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How to Find Beta Readers and What to Ask Them

how to find beta readersYou’ve written your book and now you want to know how to find beta readers and what to ask them once you’ve found them.

First of all, congratulations on getting this far! It’s one thing to have written a book, it’s another altogether to feel comfortable enough going to other people and saying, “Hey, can you read this cool thing I wrote and give me totally awesome feedback to make it better?”

Okay, maybe those aren’t exactly the words you use but you get the gist. Your book is your work, your time and your passion project. Opening yourself to feedback is not easy to do at all. It takes a lot of thick skin, as well as putting your pride on the line.

I remember the first pieces of feedback I got from my book, Elementalists: The Fires of Canicus, when I asked people to beta read it.

“This chapter felt too long.”

“This didn’t make sense to me.”

“I didn’t really like this character. She was kind of dull and didn’t add much.”

“The first half of the book was really slow and hard to get into.”

Yikes! But to be fair, that was the bad, and there was also the good.

“Once I got past the first half I couldn’t put it down.”

“I loved Isaac! Every time he entered a scene I knew it would be good.”

“The way everything came together at the end felt really solid.”

Although I’m paraphrasing, this was some of the real feedback I received from my beta readers. I was able to take their advice and fix the bad and capitalize on the good. It was a humbling experience, but also a really cool one to know that people read something I wrote, even if it wasn’t perfect. I ended up condensing my first 10 chapters into 3 and reducing the word count by almost 50,000. Talk about much needed feedback!

But enough about that, let’s get into how to find beta readers.

When To Find Beta Readers

Okay, I lied… just a bit.

Before we can talk about how to find beta readers, let’s talk about when to find beta readers.

This is an extremely important step because… (seriously, read this part) – you are asking people to do you a HUGE favour.

You wrote something that’s likely between 60,000 to 100,000 words long. Maybe shorter, maybe longer, depending on your genre, fiction vs. non-fiction, etc. Either way, you have a substantial word count and that’s going to consume your beta reader’s personal time. They could be playing Pokémon Go, or hunting for narwhals, or jousting on horseback. Seriously, what do people do outside, anyway? Someone please leave a comment and let me know.

The point is, you’re asking your beta readers to give up their personal time to do something for you. Oh, and you’re not paying them for it either.

“But they’re getting to read a book for free!”

I can just hear this being used as an argument, which leads me to my next point.

Your book is still imperfect and has flaws at this point.

If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t be reading an article on how to find beta readers. But you are, and for that reason alone it’s important to respect your beta readers’s time. Get your book to the point where it’s (in your honest opinion) the best it can possibly be without help from someone who has an impartial, outside perspective.

For me, that meant one full year of editing by myself, going through my book from start to finish, every page, every word, four times.

Also, I’m not saying you won’t find someone who is just totally psyched and thrilled at having a chance to read your book before its published. There are people out there who will love to beta read. I was fortunate enough to find someone like this who I now consider a good friend and my book’s #1 superfan.

While it can happen, you’re still more likely to need to search a bit.

How to Find Beta Readers

See? I told you we’d get to this part.

The bad news, there is no huge ‘go-to one-stop-shop’ for how to find beta readers. The good news – it’s still possible, it’s just going to take a little bit of work, no matter how you go about doing it.

Beta readers; how do you find them?

1. Your Personal Circles

Depending on who in your circle of friends, family and acquaintances enjoys reading, this could either be a fantastic or a terrible place to look. Just remember, by asking someone you know to read your work they’re doing you a favour – not the other way around.

If you’re going to go this route, once they’ve read your book, I suggest making the process of receiving feedback a more personal experience. As a way of saying thank you, treat your beta reader(s) to drinks or dinner and make things informal. Feel free to take notes, just don’t make your beta reader’s feel like they’re under a microscope.

The Good: Members of your circle can offer a more personal touch critiquing your book. They might also feel privileged and special for being asked to read your book before it’s publicly available.

The Bad:  Because they know you personally, they may hold back giving you honest or constructive feedback to not hurt your feelings. Let them know that you want to hear everything – the good, the bad and the ugly. They may also feel compelled to read your work just because they know you, even if they don’t really want to. Don’t be pushy.

2. Scribophile

If you’re serious thinking about how to find beta readers then look no further than Scribophile. This is a fantastic resource for obtaining professional critiques by other writers who also desire to hone their craft.

Scribophile is a platform for writers to critique other writers on their work. Before you can receive your own critiques you will need to evaluate other people’s writing. I won’t say too much more about it here, only because I’ve already discussed it in length in this article about book editing software. The article also includes several interviews I conducted with long-time Scribophile members.

The Good: Scribophile reviews are likely to be high-quality. You can also improve your writing by critiquing the writing of others. In fact, this is a necessary first step if you want to receive feedback for yourself.

The Bad: You won’t get feedback right away as you need to evaluate other people’s work and earn karma before you can request evaluations of your own. Also, you will be more likely to receive feedback for 2,000 – 5,000 words rather than an entire book. You can always connect with other writers and offer a trade off-site though.

3. Critters

Critters is part of a larger network called Critique.org. While Critique.org focuses on critiquing a variety of work, Critters is geared specifically towards reviewing fiction, including sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. Like Scribophile, Critters requires you to critique the writing of others before you can be critiqued yourself. Critters also has an option for submitting entire manuals to the queue to be critiqued at once.

How much critiquing do you need to do before you can request a review for yourself? From the official rules of membership: “Members who have critiqued one ms. in less than 75% of the weeks they’ve been a member will have their manuscripts held until they return to 75%.”

The Good: According to the Critters FAQs, once you get reviewed, you can expect to receive anywhere from 5 to 50 different critiques. The platform has been around for over 20 years and has a well-established membership base. There’s also an option for getting your entire novel critiqued, rather than only individual chapters.

The Bad: If you’re hoping for instant gratification then you’re in for some disappointment. You must critique other’s writing before receiving critiques of your own. Also, there is a queue you must submit your writing to, so there might be a waiting period before receiving any feedback.

4. Reddit’s /r/BetaReaders

You’ll often find me recommending Reddit and this article is no exception. Reddit really does have a subreddit for pretty much everything you can think of, as well as many things you would never think of… like, ever.

In this case, I’m recommending Reddit’s /r/BetaReaders subreddit. You can start a thread, searching for beta readers, wait and hope for the best. To improve your chances, spend some time writing a compelling elevator pitch that might encourage someone to read your book. Think of it like what you would see on the back cover of a novel you buy in stores. You can check out this post on How to Write a Query Letter for ideas.

/r/BetaReadit is a similar subreddit to investigate. You can also try doing a general search of reddit using the keyphrase, “I want to be a beta reader” (or something similar), and limiting your search to a one-month timeframe. There’s no guarantee you’ll find anyone this way, but it doesn’t hurt to look.

The Good: You don’t need to critique anyone’s work before requesting critiques of your own. Simply sign-up for a Reddit account, make a post in the appropriate subreddit advertising your needs, and you’re on your way to finding beta readers.

The Bad: There’s no guarantee you’ll find any beta readers here, so if you do, it will probably be a very small number of them. In fact, the subreddits I recommended don’t have many subscribers, so you’ll have to put some effort into making your request for beta readers stand out. Should you get any beta readers, there is no guarantee as to the quality of the feedback they’ll provide.

5. Wattpad

Wattpad might not be the number one place you would think of for how to find beta readers, but it does have its merits. If you haven’t heard of Wattpad, here’s the gist of it. It’s a platform to write and publish stories of all lengths. Readers can leave comments on individual chapters and writers can gain valuable feedback while growing an audience.

In an interview with Ashleigh Gardner, the head of content at Wattpad, she revealed that the site is comprised of 90% readers and only 10% writers. The site had 24 million users in 2014, with 85% accessing from mobile and the average session length being 30 minutes long. In terms of demographics, the site is largely made up of users between the ages of 13 to 18, but 35% of the users are aged 18 to 30. There are also some big-time writers on there, such as Margaret Atwood.

You can also check out Booksie and Fictionpress, which are similar. Neither has as many users as Wattpad, but the site demographics are comprised of an older audience.

Important: Do not post your story on Wattpad if you intend to seek traditional publication.  You can create your own unique stories for Wattpad, but posting even a chapter of your manuscript could pose problems if you’re looking for a literary agent. This is a conflict related to something called First Publication Rights.

Shameless plug: You can also follow me, a not-quite-as-famous author.

The Good: Wattpad has a huge user base and if you post great stories and interact with the community, you can gain a large following. Not only will this solve the problem of how to find beta readers, but it will also give you a readership that will do wonders for your book marketing. In fact, publishing deals have been made via Wattpad, including some best-sellers and movie contracts.

The Bad: It will take quite a bit of work on your end to get people to read your stories. Even if they do, the feedback you’re likely to get will be more of ‘general impressions’ as opposed to in-depth critiques. You will also need to develop a book cover to make your story stand out, so a bit of graphic design knowledge will go a long way here. Finally, by posting a story you are giving up your first publication rights, which could cause problems if you intend to seek traditional publication.

6. Twitter

Twitter can be a surprisingly good place for how to find beta readers. There are many writers on twitter already using hashtags such as #amwriting on their profiles, who also want to be critiqued. Perhaps the best way for how to find beta readers, however, is by keeping your eyes open during publication contest periods. For instance, on the fourth Friday of every month (or occasionally the fifth), writers tweet a short summary of their book using the hashtag, #PitchCB. If a literary agent from Curtis Brown likes it, the writer is invited to query them.

This is good news for you as well because these are writers who would possibly be interested in doing a back-and-forth beta reading exchange with you. #PitchWars is another Twitter contest that happens around August and #PitMad happens quarterly. These are all writing events with authors seeking traditional publication, who want their books to be as good as possible.

The Good: You can reach out directly to other writers without worrying about going through any sort of system. Because you’re arranging your own private exchange, you can communicate with that person about what type of feedback you’re after. Out of all the items on this list, this could be one of the easiest and most powerful methods of finding willing beta readers for your book.

The Bad: Given that the easiest time to find exchange partners is during Twitter pitch parties, this method is time-sensitive. Also, if you’re simply looking to receive a critique without giving one back, then this method may not be right for you.

What to Ask Beta Readers

Now that we’ve talked about how to find beta readers, in detail, let’s move onto what to ask them. Note that this section will not be applicable for all of the methods. It will be best suited for method #1 (your inner circle) and #6 (Twitter), where you have full control and authority over what to ask your beta readers. In cases like Scribophile and Wattpad, you will be presented with feedback from the reader’s own personal point-of-view.

Here are a few sample questions you can ask a beta reader:

  1. Did you feel compelled to keep turning the pages? What drew you in?
  2. Were there any parts of the story where you felt overloaded with too much information?
  3. What were your most and least favourite parts?
  4. Were the characters interesting and did they make believable decisions?
  5. Which character(s) did you like or sympathize with?
  6. Which character(s) did you hate? Why?
  7. Did the story progress at a natural pace or did anything feel too rushed?
  8. Did any part of the book feel repeated or redundant?
  9. Did the story feel like it started and ended at an appropriate place?
  10. Was the core conflict compelling and did it take too long to get to it?
  11. Could you easily visualize characters and scenes in your head?
  12. Did you have to re-read any sections in order for them to make sense?
  13. Did everything feel resolved or was anything missing?
  14. If the story could last longer or if there was a sequel, would you feel compelled to read it?

By the way, if you would like a printable and neatly organized version of these questions – you’re in luck! I have one you can download using the link below, in both .docx and .pdf format. It has space for you to type or handwrite answers, plus an additional 10 questions you can ask.

Download Beta Reader’s Questionnaire

Has this article answered all of your questions about how to find beta readers? Please leave a comment and let me know if it has or if you have any additional questions.

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By | 2017-05-18T18:30:24+00:00 August 13th, 2016|Editing|0 Comments

About the Author:

Author of ELEMENTALISTS: THE FIRES OF CANICUS. Owner of WritingABookCafe.com. Helping writers succeed from planning, to publishing and beyond.