: Massively Improving Your Manuscript
Updated: Aug 11, 2020
Today I’d like to look at how to find beta readers and offer my experience on working with them, how to build relationships with them and get the most out of a beta reader!
I define a beta reader as someone who will go through your manuscript and offer reactions and feedback based on their opinion as a reader. Beta readers are not editors, but they may have some grammar expertise as well. Beta reading shouldn’t necessarily be paid, it is usually not for monetary gain.
To start, there are a many to find a beta reader, but when I started writing Torchbearer I mainly used the Facebook Group “Beta Readers and Critiques.” It seems that in the intervening year, that group seems to have died a little, but if you prefer using Facebook then it’s worth a shot.
If you use Reddit, I predominantly use the ‘r/betareaders’ subreddit, which is a great way to meet people. I can also recommend the Goodreads beta readers forums.
There are countless Discord servers, writing groups, Goodreads forums and even “Critique Circle,” a website where you submit your things anonymously and you get points for giving others reviews.
I would recommend Critique Circle’s free version for short stories, but I wouldn’t count them as full beta readers. Submitting anonymous reviews gives people opportunities to be very liberal with toxicity, and after experiencing that backlash I’m not going to use it again.
So you’ve found a beta reader who’s willing to read your novel. Now what should you ask them to do?
When I beta read for someone, sometimes they give me specific things to look for. Otherwise, I look for issues with plot, characters, setting and worldbuilding/magic systems (as I primarily read fantasy). I often turn on track changes and help out with some grammar/spelling, but that isn’t the primary function of a beta reader.
To make your beta reader’s life as easy as possible, here’s what I recommend you do to ensure stress-free beta reading.
1. Always advertise your wordcount and genre on the forum/invitation to read. For example, Torchbearer would be “81k YA Fantasy.” A lot of forums actually have this as a requirement or the moderators will take it down.
2. Make sure your writing is decently formatted and gone through at least one round of editing. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and typos do slip through. But have it on at least the second draft. (I’m always horrified when a beta reader spots grammatical mistakes in my work.) My sequel to Torchbearer was not as edited as I’d have liked, when I pushed to finish it so I could set it aside to be beta read during exams.
3. If you have things you’d like your beta reader to look for, let them know in the initial email/DM/contact. Also in that contact, inform them of any time frame requirements. Beta reads can be anywhere between a few days to a month, particularly in these crazy times.
4. Please be friendly with your beta readers. Take constructive criticism with a grain of salt, but be prepared to accept that it is a reader’s opinion. And beta readers are there to be an idea of what your target audience doesn’t like. Sure, if you have one reader who hates everything, set it aside. But if you have at least three telling you to fix something, you may need to consider changing it.
5. You do not need to pay a beta reader. In fact, I do not recommend paying for beta reading.
The most common thing you can offer is a swap, where you read their piece in return.
A lot of my beta readers I’ve sourced through Reddit. Last year, I read a bunch of their stuff, and when they asked if I wanted to share something in return, I merely asked to hold the favour. A couple of months ago I called those favours in to read Tales of the Marked 2. In that interlude, I spent time reading their extra drafts, discussing query letters and so much more.
A personal friendship/working relationship with your beta reader is far more fulfilling than a random stranger reviewing your work.
Some of my beta readers have been with me since the beginning of Torchbearer, and reading their critiques always makes my day better, whether they love it or hate it.
I would recommend staying in contact with your readers, and the people you read for, and building up a list of readers to contact again. I normally aim for about 5-10 beta readers for each book and retain 1 or 2 for a later draft.
Hope you got something out of this! Next week I’ll discuss tips on being a better beta reader, as spotting flaws in someone else’s work is good practice for spotting flaws in your own. If you enjoyed this post, hit the box below to subscribe and stay up to date with my writing tips. If you enjoy fantasy or would like to get a closer look at my writing/see if I’m any good at putting my tips into practice, my debut novel Torchbearer is available from this site. As always, if you’d like to chat writing or anything at all, you can tweet me at @sr_thiele.