3 Tips for Finding Awesome Beta Readers

Eye Monster

For a writer lucky enough to find an awesome beta reader, the payoff can be like striking pure gold. Good beta readers force you to level up. They clearly see the story when you’ve lost all perspective. And if they’re really good, they remind you why you started writing in the first place.

But it’s up to you to make the experience with your beta readers into something fantastic, not the other way around.

So how do you find the best beta readers ever?

Shop Local
Always begin your search among the writers you already know. Whether you meet with them in real life, or online, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect in regards to communication style and personal chemistry with people who aren’t total strangers.

Pick a writer friend you trust and offer an exchange: They beta read for you and you beta read for them.

By entering into a beta-reading exchange with writer friends you get the chance to cultivate your own editorial eye while gaining the benefit of outside feedback.

Genre Does Matter
The best beta readers for your work are going to be readers who already like the kind of stuff you’re writing. They bring more awareness of what’s already been done—and more appreciation for what you’re trying to do—to the table.

Pick readers who are familiar with and genuinely enjoy the type of writing you do.

Don’t worry so much about perfect fit, approximate will work. An avid reader of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, for instance, can offer valuable suggestions when it comes to Steampunk.

Expectations Are Everything
Beta reading is not editing. And it’s not unconditional approval either. A good beta reader will point out things they absolutely loved…and the things that need some work. It will work out the best for both of you if you’re clear on what you want before they begin reading.

Pick your battles with your manuscript wisely, and then manage your expectations to reflect that.

Are there areas you already have concerns about? Point them out. Do you want a certain amount of feedback on every chapter? Say so.

By being thoughtful and realistic about releasing our work to a carefully chosen circle of beta readers, it’s much more likely that we and our book will benefit from the experience. Giving your work to beta readers can be scary at first, but it’s well worth it in the end.

And even if you get a reader who doesn’t totally connect with your story, going through the process with them is still valuable. Sometimes it takes finding out what really doesn’t work to find the very thing that does.

How do you pick your beta readers? I’d love to hear about your method (and any advice you might have for other writers) in the comments!

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7 Comments

  • Reply Catherine North 24 April, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Excellent advice, Lauren. I think that if you don’t know many writers in real life, reading blogs is one way to discover potential readers to connect with. Reading someone’s posts regularly can give you a real sense of whether their tastes and feedback style are a good match for you.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 24 April, 2014 at 12:59 pm

      Definitely! I’ve discovered some really great writer friends through blogs.

  • Reply hilarycustancegreen 25 April, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    I have been asking friends, writing and otherwise, and relatives to do this for me for years. I learn a lot, but always struggle with contrary advice. I find paid Literary Consultants really worthwhile (but horrible expensive).

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 26 April, 2014 at 8:37 am

      I also think an objective beta reader can be totally worth it to hire. I offer beta reading as one of my services and if you’re ever interested Hilary, please contact me. I’m super flexible on rates.

  • Reply Setsu 25 April, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Awesome post! You are my favorite beta reader and I’ve learned so much about the process from hearing your thoughts. I especially want to echo how important it is to ~exchange~ your MS. I’ve learned far more about writing from studying other authors’ work — BEING a beta reader — than purely from feedback on my own stuff.

    Also, as you develop more trusted relationships, you learn who you can rely on to ‘get’ specific parts of your book. My betas who know a lot about pacing and marketability aren’t always the ones who access the mystery and personal elements — and vise versa. It’s a challenging and exciting opportunity.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 26 April, 2014 at 8:34 am

      Yes, that is SO true. Not all beta readers will “get” parts of your book. And I’m so happy I got to be one of your first beta readers 🙂

  • Reply Glynis Jolly 26 April, 2014 at 10:05 am

    I have 2 beta readers so far, maybe 3. However, all of them are women. I still have a lot of time to find a man to read my stuff but I’m pretty sure that the pickings are going to be slim for my style and genre. (No, it’s not romance.)

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