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5 tips to get the best from your beta readers

Updated: Apr 22

You’re convinced that your writing is ready, and you’ve worked up the courage to enlist some beta readers to give it a trial run. So, how do you make the best use of your beta readers?

A cat in glasses, reading a book.

1. Find the right beta readers

The most important thing you can do to glean constructive feedback from your beta readers is to recruit the right beta readers. And it all starts with your pitch.

After you’ve found your source of beta readers have a quick look at what other writers are doing to attract the readers they need. Your prospective beta readers will want to know a little about what they are getting into. Your pitch should set out your work’s word count, what genre it is, and if you have a deadline for feedback. Include your elevator pitch – a couple of sentences laying out what your writing is about. It is what will really attract interested readers.

I take all of this into account when I'm considering offering to beta read for someone.

Is the work in a genre I enjoy and have a respectable knowledge of? I am widely read, but I am not going to take on a detective novel, because it is not a genre I read. I would not be a typical reader of your story, and I wouldn’t be able to give you informed opinions on it.

Consider asking to connect with your beta readers on Goodreads or other readers' apps, if they have an account. A quick look around their profile will tell you a lot about their reading habits and allows you to consider their comments with that in mind. (You can find my Goodreads profile here. Yes, I am a colossal nerd.)

As your beta reader, I need to determine if I can read your 150,000-word epic before your deadline. Try to make your deadline realistic and remember that a beta reader is not just sitting back and doing a leisurely read. I am reading with care and taking notes, so it takes me longer than reading a book for pleasure.

Short stories can take longer than their word count suggests. It’s a form in which every single word must justify itself, so I read short stories with extra care and probably several times before I consider my final feedback. (It’s a form I love, by the way).

2. Consider directing your beta readers towards a particular issue

You don’t have to use beta readers for a response to your complete work. You can ask their opinions on a specific issue or a section of your writing.

I have done several readings of alternative openings for novels. Some were blind readings, in which I knew nothing about the story. The writers wanted an opinion on which version was more gripping or what expectations they created for the novel. In other cases, I was given more information about the story and asked which version was a better introduction.

You may decide to direct your readers' attention by asking them to respond to a series of questions. If you know your weaknesses or have received earlier feedback with reservations about particular elements of your story, this targeted approach can be more efficient. Just be aware that it may divert your readers' attention and lose you valuable observations that they may have made without direction.

3. Make it easy for the beta reader to write comments on your work

I prefer to beta read using a format that allows me to insert comments into the documents as I’m reading. The formats I see most frequently are Word, Google Docs, PDFs and StoryOrigin beta copies. All make it quick and easy for me to insert comments alongside your writing, so I can let you know what is going through my head as I’m reading.

I gather all my thoughts into a neat report at the end of the process but do not underestimate the value of those raw first impressions. They can alert you to a misleading description, a confusing plot point or a poorly constructed sentence.

Not all beta readers will comment in such detail, but those who do can tell you a lot about how your writing is performing – so make it easy for them.

4. Look through the beta reader’s feedback, and follow up with them quickly

Don’t leave it too long before you have a detailed look through your beta reader's feedback and get in contact with them. Most beta readers will be happy to expand on their thoughts or explain anything you don’t understand in their comments. But beta readers consume a lot of writing, and memories of your work will quickly fade in the excitement of the next story. So, follow up quickly to get the most helpful responses.

5. Acknowledge your beta readers

You never know when you’re going to want to call on your beta readers again, and if you’ve had a positive experience with one, it pays to keep them happy. As a beta reader, I’m not expecting to be lavished with praise – you’ve done most of the work, after all. But a simple ‘thank you’ acknowledges the hours I have put in and makes it more likely that I would be happy to read for you again.

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