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What is a Beta Reader for Books?

Updated on May 10, 2017
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Heidi Thorne is a self publishing expert, author of 21 (and counting!) business books and eBooks, and a former trade newspaper editor.

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What Does a Beta Reader Do?

A beta reader for a book is someone who will read your book manuscript prior to publishing. The goal is to get early feedback on your work from readers who fit an ideal reader profile or who are professional editors familiar with your book's genre and topic. Their feedback is used to make changes to the manuscript to make it more appealing or useful for the book's target audience.

Who Qualifies as a Beta Reader?

Ideally, your beta readers should have an understanding or appreciation for the type of book you are publishing and its subject matter.

Asking uninformed individuals could prove to be a frustrating and futile exercise. They may require a great deal of explanation which will waste your time. Or they may make rude and irrelevant comments that could be very demotivating. In the worst case, they might provide confusing feedback which could lead you to make unnecessary and damaging edits.

How to Find Beta Readers for Manuscripts

First, scan your personal network of colleagues, family, and friends (online and offline) for people qualified to read your work as amateur beta readers.

Should that prove fruitless, you may wish to hire and pay for a professional editor (NOT proofreader!) to critique your manuscript. Note that a critique or beta reading is not a full scale edit. Nor does it look at grammar, spelling, and other "mechanical" issues. A critique merely looks at the story, message, and/or structure of the book and how it would appeal to a ideal reader. Professional editors can be found online on freelance sites such as Fiverr.com.

What is Expected of a Beta Reader?

If you tell a professional editor that you want him to beta read or critique your manuscript, he should know what to do (but you should clarify just in case).

However, amateur beta readers may not understand what's expected at all. Therefore, provide your amateurs with a list of questions that you'd like them to answer about your manuscript. This will help you get the feedback you need to move forward.

Typical manuscript aspects that you may wish to have them review include:

  • Clarity. Is the story or message clear?
  • Cohesiveness. Do all parts of the book fit together?
  • Continuity. Similar to cohesiveness, do all parts of the book progress logically and naturally to the conclusion?
  • Content. Would this material be of use or value for the intended audience?
  • Voice. Does the book sound like the author actually wrote it? Or does it seem inauthentic and unnatural?

This list is not exhaustive of the aspects that could be evaluated. If there are particular concerns to be addressed, alert your beta readers accordingly.

What's the Difference Between a Beta Reader and a Book Reviewer?

There is a major difference between beta readers and book reviewers! Beta readers are providing feedback to help make changes to the manuscript prior to it going into the marketplace. Conversely, book reviewers are providing a public opinion of the book after it is available for sale.

Think of it this way: Beta readers can help you make a book better to help it sell better. Book reviewers opinions can influence sales, either positively or negatively. So both impact the success and sales of a book, just in different ways.

Tip: When enlisting the help of amateur beta readers, it is wise to remind them that you are looking for their pre-publication feedback and not a review.

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What Does a Beta Reader Charge?

If you recruit family and friends as amateur beta readers, many of them may be willing to do this for free, saving you money for other costs of self publishing.

However, if you hire professionals, they will charge for their services. Prices vary widely, but are usually charged by the word. Scan sites such as Fiverr.com and Upwork.com to get an idea of what editors are currently charging for this service. Don't hesitate to ask questions before hiring since many may figure you want the more expensive full scale edit or even proofreading. Even with professionals, it's advisable to clarify objectives for the project.

How Many Beta Readers Should You Hire?

Hiring multiple beta readers can provide richer insight on your manuscript. Having a professional editor critique your work, with possibly a couple additional amateur readers, may be enough. Be aware that having too many beta readers could flood you with so much feedback that analysis paralysis could set in. As well, it could push you to make many unnecessary changes.

Also, remember that beta readings don't replace editing and proofreading. So get through the beta stage as quickly as possible because there's a lot more work to do after that!

Should You Have Your Beta Readers Read the Whole Book?

Ideally, your beta readers should be allowed to read the whole book manuscript so they can comment on the structure and flow of the entire work. But you may also wish to have their input at earlier stages in the book's development.

Some authors may be concerned that their unpublished manuscript may be leaked by beta readers. Particularly with friends and family, it could be an issue. It doesn't hurt to remind both professional and amateur beta readers that your manuscript is confidential. Putting an obvious "Confidential: Do Not Share" (or similar message) watermark on the pages of your manuscript document could also serve as a reminder.

Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne

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    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 4 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Lawrence! Glad to hear you had a positive experience with your beta reader. Like editors, they can point out things that you can't when you're so close to your work. Thanks for sharing your story with us! Have a great weekend!

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      Lawrence Hebb 4 months ago

      Heidi

      I used a 'beta' reader for my last book which turned out great as they were able to help me in areas I hadn't thought of. The result was a much more 'authentic' book.

      Great Hub

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 5 months ago from Chicago Area

      You're welcome, Suhail! Cheers!

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 5 months ago from Mississauga, ON

      "Think of it like the movies. Sites like Rotten Tomatoes give both a critics score and a viewers score. As a professional editor, I would give a critic's type score. Your friends would give a viewer's score. Does that help?"

      Perfect! Best advice ever! Thanks.

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 5 months ago from Chicago Area

      Suhail, great question! Actually, I would use both. I do professional critique/beta reading. My clients get my objective, third-party opinion which can help them get their books ready for the rigors of the marketplace. However, friends can provide the "man on the street" type viewpoint on your work. Regular folks are going to be your actual readers. So their opinion is valuable.

      Think of it like the movies. Sites like Rotten Tomatoes give both a critics score and a viewers score. As a professional editor, I would give a critic's type score. Your friends would give a viewer's score. Does that help?

      Thanks for bringing up that aspect of the issue! Have a wonderful day!

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 5 months ago from Mississauga, ON

      Hi Heidi,

      I had a question though.You may have responded to it, but I wanted to know from your own experience which option is better - a paid professional Reader or a friend? I think a friend may be knowing me personally and could offer help at a personal level, but a professional Reader may be more objective coming from a neutral angle.

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 5 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Suhail! Yep, it appears your brother was unofficially a beta reader. And it sounds like he did just what he was supposed to. Glad he was able to steer you in the right direction and that you were brave enough to accept his input. Thanks so much for adding your experience to the conversation! Have a great day!

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 5 months ago from Mississauga, ON

      It is the first time I am hearing about 'Beta Reader' and there is great information in your article.

      My younger brother read drafts of some of my political writings 2 years ago and advised to eschew from that area due to various sensitivities involved. I think he had taken on the role of 'Beta Reader' without our knowing it :-) Needless to mention, I had heeded his advice.

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 5 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi AliciaC! Appreciate you stopping by and your kind words. Have a beautiful weekend!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 5 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      You've shared some very useful information, as always, Heidi. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience.

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 5 months ago from Chicago Area

      Thanks, Larry, for the kind words! Have a great day!

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 5 months ago from Oklahoma

      Great definition article:-)

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 5 months ago from Chicago Area

      Billybuc, while being busy may not may YOU happy, I'm sure your bank account is smiling. :) Thanks for taking a moment to stop by and say hi! Hang in there and have a wonderful day!

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 5 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi grand old lady! Glad you found the information helpful. It is a newer term that's being used for pre-publication readings. Thanks so much for taking time to read and comment! Have a beautiful day!

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 5 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi MsDora! Other terms such as reviewer (though not correct) can often be used for the beta reader function. So it's not surprising that the term may be unfamiliar. Glad you found it helpful. Thanks for stopping by and have a beautiful day!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      For the first time in seven years, I'm too busy with clients to do my fiction writing, and that does not make Bill a happy man. :) What that has to do with this I have no idea...great information as always.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 5 months ago from Philippines

      This is very informative and useful. It's the first time I heard of a beta reader, and I'm very grateful to you for such a helpful article.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 5 months ago from The Caribbean

      The term "Beta Reader"is not even familiar to me. Thanks you very much for this helpful information.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 5 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Kristen! Kudos to you for using beta readers AND using social media to recruit! One of the things I see authors do is rely too heavily on their friends and family who may not truly be qualified to evaluate manuscripts. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and insight with us. Have a great day!

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 5 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great article Heidi. I have betas for all of my novels. I mostly have gotten some from a recent twitter pitch contest for my current manuscript. Very useful and insightful for beginner writers.

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 5 months ago from Chicago Area

      Flourish, I have to say that you've always been such an inspiration for follow-up posts! I'm so thankful to have you in my HP tribe. I've added the "how to be a beta reader" topic to my "posts I have to do" list. So stay tuned. You're the best!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 5 months ago from USA

      This was very useful, particularly the advice on where to find them and direction to provide on beta reader responsibilities. A nice follow-up article to this one might be advice to beta readers on giving pre-publication feedback (especially because writers are so close to their work), how to be a good beta reader with respect to turn around times etc., how to turn down (usually free) projects that do not interest you or that you do not have time for, etc. Just an idea! You're such a smart, business savvy lady.