A message pops up on your screen from an author you follow, asking you to be a beta reader for her new book. She encloses a book cover and chapter draft and will send you the full manuscript if you’re interested in helping.
Are you excited? Curious? Skeptical? Flattered? Hesitant? All of the above?
Read on to discover what a beta reader is, what it means for you, and why beta readers are like gold to authors.
Be sure to scroll down for your *free* download of the
Guided Questions for Beta Readers
I use with my team.
Then catch leadership and writing coach Jennifer Milius and I
in convo about beta readers,
my writing struggles during Covid, and more
on the Tutfish Show podcast and YouTube channel.
1. What’s a beta reader?
Besides being the second letter of the Greek alphabet, beta refers to the second in a series of events.
As a beta reader, you’re the second set of eyes on a manuscript after the writer is satisfied with a first draft. That precious draft represents months of toil, but as author Louise Penny says, it's typically “smelly” and ready to be made better.
That’s where you come in as beta reader.
The author is entrusting you with that smelly manuscript in exchange for your honest feedback they use to tweak their tale.
In essence, you’re agreeing to be an unbiased second set of eyes to help craft a final book that’s the best it can be.
A beta reader is someone who....
reads an unfinished (but polished!) manuscript
and gives the author honest feedback
on how the story, characters and plot hold up.
2. What does being a beta reader mean for you?
Being a beta reader is an honor AND a big ask. It requires a chunk of time and willingness to offer honest, concrete feedback beyond I like the book. Consider the points below to decide if beta reading is right for you:
Are you comfortable accessing a double-spaced, 8x11 portable document file (pdf) online? Most manuscripts are in pdf because its fixed format works across different software platforms and ensures your feedback references are literally captured on the same page as the writer's master copy. Some people print the pdf and read it as a hard copy, but most download to a tablet or computer for a virtual read.
Once my beta readers are on board, I send them a downloadable MS word worksheet with about 2-dozen guided questions to keep handy for jotting down their feedback as they read.
What kind of feedback do authors ask of beta readers?
Check out how I work with my team.
Download my free
Guided Beta Reader Worksheet
from my website HERE.
My beta readers handwrite comments on a separate sheet of paper or keystroke directly onto the worksheet. I ask them to include page numbers or chapter references, so I don't go crazy looking for suggestions in a 30K-word manuscript.
While I appreciate hearing positive comments, I encourage ideas to make my books stronger. I want my beta readers to be brutally honest in their feedback and not pull any punches.
3. Why are beta readers like gold to authors?
As a beta reader,
you partner with the author.
You become a crucial part of the writing process.
is invaluable in morphing that smelly first draft
into a stellar tale that’s ready for everyone to read.
I adore my beta readers
and am beyond grateful to them!
Their feedback majorly improved the first draft of Just Between Sam and Me, co-written with Rosie Russell. For instance:
Discover more about authors and beta readers
in my conversation with writing coach Jennifer Milius
on her Tutfish Show.
We discuss co-writing (0:17),
my struggles authoring during Covid (5:17),
making lockdown life brighter with a fairy garden, (10:08),
and lots more.
Catch Jen and me on the Tutfish podcast HERE
Watch us on YouTube
Is beta reading for you?
That level of commitment is not for everybody. My potential beta readers know right away in my ask that there are no worries if they decline my invitation.
Bibliophiles, if you’ve been a beta reader, how was your experience?
If you haven’t been a beta reader, would you consider being one? (oooo….let me know if you’re interested in my adult women’s fiction once I finish it! -:D)
Authors, what strategies have you used with your beta readers?
How have beta readers helped you?
Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
3/5/2021 11:17:58 am
As cyber and blogging buddies, we have been beta readers for each other. As you said, beta readers are like gold and I enjoyed the experience. I was not as organized as you with the questionnaire you prepared - I took note - because that makes it so much easier. Love all your tips in this blog for beta readers. Sign me up for your adult fiction book. Can’t wait to read it!
3/6/2021 07:06:18 pm
Julie, no matter how it’s organized and returned, beta reader feedback is beyond precious to authors! I like to give some structure to my questions but also leave them open enough for free-flowing suggestions. Your ideas truly helped us shaped several crucial scenes in “Just Between Sam and Me,”and I’d be over the moon to have your eyes on my women’s fiction and help me notch it up.
3/6/2021 10:09:18 am
What a great interview you had with, Jen!
3/6/2021 07:08:27 pm
Jennifer Milius is a fantastic interviewer. She puts people at ease and knows how to draw out those engaging tidbits. I’d love to have you as beta reader for my next book!
3/6/2021 11:18:31 am
I really enjoyed your interview!
3/6/2021 07:13:03 pm
I am really enjoying guesting on podcasts, Auden. I admire the skilled hosts, who know what to say and how to make guests comfortable and keep the convo engaging. Yep. Being a beta reader takes time for sure. I don’t preview manuscripts for every request I get, but I do try to help authors I know as I have the time.
3/7/2021 04:37:52 pm
My daughter was blessed with finding two awesome Beta readers for her first book. They were brave souls because Janelle is a teenager and I about pulled every last hair out of my head fixing errors! The Beta readers probably got an extra "smelly" copy of the book, but they were troopers! We're still working on the edits. Hopefully, the book will be published before our upcoming event in April so we can have paperback copies to sell.
3/8/2021 11:22:09 am
Kudos to you and your teen for working on a book together, Jessica. Laughing here at your “extra smelly” first draft. I think mine are ok, and then I get BR feedback that blows me away! Al the best with your book launch!
I treasure my beta readers - they spot typos and give me great feedback. Unfortunately I cannot dedicate the time to do it myself. I have a policy of reading and reviewing books that interest me, whether from author friends or self selected so my reviews are honest and helpful.
3/8/2021 11:24:32 am
Beta readers are true treasures, Julie! We have the same policy for reading books of others. As much as I love reading and helping others, it is a huge time commitment. Like you, I select which to take on as you do.
3/8/2021 08:44:15 am
Fascinating stuff. I never really thought about all the things, besides writing, that go into a book before it's published so I'm so enjoying your behind the scenes interviews and tips Cat. Thanks you and yes I would love to be a beta reader of your adult fiction too. I love your work.
3/8/2021 11:26:44 am
Thanks for walking behind the scenes with me, Michelle, and for your kind words about my tales. It will be awhile, but I will take you up on your offer of helping to polish my smelly first draft of my women’s fiction novel -:D
As an aspiring author, this article was very interesting. I am interested in writing short stories/novellas. Before the pandemic I was in a writing group. I stopped when we had to switch to online Zoom meetings. When we can go back to in person, I'll join up again.
3/8/2021 11:30:11 am
Doreen, so exciting you are writing novellas! Critique groups are also fab ways to get instant feedback for chapters and short excerpts of a work in progress. My group hasn’t met in person for over a year, we don’t Zoom but have been posting work on our shared drive and giving feedback virtually on Google docs. LOL....it’s been so long, it may take awhile to remember how to meet in person -:D. All the best with your writing journey!
3/8/2021 02:53:09 pm
Thanks for the education about beta readers! Definitely important factor to a writer!
3/8/2021 06:41:33 pm
So right, Maria! My Beta Readers are treasure. I also want mine to feel as if they are partnering with me and are a crucial part of the creative process. If a bibliophile has wanted a rate of the writing life, taking the time to put eyes on a polished draft gives them a taste.
3/9/2021 04:52:04 pm
What a wonderful article Cat!
3/9/2021 05:22:23 pm
You are delightful company on the writing road, Robin. it does get hard and lonely at times! I am intrigued by your offer to share with your readers and will DM you. Many thanks for thinking about me!
3/9/2021 06:06:10 pm
I love being a beta reader. I have two amazing authors I help out exclusively. Been doing it for about six years and I keep getting asked so I must be doing something right. Lol
3/9/2021 06:39:08 pm
You are a gem, Rebecca, that golden combo of avid reader, who also has the patience and talent to provide your authors with honest feedback. Go, you!
3/10/2021 12:57:35 am
Writing a book is a long process that’s more than sitting down at a keyboard or tablet and creating. What’s cool about beta reading is that it offers book lovers, who might never write a tale, a chance to be part of the authoring journey. Thanks for keep me company on my writing road, Meegan-:D.
3/12/2021 09:19:41 am
loved the peek behind the writer curtain
3/15/2021 08:43:14 am
Thanks, Linda! There’s lots going on behind that writing curtain, and I appreciate you taking a look with me.
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