Podcasters: Lena Johnson, J.L. Zenor, Amy L. Kessler, and Special Guest Amity Green
Adapted by Brittany Thurman
If you are an author, you may have heard the term “beta reader” in conversations with other authors. Beta readers are a helpful resource for authors who want to make their stories as good as possible. Let’s explore what they can do for you, how to find them, and how to get the most out of the experience.
What Does a Beta Reader Do?
A beta reader is someone who will read through your story and give honest feedback about it before you try to sell it. The beta reader lets you know where your story needs explanation, or if something seems to be missing. An invaluable beta reader is one who will ask the “why” questions about what is happening and give detailed feedback. Beta readers should be offering advice from a reader’s perspective. While each individual’s suggestions offered may be personal preference, if you get the same feedback from two or more beta readers, you may want to take this suggestion more seriously.
Some authors also use alpha readers and/or critique groups. An alpha reader is another author who sees the story before it is really ready for an audience, one who can offer input on how to develop the story. Critique groups are groups of authors who meet on a semi-regular basis and share stories, giving each other honest critique.
Finding Beta Readers
One of the best ways to find beta readers is on social media, through platforms such as Facebook or Twitter. Utilize the “groups” option and build a core group of beta readers that you can rely on. Other than just asking people to be a beta reader, you might hold a contest where you will pick the winner to be a beta reader. If you like the winner’s style, you may be able to add them to your group. You may have to experiment to find how many beta readers work best for you. Not everyone you send your story to may be able to complete the entire work in the timeframe you need, but you should still value any input they can give. When someone is beta reading, they aren’t just casually reading the story as they would for fun. It involves thinking about what the author needs, analyzing the story, and taking notes. This is a dedicated process, so be patient and grateful for the favor they are doing for you.
Timing for Beta Readers
If you know you have a deadline, send it to your beta readers as soon as possible. Try to allow them as much time as possible to reasonably complete this. It will take different people different lengths of time to complete the process. For a novel-sized story, a month is reasonable. It might be helpful to even just send the story chapter-by-chapter instead of a whole novel at once. This can reduce the stress on your beta readers.
Instructing Beta Readers
Be sure you give your beta reader specific instructions on what kind of feedback you would like from them. A beta reader might be helpful in answering questions such as: “Does the story work thematically?” or “Are there any gaping plot holes or inconsistencies?” When you spend so much time in a story, it can be hard to self-edit and catch the point where you changed your main character’s eye color. If you don’t want them to focus on things likes typos or small details, be sure to tell them. Let them know that you value your time, and you don’t want them to waste it when it is possible that entire scenes will get trashed. Be clear in what you want to know, so you can make the process as valuable as possible for everyone involved.
Do you have any advice for people looking for beta readers? How do you find a good beta reader? Share your experiences in the comments below!