• Madison Siwak

Understanding Beta Readers.

by Cassandra Belka

What is a beta reader and how do you know if you’re ready for one? Maybe you don’t

even know what exactly a beta reader is. A beta reader is somebody who reads your book and

gives you their feedback, before your final draft. This can be general feedback or detailed

feedback, depending on what you and your beta reader agree on.

So when is it time to hand over your beloved manuscript to a beta reader? If you’ve just

finished your first draft, it’s probably not time for beta readers yet. Generally, in the earliest

drafts, it’s best to enlist a critique partner to help you catch big issues with structure, plot, or

character arcs. For me, the right time for beta readers is when I feel like I’ve already addressed

any issues that my CPs and I have noticed. Basically, once you feel like your story’s structure,

main plot, sub plots, character arcs, and themes are exactly how you want them to be, and you

can’t think of any more fixes to make, that’s when it’s time for beta readers. Just make sure your

manuscript is tidy and spell-checked first.

Once you’ve decided it’s time for beta readers, how do you find them? You can ask

friends to read your work, and they may very well provide some helpful feedback. But generally,

a friend will not be honest when they dislike something. It’s usually better to have people you

don’t know in your personal life read your work for you.

The easiest way to find such people is through social media. Both Twitter and Instagram

have thriving writer communities, which you can become part of by posting with the hashtags

#amwriting and #writingcommunity (both hashtags are active on both platforms). Any beta

readers I have ever used, I have found through Twitter and Instagram. Fellow writers make great

beta readers, and these relationships can be some of the most supportive you will ever have.

All you need to do is share (via tweets, Instagram posts, and/or Instagram stories) that

you’re looking for beta readers, and usually at least a handful of people will volunteer. It’s

helpful post about your story at least a few times leading up to when you’re ready for beta

readers. That way, your followers already have an idea about what kind of book you’ve written.

When you share that you’re looking for beta readers, it is helpful to share some details

about your story, such as the genre, age category, general themes, tropes, and any interesting

tidbits about the main character(s) or the world. It is also good to share the timeline you’d like

your beta readers to follow in finishing your book. Generally, four to six weeks is considered


Depending on how many beta readers you’ve enlisted, you have a few different options

for beta platforms/methods. The simplest is usually just emailing your manuscript in a Word

document. Most people can access Word documents, and Scrivener even allows writers to

directly export their manuscript as a Word document. Sharing through Google Docs can work

well, too – but it can sometimes be difficult to copy and paste your manuscript into a Google


Formatting doesn’t always translate well from Word or Scrivener to Google Docs. Another

option is the website BetaBooks. This platform works well when you have a lot of beta readers

(more than five or so), because it compiles beta feedback from all your readers. That means you

don’t have to sift down through your entire manuscript ten times to get the feedback from ten

beta readers. However, it is a bit more work up front, because you must upload your manuscript

one chapter at a time. There are other options, as well, but these are the ones I have personally

used and are the most common.

When the feedback comes in, you might find yourself a little shaken. Your beta readers

will undoubtedly point out flaws you didn’t even notice – but remind yourself that is why you

enlisted them in the first place. The challenge comes when it’s time to figure out what exactly to

do with the feedback.

I recommend reading your feedback slowly and letting it digest for a week or so. Once

you’ve let it settle, sit down and tease it out. Using the comments or notes function in whatever

word processor you like, compile the feedback into your working document. Leave notes where

they are applicable, rather than keeping them in a separate document. Don’t feel like you need to

include feedback at this stage that didn’t resonate with you – you can choose which beta

feedback to consider and which to toss.

If only one beta reader out of ten noticed a particular issue, it may not be a very important

thing to fix. If multiple beta readers point out the same flaw, it is most likely something you need

to pay attention to. And keep in mind that the flaw they are pointing out may be important, but

any advice they give for fixing it should be taken with a grain of salt. This is where your intuition

should reign. Take the feedback and create solutions to it that resonate with you – not necessarily

the solutions your beta readers offer. It is your book, and you know the bones and the feel of it

better than anybody else. Perhaps the solutions they offer do resonate with you – that’s great, go

with it! But if they don’t, give yourself permission to let the issue simmer until you’ve discerned

the right path forward. Most importantly, don’t rush.

When you’ve completed the beta stage and you’re sorting through your feedback, it can

be really tempting to want to rush through the next revision because you feel so close to the

finish line. But be sure to give that round of revisions as much care and time as it needs. Give

yourself room to make the beta experience pay off for you as much as possible. It will absolutely

be worth your time.

Lastly, in short, you’ve got this, Writer.

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