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How to Find Beta Readers

When you've finished the draft of your book, it can be helpful to find some beta readers to get constructive criticism on your manuscript.

When you've finished the manuscript of your book, it's a good idea to get some feedback. Just as beta testers try out pre-release software, beta readers look at manuscripts and give feedback. They look at your work as a reader - not as an editor or proofreader, looking to improve grammar - and tell you whether you have succeeded in keeping their interest and whether they think the story works. You need both positive and negative feedback, and good beta readers can help by providing this.

Why use beta readers?

Writing a book is a complicated process, and it can be hard to be objective about your work after you've spent months or years writing it. Beta readers can help by offering you criticism and feedback about the work, and help you improve the book before submitting it to an agent or editor. Don't send out a first draft to beta readers; this draft needs polishing, and it's not useful to ask for feedback on a work in that state. The time to use beta readers is when you feel that your manuscript is finished.

Beta readers should be people who read widely, and specifically in the genre in which you write. Effective beta readers need to be able to provide honest, constructive feedback, and critique the writing in a way that helps the author polish their manuscript. Beta readers should be able to give opinions about character, plot, tone, voice, and other elements of your writing, even though they may not know the technical terms used when talking about these things.

Beta readers also need to be reliable. It's a big ask to request feedback on an word 80,000 manuscript, and even fast readers will take several days to read a text like this. If your beta readers put off reading your work, you may be frustrated, and if they never get back to you, you'll have missed out on useful feedback.

Finding good beta readers can be difficult. Some writers have spouses, partners, or friends who they use as beta readers, and this is practical, if these people can give the type of opinions needed at this stage of writing. But it is often not a good idea to use family members as beta readers; unless they are experienced in this exercise, they are unlikely to give any negative feedback, because they won't want to hurt your feelings.

It can be frustrating if you give your manuscript to a friend and they say, "Oh, it's very nice," or something general like that. A beta reader is not a reviewer, but someone capable of pointing out strengths and weaknesses in a work. This is different from a critique partner, who is another writer with whom you trade feedback; this feedback can be more technical, about the writing itself.

What should beta readers do?

When you find beta readers, don't just send them your manuscript without any guidance. You should tell beta readers so they know what sort of critique you're looking for. You can ask for any or all of the following:

  • A general review of the book: is it enjoyable, did they feel the urge to keep reading?
  • Are the characters believable, and are the main characters' motivations clear?
  • Do the settings feel real?
  • Is anything over-described?
  • Does the dialog feel authentic?
  • Is the plot believable, and does the resolution make sense?
  • Are sentences, paragraphs, or chapters too long or too short? Does the prose flow, or does it feel choppy?

Also, if there are any specific points that you want them to look for, make sure to mention them.

How can you find beta readers?

You can find beta readers in many ways. There are many websites that connect writers with beta readers. Goodreads has a large beta readers group, and you can look for beta readers there. Reddit also has a beta readers group, and there are a number of Facebook groups for beta readers. There are also many websites that offer free and paid beta reader services.

As you look at various websites, such as those above, you'll see that many beta readers offer paid services. Reading a manuscript does take a fair amount of time, as does providing valuable comments and feedback. If you pay someone to beta read your book, you're likely to get a quicker response, and perhaps even more negative feedback, or constructive criticism, than what friends will give you. Paid beta readers see this as a job, and may be more thorough in their feedback, but they may also limit their feedback to what they think is worth the amount they are paid.

At a later stage, you may want to pay someone to read your work to perform certain tasks, such as copy editing, fact-checking, or sensitivity reading. But these professionals work at the final stage of your writing, when you have completed your final draft. Beta readers may have some knowledge of these elements, but it's not up to them to take on these tasks.

How to prepare your Scrivener project for beta readers

The easiest way to send a draft to beta readers is to create a PDF from your Scrivener project. You do this using Scrivener's Compile feature. You can choose what to include in your PDF; whether you want the entire draft, or only part of it, if you're not asking for feedback on the entire work. Read Compiling Your Scrivener Project: The Basics to learn more about creating a PDF from your Scrivener project.

Kirk McElhearn is a writer, podcaster, and photographer. He is the author of Take Control of Scrivener, and host of the podcast Write Now with Scrivener.

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