You’ve done it: you’ve written a story you think readers will love, but you want some more opinions before sending it out to be published—where do you look? Odds are you’ve heard the term “beta reader” thrown around before, but you might not know what a beta reader does, or, more importantly, where to find one. Keep reading to find out more!
What is a beta reader?
A beta reader is someone you ask or hire to read your work and give you honest feedback about how the story impacts them as a reader. Beta readers normally read work that has already gone through several rounds of editing and is highly polished, almost ready to be published. So instead of giving you feedback on technical aspects such as pacing or dialogue, they’ll give you deep insight into how they felt while reading.
Beta readers should not be confused with workshop group members. In a workshop setting, each member is both sharing work and providing feedback for others in a collaborative way. Beta readers are also not to be confused with alpha readers. Alpha readers, like the name suggests, are the first to read your work, more similar to an editor. Once you have a completed draft of a story, they’ll read it and give you feedback on broad writing elements such as plot, description, characterization, etc. Their goal is to help you pinpoint areas for improvement as you begin to revise your story.
Beta readers, on the other hand, are more like your test group. They should tell you where they were confused, or bored, and what they found believable or perhaps unrealistic. Their overall goal is to help you make your story publishable. While alpha readers should be knowledgeable in writing craft, beta readers should be experts on the genre you’re writing in and understand your target audience’s tastes. If you’re writing a high fantasy novel, your beta readers should be well-read in that genre and know what makes for a compelling fantasy novel. This information is invaluable for understanding how your intended audience will react to reading your work.
Maximize the benefits of beta readers A beta reader’s job is to give you insight into the effects of your story, but you have to know how to make the most of their help. First, it’s important to know who doesn’t make for a good beta reader. While you may want to ask friends or family members to give you their honest reactions to your work, either because they know you well or because they’re easily accessible, their opinions will almost always be at least slightly biased in your favor. It’s best to find readers that you aren’t personally close with but know a lot about the types of stories you write. Think of it like a coworker relationship—honest and professional. You also want to find people you believe are trustworthy, so always have a conversation before sending anyone your work. It would also be helpful to have more than one beta reader. You’ll receive opinions from multiple people which you can compare and see if they line up with each other.
Next, after your beta readers have read your work, you need to know the right questions to ask to get the best information from them. Here are some general, reactionary questions you can ask to start the conversation:
“Was the plot engaging?”
“Did you want to root for the main character?”
“Could you picture the setting clearly in your mind?”
After you’ve established your beta reader’s overall reaction, you can ask about specific scenes or characters you were perhaps unsure about, making sure to focus on what they felt while reading. And if you don’t understand a piece of advice, always follow up and ask for clarification. If you want to make your beta readers’ help worthwhile, you have to know what they’re saying!
Where to find beta readers
As a student, I often take my readers for granted—I have professors and fellow writing students that can read my work and give me valuable, professional feedback. But if you’re not currently in an academic environment like I am, don’t worry! There is still a huge pool of readers out there for you to find.
Searching online for beta readers is probably your best bet, especially if you’re looking for volunteers. You can find writer’s groups and forums on websites like Facebook and Reddit that are regularly looked at by people willing to be beta readers. Many of them are very popular with a wide reach, providing you with a variety of options. On Reddit, r/betareaders has over 20,000 members, and r/writing has over 2 million. And on Facebook, the group “Beta readers and critique partners” has almost 26,000 members.
Much like a job listing, you want to make your project sound enticing to get potential readers’ attention. In your post requesting beta readers, include a short section of the story or write a blurb summarizing what it’s about. Also include a few guiding questions about specific areas you'd like feedback on for readers to be thinking about while reading. Keep in mind that while many people might show interest, not all of them will follow up.
Like most things, it’s always a bit of a guessing game when trying to find beta readers. A few dedicated people will make all the difference in your story’s journey to being published!
About the author: Lindsey is currently working towards her BA in English and Creative Writing at Brandeis University. She loves writing short stories and has more recently taken an interest in writing poetry. She is also an Editor-in-Chief for her school literary magazine, Laurel Moon. You can usually find her reading, crocheting, or bothering her cat, Sister. She hopes to be a writer and an editor in the future to continue to help others improve their work.