I’ve had a lot of people asking me about beta readers lately, so here are my thoughts.
When I first heard the term beta reader, all I could think about was my beta fish in college. I had that fish for two years. I named it Jessifer. I don’t have that fish anymore, but I have beta readers. I also have alpha readers. I don’t have a set critique group, which can work differently from beta readers who might change from project to project.
All writers seem to need different things since we’re all different. Yesterday I wrote about publishing your first book too fast. I wrote about that because more often than not, my own work needs some hefty read-throughs and revisions before it’s even close to ready for publication. I couldn’t do this without beta readers and it’s hard for me to imagine writing something so wonderfully perfect that it doesn’t need help from outside my own brilliance. And yes, I’m being sarcastic when I say brilliance. My first drafts are anything but brilliant. I have noticed, however, that the more I write the less readers I need. I think I will always need at least two.
So how does one go about finding a beta reader?
For me, friendships! My friend Scott G.F. Bailey has a mighty fine alpha/beta reader whom online he calls Mighty Reader. I’m not sure if she reads his work in the stages as it’s being written, but I do know she’s close to him personally, and she is an avid reader. He trusts her to read his work because he trusts her as a person. He also lets me and our friend Davin Malasarn read his work in draft stages. The three of us are beta readers for each other, and occasionally alpha readers on some things. We also blog together on The Literary Lab. We’re friends.
For my advice on how to find good beta readers – just get out there and make friends. If you’re reading this blog, you obviously make your way around the blogosphere. Put a call out on your own blog or social network for other writers or readers who are interested in helping you beta read. If that doesn’t work or the beta readers aren’t giving the kind of feedback you need, join a free site like Critique Circle. Everyone there is looking for critique help. You’re bound to find a few good matches for your work. Currently, one of my best beta readers is a friend I made through this very blog. She commented a lot on here, so I started following her blog where she only had 5 followers. We got to be friends and she ended up purchasing and reading Cinders. She loved it so much and gave me such great feedback on it that I let her beta-read my novella, Thirds. Now, she has read almost everything I’ve written. She’s fantastic. I had to make an effort to find her and build a friendship. I value that friendship and her help with my work. I also return the favor and read her work, as well. That’s often how beta reading goes, but doesn’t always have to work that way. Find friends outside of the internet who are willing to read your work in its first stages – people you know who love reading. They are often the best beta readers, and valuable to have when you need an opinion not colored with a writer’s viewpoint.
Are there different kinds of beta readers?
Absolutely. For me, a beta reader is someone I must trust and get along with. Two of my beta readers are friends I didn’t make online through writing. They are my two friends who don’t write. They are readers only, and their input is extremely valuable.
How many beta readers should you have?
As many as you need. I use a different amount of beta readers for different projects. Sometimes I need three, sometimes four or five, and I’ll ask different people to beta read at different stages of the work. For the first draft, two betas will work. For the third and fourth drafts when I’m getting close to finished, another two betas (usually Scott and Davin) will work.
Should your beta readers stick with you?
It depends. For me, I have beta readers who read almost every project I work on, but I’ve also had other people who have only beta read for me once. Sometimes a beta reader isn’t a good fit for you or a particular project. Sometimes a writer just needs different readers all the time. For me, it depends on the project for who reads what.
What if a beta reader is taking too long or isn’t working?
I’ve had this happen a few times, and it’s frustrating. But you have to remember that people are busy. If your beta reader promises to get back to you in a specific amount of time and they’re taking longer, then maybe there’s an issue with them not liking your work and they’re too afraid to tell you. Or maybe they’ve had something come up that is unrelated to your work. Either way, communication is key. If the beta relationship isn’t working and this person is a good friend, simply tell them you value their feedback, but for that particular project, it’s not going to work out. Keep it professional. No friendship is worth ruining over a book, so be cautious when choosing your beta readers, too.
I could go on and on about beta readers, but let me know if you have any advice here in the comments section. Do you have beta readers?