You may have heard about beta readers and decided to give them a try. Many tasks in the writing business can be expensive if you are not doing it yourself, so it is typical for newer authors to not know if beta readers are free.
Beta readers are usually free but paid can be helpful sometimes. They are volunteers who can be your book’s biggest fan or critic. They may be good friends, family members, or someone you know through a web forum. You should find a few with differing interests to give you various opinions.
They read over your book, giving feedback and constructive criticism so that the book becomes the best it can be. They can help you with plot issues, character development, grammar and spelling errors, editing style, if there are any similar books to yours out there or if they liked your book. They can also give their opinion on illustrations for a children’s book or kindle cover design.
Beta readers or editor first?
Suggestions by your beta reader are generally received before being reviewed by an editor and can be helpful to get feedback on what the typical reader thinks of your book. Editors do not focus on story structure or plot development, a mistake many new authors make. Beta readers are better for this sort of feedback.
An editor will give feedback after a beta reader has read your story. The editor will give you back the book and ask you to make changes in the many areas of your book prior to publication and focus on correcting grammar, spelling, punctuation, style and format.
Using an editor after a beta reader is the best idea because they can focus on details that the beta reader misses. The beta reader gives a very different type of feedback. They should review the version as close to the final version a possible.
What is the difference between a beta reader and an editor?
Many people think that beta readers are just friends who read and give feedback on a manuscript before the author sends it out to publishers.
In fact, they are much more than this.
There are a few differences between beta readers and editors:
An editor reviews the text of your manuscript to make sure it is edited in the right way but does not provide feedback on plot, character development or other literary issues. Sometimes an editor may offer suggestions for improvement, but they are not typically working with you in-depth on the story.
They review the text and suggest things that need to be improved for your book to be published and then provide these suggestions for updating your next draft.
On the other hand, a beta reader reads your manuscript more like doing a review. This is a process in which someone reads your book and then gives you feedback. Often, they will offer suggestions about fixing the problems they see. Still, sometimes they just give you an overall opinion that includes constructive criticism on improving the story as a whole.
They are readers that are interested in your book and are willing to read and provide feedback on it.
A beta reader, editor or both?
You should have both to help you find different weaknesses in your story and writing and help you improve overall. If you have both a beta reader and an editor, you are not just cleaning up your typos, grammar and punctuation because a lot of the standard edit process can take care of that.
Editing is more about knowing the book better than the author, having a different perspective, looking at character flaws, plot holes etc., because they are not involved in writing the story like you are.
How many beta readers should I have?
You can have only one, but it is more typical to have two or more. Having a few more readers means you will have more eyes on the manuscript giving different opinions, and get a better sense of what feedback to take into account during editing.
At least one beta reader should be someone you respect as a writer. This person has to be someone who will give you the truth about your work and won’t pull any punches when telling you what they think.
Also, having an odd number of readers is advisable and having three beta readers is a good number. Having two would be okay, but if they have a difference of opinion about something, whose feedback do you consider? An odd number helps with this issue.
Do not have too many as that could cause more issues than benefits. Having more than four or five could be too much for you to reasonably absorb, and it could actually hurt your final product.
Beware of too much information overload.
It is a good idea to have people with diverse literary backgrounds to make sure you get various real-world readers represented.
When should I get beta readers?
You should get your beta readers early enough in your writing process so that you can incorporate feedback before you spend too long editing the manuscript and end up needing major changes. The best time is after you have a draft that has at least had a first edit and you are satisfied the story is close to complete.
This means the story is developed sufficiently for the reader to thoroughly analyze the story and give good feedback.
It can be difficult for them to give proper feedback if they only get it a piece at a time as you write, so they will typically get a complete draft version.
Some writers do prefer to give their readers a bit at a time to try to get feedback and make changes as they write. Generally speaking, it is best to provide readers a completed manuscript so they can give the most value from their feedback.
What is expected of a beta reader?
The type of feedback a beta reader gives is tricky to define because it changes from person to person. One general rule is that a beta reader should be able to “tell you what the story is about”—that is, what the plot and characters are about. It is helpful for the beta reader to be able to tell you what works and what does not for them.
In general, they will give you their impressions of the manuscript and help you work out plot elements and character development and check for inconsistencies in the manuscript that you may not have noticed.
Some might give constructive criticism on grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors, but generally, most are not trained for this, so this part is better to leave for an experienced editor.
Make clear to them you need as detailed an explanation of their feedback as they can so you clearly understand their issues. If the feedback is vague, a frustrated author may simply ignore it and just keep revising their manuscript in isolation and maybe then asking for new input from a different set of readers.
How long should a beta reader take?
A beta reader should be given a reasonable deadline but not too long. You do not need to be waiting for feedback only to get it many months later, long after you are done writing.
If there is some detail in the manuscript that needs to be included or the context of a character’s actions changed, it should be done as soon as possible so set a clear deadline for getting back to you.
If you do not do this, the beta reader may simply lose interest and move on to the next project. This is another reason to have multiple beta readers to make sure you get enough comments to be of value.
How do I choose a beta reader?
Ideally, you would choose people who read the kind of genre your work falls into. For example, if you are writing a romance story, choose someone who has read plenty of romance novels. If you are writing a mystery, select someone who enjoys mysteries.
Choosing people with interest in the same genre as your target readers is often the first choice as they will have better knowledge to help you create an original story that stands out from the rest.
There are many ways to choose beta readers, including:
1) Someone you know who has similar interests in books to you.
If you think someone would like to read your writing, then ask them!
The more people you ask, the more chance you have of finding a good selection of people to choose from to get good information.
You can also ask several people and have them read a few chapters if they cannot commit to reading a full manuscript.
2) Go online to find writers’ groups or websites where writers exchange information about their writing progress can be an effective place to find beta readers.
If they find people who agree, make sure to return the favor later if asked.
This could be an excellent way to find longer-term writing and reviewing partnerships you both benefit from.
3) Check your local library for a list of writers’ groups.
As nice as online can be, finding a local group you can meet in person can add much more to the personal feedback you get.
4) Try to attend a book reading and ask the person hosting if you could have him or her read your work. Be prepared for a no as many authors will decline in a situation like this, but sometimes you just need to try many different options to get the one yes that you need.
5) Yes, you can still ask your friends and relatives if they would like to read your work. Just keep in mind that they may not be as honest as you need to avoid hurting your feelings.
If you go this route, make sure to not take anything personally, or you can ruin a relationship. Best to avoid this if you can.
So yes, beta readers are free and can provide a lot of value so be sure to make good use of them.
Take the time to find the right people who benefit you, and do not forget at least a free (maybe signed!) copy of the published book should be sent their way as a thank you!