Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Beta Readers and Where to Find them

Beta readers: what are they and where do you find them?

Firstly, alpha and beta readers aren't the same thing. An alpha reader is someone who reads your draft and helps you with story development as you write it. You need someone qualified to analyze story structure with knowledge of the expectations of your genre. A terrific, qualified critique group can serve as your alpha readers. There are many places to connect with other writers willing to work together, virtually as well as in person. I built my critique group by going to local writing events.

Finding Your Tribe

A beta reader is someone who reads your completed, polished novel and spots problems. They react to the content. Some authors consult sensitivity / diversity readers to evaluate their content for political correctness.

Please note that alpha and beta readers are not a replacement for editing, though they catch typos. Unless your critique partners are experienced editors willing to work for free, it is best to find an editor to work with your final, final draft. There is no point in paying an editor until you have input from beta readers and/or critique partners.

Mastering Revision

It helps to have more than one beta reader, but there is such a thing as too many. Every reader comes to your story with their own history, issues, biases, preferences, and pet peeves. Too many opinions will drive you insane. I suggest careful selection of three beta readers. You need, at the very least, one person unfamiliar with your story to make sure the story in your head made it onto the page. The entire story world, characters' backstories, and plot points are available to you as you read the story. That can be a weakness with critique partners. They know the story from inception too. A beta reader catches muddy motive, continuity errors, and missing information. You can do twenty proofreading rounds and still find mistakes. A beta reader will catch a few, but that isn't their primary function.

There are qualities to look for. They should enjoy your genre. If your plot isn't their thing, it will be unpleasant for both of you. It should be someone who enjoys reading, a lot. If they are a writer/reader you hit the jackpot. They should be able to communicate clearly, to specifically tell you what they like and don't like. They should not wish to rewrite your story with their opinions. Everybody wants to write a novel, until it becomes work. Some will read for emotion, others logic. They need to have the time to devote to the process.

Never ask a beta reader to pay for a copy of the book. Depending on their contribution, you may give them an honorable mention in the dedication or author's notes. Asking friends and family to serve as free beta readers is attractive, but they may not give you honest feedback. They may give extremely harsh feedback based on how they feel about you on that day. OMG, that's me isn't it? Is that so and so? But this happened in real life! You want someone who preferably doesn't know you and can give unemotional feedback. Once you gain a following of devoted fans, they may volunteer to be beta readers.

When you contract with a beta reader, be clear in your expectations, timeline, and how you will handle feedback. Are you allowed to ask follow-up questions? Will they take a second look at something? You don't get to ask them for continual advice or request endless reading passes. Shooting out defensive emails isn't professional nor will it help you either. A signed contract is not standard practice. I found a few links, but have not verified their contents with an intellectual rights attorney.

Sample NDA for Beta Readers

Confidentiality Agreement

When you receive feedback, you need to see it as a tool in your arsenal. My rule of thumb is if one person responds a certain way, I may ignore it. If two or more people mention the same thing, I pay attention and fix it. Give them at least several weeks. Reading for analysis is different from reading for pleasure. Are they reacting to craft or their emotions and prejudices?

Do they want a digital file or a printed file? How will they receive it? If they work with an e-file, they can't make notes within a PDF or EPUB format. That forces them to take notes on an electronic device or paper. Ask if they would prefer a Word document or other word processing format. I prefer to analyze a story in Word with comments and track changes turned on. Provide them with a list of questions. It will help focus their attention. Agree on what happens to the file or document upon completion, not that you can guarantee a copy was not made.

A thank you goes a long way when they have finished the project. If you are an impossible client, they not only won't work with you again, they may go negative on social media. If the deadline passes and you haven't heard from them, check in. They are human beings and we are in the midst of a global pandemic. Don't assume they are being difficult. If, for some reason, they aren't keeping to their end of the deal (when you aren't paying them), move on. There is no point in badgering them. If you are paying, know what your remedies are based on your work agreement.

Story Analysis Questionnaire 

Learning from Story Analysis

Beta Reader Ettiquette

Do you need to worry about plagiarism and piracy? Yes and no. Though your work is copyrighted as you write it, there are a lot of unscrupulous people pirating traditional as well as self-published work. They change a few details and upload it as their own, much like the infamous cut and paste thief in the Romance community. It is crucial to get a beta reader you can trust. Most beta readers are not working with a signed agreement. Nevertheless, most book lovers are reliable. They know they could get sued if caught as well. You can't stop someone from buying a copy of your book and typing it on another device, can you? Trust but verify.

The Cut and Paste Thief and What To Do If You've Been Plagiarized

It is possible to find writers who are willing to exchange beta reads. It is possible to find avid readers who love the genre and will happily read new books. Check out Facebook groups dedicated to your genre that allow requests.

So where do you turn when you don't know where to start?

There are multiple online resources for finding and/or hiring a beta reader. If you don't have a personal network, it may be worth it to pay someone. The following is a list of links to help you find a beta reader. I cannot personally endorse them based on experience. I have a great critique group. This is simply for awareness. Always do your research. I find it helps to search for the "name of beta reader or group" + "complaints" or "reviews." It is easier to find complaints than compliments.

https://www.fiverr.com/categories/writing-translation/beta-reader

https://www.upwork.com/hire/beta-reading-freelancers/

https://absolutewrite.com/forums/index.php?forums/beta-readers-mentors-and-writing-buddies.30/

Beta Readers and Critique Partners on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1782619931753141/

https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/50920-beta-reader-group

http://mywriterscircle.com/

https://writerfulbooks.com/free-beta-readers/

https://indiestoday.com/beta-reading-list/

https://thejerny.com/jobs/get-a-job-as-a-freelance-beta-reader/

If you have an unpleasant experience, learn from it but don't let it stop you from seeking the help you need. Beta readers are worthwhile assets.


Posted by Diana Hurwitz, author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.



5 comments :

  1. Great information and fabulous resources, Diana. Thank you for sharing. This is a keeper. :-)

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  2. Thanks for the valuable information, Diana. I need a couple of beta readers for my next, and probably my last, book, so this post is timely.

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  3. I have a favorite beta reader who loves to read lots of genres but she is not a writer. Writers and non-writers see a story differently, so the non-writer POV is very valuable.

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    Replies
    1. Interesting point, Patricia, but does the non-writer find craft issues like a writer would? When I've had beta readers, they have been writers who helped immensely with craft.

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  4. Great resources, Diana. Thanks for putting this together.

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