What is a beta reader? it’s someone who reads your work and tells you what’s working and what needs fixing. If you’re doing the same for this person, then you might refer to them as a “critique partner.” For almost all writers, beta readers are a crucial part of crafting a quality manuscript and improving as a writer in general.
Some people use family members and friends as beta readers. This may be okay if:
1. they are able to define things that aren’t working and
2. they are willing to tell you what those things are.
If your mom or your bestie only tells you that the story is wonderful, well, that can have value. Everyone needs a vote of confidence sometimes! But they aren’t helping you revise your story, and you still need betas.
I am lucky enough to be married to someone I met in a graduate writing program. Mr. Donovan has no trouble critiquing my work. Once in a while I will get annoyed by one of his suggestions, and then later I realize he’s right and change it, after all. 😀
A good beta reader is hard to find.
Many people aren’t that responsible about giving feedback in a timely fashion. As a beta reader, I’ve missed a few deadlines for people myself, although I hate it when I do. I’m usually pretty good about it.
If your beta reader isn’t familiar with your genre, you may get a lot of advice that isn’t helpful. They may say that your gritty thriller shouldn’t contain descriptions of violence, that your steamy emotional romance is “porn,” or that your young adult heroine should “just grow up.”
Some people just aren’t great at critical analysis. And some beta readers are toxic and don’t have your best interests at heart.
On the other hand, a great beta reader is solid gold. You read through their thoughtful comments, thinking, Yes! That would make things so much better!
Here are a few ways you could go about finding good beta readers.
1. Join an online writing group.
I can recommend two of them, and there are many more out there. NaNoWriMo is a private Facebook group that is not officially affiliated with National Novel Writing Month, and writers chat about their work there all throughout the year. I believe you can join without an invitation, although a moderator will need to approve you.
If you write romance, Romance Divas is an amazing group (and yes, you can join as a Diva Dude, too.)
In any group, writing-focused or otherwise, you want to take a little time to chat and get to know people before you ask for favors. Don’t barge right in and disagree and question everyone, either. Every group has its own dynamic, and if you want to be a part of a group, you need to approach it with a chill attitude and an open heart.
2. Try a meetup.
On meetup.com, you may be able to find groups of writers in your city. For shy people, it’s nerve-wracking to join a group of strangers at some random location, and I can’t guarantee the group will be right for you. But it might! Your new best friends might be there. So give it a try. Most writing groups do beta reading for one another.
3. Ask on your regular Facebook page.
Some of us don’t find beta readers because we don’t dare to admit to anyone that we’re writing in the first place. Granted, there are types of writing that people want to keep secret in order to avoid judgement. For instance, the church secretary might not want everybody to know she’s writing erotica.
Feeling ashamed about the fact that you write can hold you back as a writer, though. So unless your work is controversial, asking on your Facebook page is a great way to go. Don’t be afraid to be specific, like this:
“Hey, I’ve written five chapters of a mystery novel. They are still rough, but I’d really like to get some people to read them and tell me what they think, especially if they love mysteries! I’m hoping to get feedback by the end of the month. Anyone interested? I would be soo appreciative!”
You might be surprised at the positive response you get. And if no one is interested, because they are all a bunch of non-readers, you’re a sixpence none the poorer.
4. Ask in the comments section of this post.
Another commenter might be willing. Hey, you never know!
Okay, now let’s talk about…
The Fear Factor
Asking for beta readers can be scary if you haven’t done it much, haven’t done it in a while, or if you’re working on a new project that feels more risky or personal. (Some of the best and most meaningful writing we do is the writing that scares us the most.)
What if they don’t like it?
Well, they might not. Lots of people don’t like the biggest bestsellers of the past few years. Lots of people hate War and Peace (which I loved and found really entertaining.) There are very few sure things in writing, but this is one of them: somebody will hate it. It only hurts you as much as you let it.
If someone loves your book and has no criticisms, you won’t learn anything. If someone hates it and has nothing but criticisms, just see if any of them are useful to you or not, and forget about the rest.
You have to think selfishly about beta reading. It’s not about whether they enjoy it. It’s all about you and what helps you get better.
If you have advice about finding beta readers, please share them in the comments. Happy writing!