Where to find beta readers for your book

Last week, I had a conversation with a client about what he referred to as “peer reviewers” for his next book.

That gave me pause, because peer reviewers are usually used with academic or scientific works, and his is neither. I asked if he meant “beta readers.” While peer reviewers read for factual accuracy, beta readers aren’t limited to “peers” and can be from your target audience.

“Beta readers” was, in fact, the term he meant to use.

Why you need beta readers

Beta readers are invaluable in the writing process because they can help you improve your manuscript. Fiction beta readers will provide feedback on anything from their overall satisfaction with the book to the characters, plot line, and whether the story flowed well. It depends on what you need from them.

Nonfiction beta readers who aren’t experts on your topic provide help when they comment on what they expected to learn but didn’t, where you went into more detail than necessary, or when they needed clarification.

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you want to end up with a manuscript that will satisfy the people you wrote it for – your ideal readers. Beta readers can help you reach that goal.

Where do you find beta readers?

You can find your best beta readers in many places. In her short report, The Author’s Ultimate Guide to Beta Readers, Stephanie Chandler, founder of the Nonfiction Authors Association, offers the following sources (section reprinted with permission):

  • Your own social media and mailing list.
  • Ask your colleagues, family and friends to participate.
  • Ask your colleagues, family and friends to reach out to their networks.
  • Online groups that reach your target audience. For example, if you’re writing a memoir on living with diabetes, locate groups for people who have diabetes.
  • Reach out to trade associations, alumni groups and other professional organizations that reach your target audience and ask them to help you get the word out to their members.
  • Goodreads has a public group specifically for finding beta readers, and so does Facebook.
  • Post to writers’ forums and communities, such as Absolute Write, Writer’s Circle or The Writer’s Workshop.
  • Contact Amazon reviewers. Look up competing titles on Amazon and then click on each reviewer to find their public profile. Oftentimes reviewers list a personal email, so you can send them an invitation.

(To download the full report, go to the Nonfiction Authors Association site.)

How many do you need?

The number of readers you recruit depends on how much feedback you want, need, or can handle. For example, I want just a few clear, strong, honest voices providing feedback. I seek quality over quantity.

Still, how many you ask depends on the number of people you think will actually follow through, too. You’re asking for a significant time commitment, so presume that many who volunteer won’t be able to follow through.

If you want six to offer feedback, consider asking 12 – knowing that you might only get feedback from three. Start with determining the ideal number of beta readers, then ask twice as many people as that. Adjust from there.

What do you say to them?

The most important thing to communicate when reaching out to potential beta readers is your expectations.

The most important thing to communicate when reaching out to potential beta readers is your expectations.Click to tweet

When the goal is to help improve your book, tell them that. Be as specific as possible.

That means you have to know what you’re most concerned about with the manuscript. The author client I spoke to about this last week will ask one category of early readers to comment on whether or not the concepts he’s presented resonate with them. Can they see themselves implementing them?

I use nonfiction beta readers to identify what I should have covered but didn’t or where I haven’t communicated clearly and effectively. Maybe I’ve presumed that readers know something that they don’t, or perhaps the book left them with unanswered questions.

Feedback from beta readers helps me get the right balance and tone.

Knowing my weak spots helps me get specific with the help I need. It will help if you know yours, too.

Don’t skip this step

It’s tempting to skip this important process.

We’re always in a hurry to get the book done. Maybe the publisher has imposed a deadline; maybe you’ve set your own deadlines that you keep ignoring.

You’ve probably heard many say, “Good is good enough.” But is “good” good enough for your book? Do you want your book to be just “good,” or do you want it to be the best you can possibly make it?

To help make your book better than good, enlist the support of the right beta readers. Sure, it adds to the timeline, but it also adds to your book’s quality.

That’s a good thing.

Did you work with beta readers on your manuscript? How did you find them? Please tell us in a comment.

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14 Comments

  1. Sandra, you might want to check out thespunyarn.com – for a very low fee, they provide beta readers that you can almost hand-pick: education level, gender, age, etc. and the comments I got back on my manuscript were more detailed and thoughtful (not in the kind sense, in the “thought about it” sense) than any beta reader I’ve pulled from my own circle

    1. Maggie, this is an AMAZING tip! Thank you! It looks like a great resource, and it really helps to know that you could use the feedback you received to make your book even better. Your “I’ve done this” feedback helps. Thanks again!

      Sandy

  2. Thank you, Maggie Smith
    I am going to look up thespunyarn. com
    I agree, it sounds as if you can get someone better than a friend pulled from your own circle.

    And thank you, Sandra Beckwith, for putting this juicy tidbit out there!

  3. I often wonder if some ‘beta readers’ who don’t ask for a nominal fee are in it for a ‘free read’ which is why they don’t give feedback?

    I also wonder about authors who don’t want a beta reader to point out ‘typos’. There are typos and there are TYPOS. TYPOS can be the right word with the letters in the wrong order, the right words in the wrong order, a miss-typed word (sea/see, hear/here, of/off etc), extra spaces, missing punctuation etc – and if a spell checker hasn’t picked them up first time round it is not going to spot them second, third/umpteenth time round. I’m not saying this should be part of a beta reader’s role but if they are willing to do it why turn them down?

    1. Lindsey, I wonder if it has to do with the state of the manuscript. I suspect that if an author wants a high-level review, maybe she doesn’t want the beta reader to get bogged down by the small stuff that the authors knows hasn’t been corrected yet. If that’s the case, the author should make it clear: “I know there are lots of typos and spelling mistakes and I’ll get them fixed. What I need you to focus on is X.” On the other hand, if the manuscript is pretty much finished, I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t appreciate learning about typos, etc.

      Sandy
      PS I fixed your typo. : )

  4. Great ideas, Sandra! I’ll be sharing this.
    Also, with nonfiction, I found it helpful to ask people to read a specific part of my book related to their expertise. That can be less daunting than asking them to read the whole book. My first draft was quite long, and I wanted to be sure my readers knew I was mostly concerned with their feedback on particular sections they had expertise in. I got some feedback on other sections they dipped into, too.

    1. Maggie’s URL is correct — yours has a typo. It’s yarn, not yarm — as in spinning a yarn.

      Sandy

  5. I’ve revised my novel approx. 3 times and each chapter also was critiqued by my authors’ critique group. After that I hired a professional editor & also asked 2 authors whose expertise I trust to be Beta readers & give me any further suggestions on plot, characters, flow, etc. I then evaluated & folded in many suggestions of these 3 individuals. Now I’m almost done with a FINAL edit.

    After doing all of the above, I still wonder if the book is DONE & maybe I should ask a couple more Beta readers to review it. Am I just a perfectionist unable to call the novel finished?
    Kas

    1. Kas, this is a real tough one. You often hear “good is good enough,” because some of us could tweak and edit and rewrite forever. On the other hand…(speaking like a true Libra, here), you really want to feel like this is as good as you can make it. I think the answer depends on how much you trust your beta readers and how much you want to get it “right.” You’ve done a lot so far, but maybe you might want to get a stranger who is a fan of your book’s genre to give a read for a fee. What do you think?

      Sandy

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