How Do You Find a Beta Reader?

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.

Alpha Reader –ย Someone who reads a written work in stages as it is being written and provides feedback, often very positive, to the author for moral support and to spot any large issues as they’re happening.

Beta Reader –ย Someone who reads a written work as a completed draft and provides feedback, often constructive criticism, to the author for revisions and edits.

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?

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle

30 comments

I love this post. I have friends who read along as I write (which stinks for them, because sometimes its a few days between installments). They are my initial cheerleaders, to make sure I'm heading in the right direction. They point out glaring mistakes and let me know what works, and sometimes what doesn't, but they aren't generally writers. I save the writers for later, when I need fine tuning. And then I hit a wall. The writer friends I have are all so busy with their own work and currently established crit groups, I feel like I'm imposing. I don't feel like I have much to offer in the crit department, technically, so the relationship would not be mutually beneficial. I paid someone to look over my first novel but it wad such a mess and needed so much work it still hasn't been finished. This helps me remember to keep plugging away and continue to build the friendships I'm establishing online. I do learn so much from those I've connected with. Maybe one day I'll learn something I can share with others as well.

I'd never heard of alpha readers before reading this post. Someone once defined beta readers to me (years ago) as "people who read your stuff for free and help you make it better." It's not a bad definition of beta reader, but yours is more in-depth.Using your explanation then, I do not have an alpha-readers; I have alpha-listeners. Lots of people ASK about my WsIP, and they're happy to say things like, "You should give that character telekinesis!" For example, right now I'm stuck on a career for a minor character in my WIP, so I intend to ask around for ideas. But no one else will read my work until I get it past three or four drafts and feel it's ready for readers.Beta readers are very easy for me to find. I'm a school teacher and I write YA fiction. Teenagers are very blunt and very critical; they make superb beta readers for IDEAS. (They're lousy at proofreading.) Kids can easily tell if a character seems real or if a chapter is boring. I always use kid volunteers as my first beta readers. I then move on to teachers and former students. Every time I've asked another writer to beta-read, s/he's been far too busy with her/his own work. But I have adult former students who write or edit, and plenty of English teachers who enjoy trading favors for projects such as these. (You proofread my stuff and I'll cover your 8th period for you every time you go home early with a migraine or I'll help you with that video you're working on.) Thus, before my books are ready to see a "real" audience, they've usually been beta read at least a dozen times. The YA novel I'm just on the very edge of self-publishing right now has been beta read probably at least 35 times, as I've been tinkering with the manuscript for years.So, basically, I'm set on this. But I'm one of the fortunate ones. I'd be hard-pressed to find beta readers if I had a different job or if I didn't write YA.

I found my beta readers through networking on blogs. Some I've used twice, and some only once, but then again I've only soliceted help two times so those added for the second round have only had one opportunity.I try to get a diverse mix…both books were children's books, and I had input from other MG authors but also writers of YA, romance, and literary fiction as well as readers from various age groups. The diversity is especially helpful because the critters tend to focus on different elements, or different aspects of a common element (e.g. characterization).I can't emphasize enough the importance of the beta read in improving the overall quality of my books!

Michelle Davidson Argyle

mamajalapa: Oh, I hope you find some great writer beta-readers for your work whom you feel comfortable giving your stuff to. I always hate to impose, as well. Good luck! And yes, keep working on those valuable friendships. ๐Ÿ™‚Lisa: Oh, you have the best betas ever if you're finding some in your target readership. Nice! Sounds like you have a great setup so far. Thank you so much for sharing.Rick: It's good to have a mix, yes, and also good to make sure the readers are a good fit for the project. I've had "too many cooks in the kitchen" so to speak, too, so it does have to be a good balance.

Wow…I've had quite a few betas and it has been an awesome experience. I would like an alpha. I bounce ideas off of my kids sometimes and I agree, teens are very blunt with their critiques, not mean just real. A great way to get a thicker skin, if you're ready. I am still looking though. Great post!

Michael Offutt

A good beta reader is kind of difficult to find in my opinion. Count yourself lucky if you snag one.

Ernie Laurence, Jr.

This is great advice, especially the Critique Circle (which I just signed up for and listed your blog as the reason). I've found a couple of friends like this, not so much that have become beta readers for me, but that I've become beta readers for. Thanks so much for the thoughts!

Thanks for your thoughts, Michelle. I'm looking for a beta reader right now so they were timely for me.

C. N. Nevets

Partly because I've had such horrible experience with crit groups and partly because I've had a brutal personal editor for so long I've learned how to read my own stuff more like a reader than many writers can, I don't do a ton of the alpha and beta reading stuff. Sometimes that kind of feedback can be more of a distraction for me.That said, I can't overstate how valuable the readers I do use are to me. I am usually very targeted. I ask people to read who I have particular reason to think might have something helpful to say about the particular piece.Sometimes, if I'm totally stumped I'll just throw a WIP out to a reader and say, "Please, just tell me if this is working at all." I don't do that often but if I hadn't done that on Sublimation I probably would have totally scrapped the book.Sometimes, I have a very specific question — perhaps I want something technical vetted, perhaps I want to get feedback on genre, perhaps I want to check something about the voice. In those cases, I will not only chose the readers very carefully and specifically, but I will let them know what exactly it is that I want them to address.Then, of course, I also have my personal editor who has been working with me for decades, and I also like my wife to read my stuff and give me a good overall check.I've asked people to read who are family, friends from college, friends I've made through blogging, all over the place. I never put out general calls for readers, and I don't see myself ever being comfortable with that kind of wide-open approach.

Sarah McCabe

At the moment, my husband is my only alpha and beta reader. Once I have finished my novel, I'll seek a couple of my fantasy loving friends to provide additional help. I don't think that most writers are capable of being good beta readers. They believe too many of the writing myths.

Angela Hartley

I love my beta readers! All of them are so helpful and kind. What I loved most about my project was the pebble in water effect my writing created. Two of my closest friends who read for me decided to start their own stories and now I read for them. My story wouldnโ€™t be what it is today without the support behind me. Each beta (I have five constants) brings a different perspective and skill, like education and creativity. One of my girls retains a photographic memory and she always catches information repeats or inconsistencies. The other two are my target audience. They donโ€™t see my work until it is revised at least twice and I gain a readerโ€™s perspective from their eyes. I like being a beta as well. Reading for others allows me the opportunity to see the other side of creation.

Michelle Davidson Argyle

E: Teens are fantastic betas for YA fiction, absolutely! Michael: Yep, they are hard to find. I've spent the last 4 years finding mine. They are jewels!Ernie: Oh, I'm glad you found Critique Circle! I started out there and made some great friends. Cynthia: Oh, good! I hope you find some good ones! It can take some time and experimenting to figure out who will work.Nevets: Well I'm honored to be one of your readers, for sure. But yeah, your book is the one I talk about in this post, and I just feel awful for taking so long. Ok, no more guilt trips. You know I love your stuff. ๐Ÿ™‚Sarah: My husband used to be one of my readers. It depends on the time of year and if he has time. Haha. Most writers aren't the best beta readers, no. I've chosen mine very carefully, and I'm happy to have reader-only betas readers on my list.Angela: Wow! I need a beta with a photographic memory. Dang. That would be awesome. Sounds like you definitely have some betas who work great for you!

Domey Malasarn

This is a fantastic post, Michelle. I tend to rely on readers less and less right now, but I still eventually ask a couple of people to read what I've written to at least confirm that what I think I wrote is actually on the page.

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Davin: Yeah, I rely on less and less feedback, but I still do need some at different stages. You are one of them. ๐Ÿ™‚

This has been a big question for me lately as I'm finishing up my revisions after getting feedback from my alpha readers (didn't know really what to call them but that's what they were) – thanks for your thoughts and advice! ๐Ÿ™‚

scott g.f.bailey

Essentially I have Mighty Reader as my primary critic. She is, as you say, well-read and trustworthy. She gives it to me straight, even if she doesn't like something. I don't really have "alpha" readers; I let people read little excerpts on the blog and all that, but I have never paid any attention to attempts at criticism people have made about those snippets.After Mighty Reader, there is you and Davin. Though honestly, the three of us tend to be more fan/support group than critics, I think, and our criticism seems to be pretty specific and targeted at one or two scenes in a whole book. ("I love this, but why in chapter 18 didn't you have a scene where the guy buries the dog…" sort of stuff.)But like you and Davin and Nevets, I rely less and less on input from anyone unless I really worry about how something is working on the page. And then of course after all of that the books go to my agent, who has excellent taste and (for me at least) a very light touch with suggested changes. She submitted the second novel I sent her to editors with no revisions from me at all.I ramble so I should stop, but briefly I add that I've never been part of a writing group and I doubt I ever will. I don't enjoy getting critiques during the process of drafting a MS. It annoys me so I avoid it.

Robin McCormack

Great post. My hubby can't read any of my in progress stuff because it isn't perfect yet. He gets stuck on the structure and can't get into the story. Plus he doesn't read fiction so… Getting to the point where will need beta readers soon. I'm hoping by the end of the year. The thought makes me nervous putting it out there for someone else to read. *sigh* I like the idea of putting out the call to my bloggy writing friends, those I trust (nudge nudge wink wink) when the time comes.

Judith Mercado

This is a great post as I have just finished my first draft and will be looking for an additional reader beyond the one I already have. This has given me some good ideas. Thanks.

Great post! One of my good friends is my first beta. She's been with me thru good, bad, and very ugly. I found my other thru Crit Partners and she is wonderful. I just started a small group I found thru Twitter. All I know is I couldn't do it without them. For awhile I did participate in an online group but it got to be too much.

To think it all started with butterflies and burned baked beans. ๐Ÿ™‚ Glad we found each other. And to be honest, you make it easy. I can completely believe you need less betas than before. Your writing is top shelf quality.

Leigh K Hunt

Awesome post, Michelle!! *love* I'm going to send it on to some people. I have myself some pretty neat people around me that I trust to read my work. My step-sister is my Alpha for all my YA stuff. Then I have adult friends around me in my real life (As opposed to my virtual one) who read my adult books as my Alpha's and Beta's. I also have an awesomely amazing little critique circle around me. We're quite tight knit, and give each other the most blunt and honest feedback to each other to get our work up to standard. We may be blunt, but we are also polite about it. It's is not 'mean' feedback, but feedback that we can all grow from. I'm lucky that I have had Alpha's and Beta's for a long time. It wasn't until this year when I blogged about the needing critique partners to help me move me past all my continuous drafting stages and into the final stages, that these amazing people came forward.

Lester D. Crawford

For my current project, I have two alpha readers who are highly educated and accomplished, and have published several books of their own, although the books are nonfiction. One is a fan of my genre (sci-fi/fantasy) while the other is not. This provides for some interesting perspectives.They read each chapter as I finish, provide editing services that I take as a challenge by doing my darndest not to have any typos and such mistakes (but they always manage to find some), and they provide opinions as to structure, characters, plot, and other content. Occasionally they will pick apart a scene then suggest that I rewrite it. A few times, I have stymied them by creating plot holes when revelations came to me that require a return to previous chapters to insert setups.My alpha readers are very helpful and I feel joy when they tell me they are eager for the next chapter. I end each chapter with a single line hook into the next chapter, and these hooks seem often to work well. (The most recent chapter ends when one of the major characters burst into the room in a hissy fit. The last line is "What was her problem?" My readers expressed a desire to know, but I have more work to do before the next chapter is ready for them. They will have to wait.)My next tier contains my beta readers. They will not see the work until I feel close to the end of the rewrites and edits. These people are all big fans of the genre, and because I enthusiastically talk about what I am doing, I stoke their interest making them excited to get their hands on the story. They are blunt enough to tear the work apart and let me know everything I have done wrong in my life, and in my story.However, I have two readers held in reserve that I call my omega readers. They will be the last to read the work and will provide the last suggestions before I move to the next phase of life as a writer. Avid readers, especially of my genre, I believe these two have read everything ever published, although that might be a slight exaggeration. These readers can find fault with everything, and often do. I expect a terrifying experience when I hear what they think.

Yep,like that.Bravo

Lester D. Crawford

Maybe I should simply supply an answer to the question "How Do You Find a Beta Reader?" instead of running off in a rambling rant.My alpha, beta, and omega readers, both current and future, are all family, friends, or casual acquaintances I have known for years or used to work with before our jobs were sent offshore.I have not arranged for any total strangers, yet. I am not sure that will happen.

Sometimes I let my beta reader(s) read my work (I have two, sometimes one). Sometimes they finish it. I still have a hard time getting honest answers from them though.Both my readers are personal acquaintances and/or family. I still have a long way to go before I begin approaching strangers to read stuff I write down.

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Eliza: Now you know what to call those golden readers, hehe. Aren't they the best? ๐Ÿ™‚Scott: I don't like getting critiques during the drafting process, either. My alpha readers are really just cheerleaders who keep pushing me when I need a shove. My beta readers answer the big questions for me, but I find myself needing less and less "huge revision" feedback. It's very nice, really.Robin: No worries! It's a good stage to be at when you get there! Walk boldly. Smile. And keep writing. ๐Ÿ™‚Judith: You're welcome! I wish you the best of luck!Dawna: Yeah, any "groups" I have are very, very small and unorganized. None of them are any I meet with in person. I'm not sure how that would work for me, but the few times I've tried online organized groups where we had to submit stuff regularly, I gave up. I just can't work that way. Julie: Hehe! I love the baked beans post. I still go to that sometimes to make myself smile. Thank you for the compliment! You are just too great for me ego, my friend. ๐Ÿ™‚Leigh: Thanks for sending this around!Wow, yep, when you blogged about it and made it clear what you needed, things happened. Wonderful! It sounds like you have a great setup for your work!Lester: Great info on your process! Yeah, getting strangers for your work can be scary. ๐Ÿ™‚Me: Thanks!Jake: Aww, they don't give you honest answers? Yeah, I hope you get to the point where you can get some online acquaintances to help you out. ๐Ÿ™‚

Great advice, Michelle. Thank you. I'll keep this in mind for future reference!

annstanleywriting

I just did a search on how to find a beta reader and your post came up at the top (great going). I am so ready for more beta readers. I had some alpha readers early on, but now I need to have a few people read the whole manuscript. I have had a few friends volunteer, so maybe I will start there. This is my first novel, so of course I don't have an agent or a list of people who have read previous works. Thanks so much for a lovely post!

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Leah, you're welcome!Ann – It's lovely to see you here! I wish you the best of luck with your novel. So exciting to finish the first one!

Beth F Brownell

I have had over 35 beta readers within the past seven years, all of them have not remained for no more than nine chapters of my novel or fanfiction that I am working on. They would just up and vanish on me. I am working hard at beta reading my own stories myself since I cannot find one that will remain with me for more than 3 to 9 chapters of a story.Beta readers are harder to come by than ever before.

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