How to Find Beta Readers: What Everyone Else Seems to Know
You are not the first writer to be baffled by the question of how to find beta readers.
The first time I heard you could get unpaid input from people who weren’t friends and family, I was gobsmacked.
There are creatures who will read your work and give you valuable feedback for free? Magical beings who can speak to the reader’s experience and expectations without getting wrapped up in writing theory? Story-loving elves who will do all this within your reasonable timeline?
It’s true! These beings do exist, and they’re not even magical. They’re just people.
People who actually aren’t that hard to track down.
If you’re not sure how to find beta readers, keep reading. You’re about to learn what a beta reader is, when you need them, how to find them, and how to get the most out of their feedback.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is a Beta Reader?
Before you can understand how to find a beta reader, you need to know why you’re looking for one.
A beta reader is a person who gives you feedback on an early-ish draft of your novel from the perspective of a reader.
They don’t proofread or spend a lot of time analyzing your story structure or use of character archetypes. Rather, they give you feedback on things like:
- Plot holes
- Confusing passages
- Moments when the story drags
- Characters they find irritating
- Genre tropes they’re sick of
A beta reader might know enough about the craft to comment specifically on the rhythm of your prose. But their primary purpose is to give you a sense of how a reader experiences your novel.
Does it draw them in? Does it elicit the right emotions and hold their interest?
Your beta readers should represent your target audience. The one exception would be a beta reader who is an expert in a topic that looms large in your novel. For example, you might want a California lawyer to read your legal thriller set in Sacramento.
(Please note, if the “expertise” you need relates to someone’s lived experience as someone of a specific race, religion, culture, or ability, that person is not a beta reader. They’re a sensitivity reader and you pay them.)
Now, if you’re familiar with our guide on how to write a novel, you know beta readers are not the only feedback-givers you need to work with. So…
Where Do Beta Readers Land in the Feedback Lineup?
You are your first editor. Do a few rounds of self-editing.
Then turn to your critique partners and your alpha readers. Your critique partners are fellow writers with whom you exchange works-in-progress to give each other feedback. Your alpha readers are people close to you (often close friends or family) who read your early drafts.
Once you’ve incorporated their feedback, you’re ready to bring in the beta readers.
After beta readers come the people you pay. This includes sensitivity readers (mentioned above), followed by editors. This helpful article lays out the different types of editors that exist so you can figure out which ones you’ll need to make your novel rock.
Now for the important question. I’ve kind of answered this, but it’s a big one so I’ll give it a heading for my skimmers.
Do Beta Readers Get Paid?
Paid beta readers do exist. You can find them and give them money if you really want to.
But it’s not standard or necessary.
However, it’s nice to thank them in non-monetary ways. Many writers give their beta readers a signed copy of the finished book or a shout-out in the acknowledgments.
Now for the big question.
How Do You Find Beta Readers?
There are three key considerations for finding beta readers.
How Many Beta Readers Do You Need?
Three to five beta readers is a good range. That gives you enough viewpoints to recognize patterns (like if everyone saw the twist coming) without drowning you in conflicting opinions.
Now, you may want more than that if you want any kind of focused feedback. Do you want your neurologist cousin to make sure your medical storyline makes sense? Would you like a romance writer’s input on the love story in your mystery?
Then you’ll need to bring in an additional reader or two.
What Should You Look for in a Beta Reader?
Nice question! I’m glad you asked this because it’s so easy to just throw your book at anyone who’s willing to read it for free. But the wrong beta readers are going to give you the wrong feedback.
The ideal beta reader is someone who:
- Knows and loves your genre
- Understands and appreciates your style
- Is able to articulate what they do and do not like about a story
- Is reliable
- Will give you honest feedback
- Bonus: Knows how to give honest feedback without breaking your soul
And Where Do You Find This Person?
Your beta readers are probably scattered across a few different communities.
If a friend, relative, or acquaintance checks all the ideal beta reader boxes, ask them to read your novel. You can even offer to discuss their feedback over a home-cooked dinner at your place—another way to say thank you.
But don’t pull all your beta readers from your personal community. Leave space on your roster for folks who don’t love you deeply, because some friends and family might tone down their feedback to spare your feelings.
In order to become a successful author, you must build your writer community. This can include everything from in-person writing groups to the folks you meet in online forums. I guarantee you, you will find people in this community who are happy to beta read for you.
For one thing, these are people who will also need beta readers. Offering to read for them in the future is a great way to say thank you.
For another, you’ve probably pinpointed the people in your community who are experts in your genre and are skilled in your areas of weakness. Hit them up.
Reach out to writers who are not the critique partners who already saw an earlier draft. Get fresh eyes.
Don’t saturate your beta reader pool with writers, either. Writers give excellent feedback, but sometimes their knowledge of craft can cloud their reflection of the actual reading experience.
If your writing community is still a little underpopulated, here are some places to find your people online:
- Dabble’s Story Craft Café
- Critique Circle
- Absolute Write
- Nathan Bransford’s Forums
- 10 Minute Novelist Facebook Group
- The Indie Author Facebook Group
This is where you’ll likely find your most valuable beta readers.
Hopefully, you joined some genre-focused communities while writing your novel, whether it was a romance book club or an online fantasy forum. Your best beta readers could be in those communities.
Another option is to reach out to your own fans. Do you have a strong social media following or a newsletter? Let your audience know you’re looking for beta readers. There’s an excellent chance you’ll find someone who’s excited to play a role in shaping your next novel.
When in doubt, check out one of these platforms created to help beta readers and authors connect:
- Goodreads Beta Reader Group
- Beta Readers and Critique Partners Facebook Group
- Now Novel Beta Reader Network
Get the Most Out of Your Beta Readers
Now that you know how to find beta readers, let’s talk about how to work with them.
Be clear and specific. While you want to leave room for your readers to share their genuine experience of the novel, make sure they know what type of feedback you’re looking for.
This could be as simple as, “You don’t have to do any proofreading; I just want to know if you’re engaged with the story and feel connected to the main character.”
But not too specific. Avoid questions that might color their first impressions, like, “I tried to write a sympathetic antagonist. Let me know if it works.” You can ask that stuff, but wait until after they’ve given you their notes.
Talk timeline. Are you hoping to have feedback in three weeks? Six weeks? Make your timeline clear and reasonable.
Ask how you can make the process easy for them. What format would they like to receive the novel in? PDF? Printed copy? How do they want to share feedback? In the document? Email? Over the phone? Be accommodating.
Receive feedback graciously. This person just did you a huge favor. Say thank you, let them know how helpful their feedback is, and don’t—as my brother says—give them notes on their notes. If their feedback was terrible, let that be a little secret between you and yourself.
Take what works, leave what doesn’t, and keep an eye out for patterns. You won’t agree with every note you get, and ultimately, you’re the expert on what’s right for your story. But keep in mind that your readers are supposed to be a sampling of your target audience.
If three out of four have a problem with your ending, there’s a problem with your ending.
Whatever You Do…
…don’t keep Googling “how to find beta readers.” I know that stall tactic. You already know what you need to know. It’s time to act.
This aspect of the novel writing process can be daunting for some of us. It involves asking people for favors, opening your work to criticism, and opening yourself up to the discovery that you’re not cut out to be a writer.
(That’s just fear talking, by the way. If you’re writing, you’re a writer.)
Finding beta readers also happens to be one of the best things you can do for your novel. You’re going to get reader feedback eventually. Wouldn’t you rather learn what’s not working before you publish?
If you find yourself overwhelmed by feedback, the comments feature in Dabble makes it easy to keep track of reader notes. You can also use Story Notes to organize and track the feedback you want to implement.
If you’re not a Dabbler already, you can try all the Premium Features for free for fourteen days. Click here to start your free trial. No credit card required.
And if you could use a little more book-writing guidance beyond what your beta readers can offer, check out this free ebook, Let’s Write a Book.
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