What is a Beta Reader? How to Hire One and 10 Questions to Ask

POSTED ON Dec 19, 2023

Shannon Clark

Written by Shannon Clark

Home > Blog > Editorial > What is a Beta Reader? How to Hire One and 10 Questions to Ask

As an author, knowing what your reader wants is a challenge that most writers face. Is my story believable? Are my characters likable? Does the pacing work? Do my plot points work? We face so many questions, but the truth is, there's only one way to know what they think. We ask.

This article is about beta readers, what they do, and how they can help you write a better book. If you want to become one, you can find those details in this post, too.

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What is a beta reader?

A beta reader is an early reader of your book. They come after the main edits (developmental, line, copyediting, etc.) and before the book is proofread to prepare for printing. Some authors will pull readers in before copyediting, but I prefer to offer them a more polished version.

In general, beta readers are the first “audience type” to read your book and give you their opinion. They are like the practice team that comes in to get you ready to play the real game. 

Most beta readers are not professional editors; however, they are typically fans of your book’s genre, so they often bring a lot of insight to the conversation. They can tell you if there are similar books to yours already on the market, if the genre expectations were met, and other useful feedback.

What are the benefits of using a beta reader?

Feedback. Most who sign on to be early readers consider it a privilege to be one of the first to see your work before it is published. They will often point out errors you overlooked (even the teeny, tiny ones) As an author, this is w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l! When you've been working with a 75k-word manuscript, at around your 100th time reading through it, all of the words stick together and your brain begins to overlook mistakes.

Beta readers offer a fresh pair of eyes to see the smaller details that you may miss (and sometimes your editor). Human error is a reality of the book publishing business, so the more constructive support you have throughout the process the better off you’ll be.

Marketing support (street team members). When you are trying to dance with a platform’s algorithm (ahem, Amazon), getting traction during the early stages of your book’s release is key. The giant online book retailer rewards books that have a steady flow of reviews.

As part of your street team, they can help keep the review machine greased up by adding their reviews to your book’s product page when the book launches. Having early reviews also helps to get your book up on marketing sites. Many book promotion sites require a minimum of 10 reviews before they allow you to be added to their list that goes out to their subscribers.  

How to work with an early reader? 

Once you have your beta team in place, you’ll want to offer them a complimentary copy of your book, a set of clarifying questions so they’ll know what to look for when they’re reading, and a deadline for getting their responses back to you. 

Some questions to include:

  • What is your initial impression of the book?
  • Have you read anything similar to it?
  • Was the storyline believable?
  • Do you have a favorite character? If so, which one?
  • Do you have a least favorite character? If so, which one?
  • How was the pacing?
  • Were the characters developed fully?
  • Did the ending work?
  • What was your favorite part of the book?
  • Did you have a least favorite part?

You can add more or subtract from this list of questions based on your specific needs. Depending on your reader's experience, you can make the questions more advanced or switch them up if you choose to use them for a nonfiction book

FAQs about beta readers

Are alpha readers and beta readers the same?

No. An alpha reader is typically someone you know like a friend or colleague that you ask to take a look at your book after you’ve written it and before the editing process begins. Their purpose is to give you early feedback on what works and what doesn’t, so you’ll know if you need to do some rewriting before editing begins. Sometimes you don’t know what type of editing your manuscript needs. An alpha reader's feedback can help point you in the right direction. 

Why are they called beta readers?

They are given the “beta” designation because they come at the end of the book development process.

What is the difference between a proofreader and a beta reader? 

A beta reader’s job is to give a high-level overview of the book with constructive feedback often using specific questions from the author to guide them. Proofreaders are the last pair of eyes to see the book before it goes to printing. Their job is to ensure that nothing slipped through during the editing process and that all mistakes have been corrected. 

How many should I have?

The number you select is up to you. For new authors, I recommend starting with 8-10. When you’re pulling together a new team of early readers, you may have some that don’t meet your deadline for feedback, don’t finish the book, offer poor suggestions, or just aren’t a good fit. This is a good opportunity to weed out the ones that don’t work and settle on a handful of 3-5 that you can depend on for future books. 

How do I find beta readers?

Your personal network is a good place to start, but you can also find them on websites like Scribophile, popular writing groups, and Facebook groups.

Do I have to pay my beta readers? 

For casual beta readers, not typically. The general expectation is to receive a free copy of your book (hard copy or ebook) in exchange for sharing their honest feedback; however, you can find “for pay” beta readers on sites like Fiverr and Upwork.

Should every author use beta readers? 

No, they are not necessary in every case like if you’re short on time or writing about high-level subject matter where finding readers who can evaluate the content with confidence would be challenging. Nonfiction writers might find it more beneficial to hire a subject matter expert or fact-checker instead of beta readers. 

How do I become a beta reader?

Follow authors whose books you love and get on their email list. Many will reach out to their community from time to time to let them know when beta readers are needed. The same goes for their social media pages. Authors lose beta readers from time to time and need to replace them. Authors who decide to write in a new genre will need new beta readers who fit that category. 

Final Thoughts

With writing and editing, it’s easy to get so caught up in the cycle of revisions and rereading that you can miss mistakes that are right in front of you. Beta readers are an invaluable part of the book development process because they offer a fresh pair of eyes and perspective. Unlike family and friends, they are less likely to shield you from the brutal truth. 

If writing and publishing a successful book that engages your readers and keeps them coming back for future books, then beta readers are a great addition to your book publishing arsenal. They’ll help you keep the needs of your readers front and center, and make you a better writer in the process. 

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