Beta Reading — a guide for readers and writers.

I love beta reading. When it’s done properly and well, it can be hugely valuable for both writers and readers. 

Writers get to gain important feedback and advice from others who enjoy their genre. Readers gain an outlet for their knowledge, passion and opinions. Luckily, my experience with beta reading has always been positive and fun. I believe that’s because of my understanding of the beta reading process, and what makes a good beta reader. I wanted to expand on the process, and create a little guide for you, whether you’re a writer or a reader, new to the process, or experienced in the process.

I’m going to write a section for readers and a section for writers, so you can read the part that applies to you — of course though, you can feel free to read it all! 

Being a beta reader
(readers perspective)  

So, you love reading, and you want to use that love to become a beta reader. Or, you are already a beta reader and you want to find something shiny and new. The best way I find writers to help is through Twitter. I simply search “beta reader” and scroll until I find something that fits the bill and could interest me. I then comment and let the writer know that I’m interested, and that they can DM me if they want to talk more. 

Alternatively, I’ve also found people through the writing forums on NaNoWriMo. This is a really great site for writers, with a dedicated forum for beta reading.  

Once the writer shows interest, you need to make sure their book will be a good fit for you. If you enjoy reading pretty much anything, it makes it a lot easier. But, if you know that you don’t like a certain genre then there’s not much point in beta reading because you probably don’t fit the intended audience, it’s likely you won’t enjoy the writing, and you could be biased in your comments. This is unfair for the author and a waste of your time.  

If you think you’ll be a good fit and the book definitely interests you ask the writer some questions to ensure that you can provide the best feedback possible.

Find out if there’s a time frame to work within and if there’s anything specific to focus on. This could be plot pace, descriptions, world-building or showing not telling. Also, ask if they want any work on typos, punctuation or grammar. Check what format the manuscript will be sent in. I find Google Docs or MS Word best. Pass on your email and wait!  

Once I’ve been sent the manuscript, I start reading and comment as I go along. Unless I have a particular focus, I focus on: 

  • What makes me feel emotion.  
  • Where more description is needed. 
  • Where a character needs emoting. 
  • Where to reduce, go more in-depth or provide more emphasis. 
  • Opinions on characters. 
  • What I enjoy, this can be in general or could be a specific sentence.  
  • What needs to be developed further or changed.
  • The plot and the pace of the plot.  

 I aim for easily understood and friendly yet constructive comments. Often, I’ll use a highlighting system for comments. Usually, I split my highlighting into a different colour for sentences or paragraphs that don’t make sense or could be better worded, writing that could do with being expanded or reduced and things that I really like; the things that cause me to feel emotion. At the top of the manuscript, I place a colour key.

For every comment, I give reasoning and suggestions. I’d never just write “this is confusing”, because the writer wouldn’t know why it confused me, or what would make it less confusing for me. Be sure to explain everything.

With everything I beta read, alongside giving constructive feedback and giving reasoning, I think it’s important to write what you enjoy or like. If you send something back full of things you don’t like, or improvements to be made, it will be disheartening for a writer, even though they usually ask for feedback knowing it won’t all be positive. They’ve still put in their effort, time and imagination and in my opinion, that should be celebrated where possible.    

Once I’ve finished commenting, I write a summary of my overall thoughts at the top of the manuscript. I start with what I enjoyed most, then briefly explain the main things that I‘ve noticed the writer could focus on developing or improving. I can usually tell what needs to be put here because I’ve commented on it throughout the manuscript. I’ll then finish off with another thing I liked. 

Make sure that you double-check your comments before sending the manuscript back, there shouldn’t be errors and they should be clear. Alongside sending it back I’ll let the writer know that I enjoyed their writing, and to message me if they need any clarification on something I’ve written or if they want to provide any explanations.  

Using a beta reader
(writers perspective)  

Once you’ve got a manuscript or you have something to be beta read, I suggest that you use social media to find readers. Twitter in particular. Some writing sites like NaNoWriMo have forums dedicated to beta reading. Write a friendly post or tweet explaining what and who you’re looking for. Be sure to specify your genre and word count. If you’re using Twitter, hashtags like #betareader or #WritingCommunity will help spread the word.
Hopefully, you’ll get replies from those who are interested, or recommendations. Some people might direct message you. If they’ve replied in a comment, write back saying that you’ll direct message them with more information. Within that message, expand on what your book is about, and make sure the reader’s interested in your genre.

You need beta readers who enjoy your genre. If they don’t, their feedback may be biased toward that dislike, which isn’t helpful or nice for you. I know that you might want as much feedback as you can get, but I think it’s better to avoid beta readers who wouldn’t chose your book in real life. I want beta readers who provide me with feedback that’s valuable because it’s come from someone interested and reading for enjoyment as well as wanting to advise you.

Once you’re sure they’re the right fit, specify any particulars you need commenting on, the format of your manuscript and a time frame they need to stick to if you have one. If you just want general comments on everything and anything, that’s absolutely fine. If you don’t need any focus on grammar etc, tell them. If you want them to focus on character development or showing not telling, tell them. That’ll help you get better advice.

Once you’ve explained all of this, and your reader is happy with everything, send them the manuscript and wait! Be sure to thank the person and let them know that they can always ask you questions. 

Once you’ve got your manuscript back, go through the comments. Write down what’s valuable, and what you will take on board. Don’t take criticism too much to heart, you need to know what your audience wants, and that includes what can be improved. Hopefully, their comments are understandable and constructive so you can then begin to work from them. 

When I’m a beta reader, I’m always sure to let the person know they can come back to me if they need any comments clarifying, or if they want to explain why something is written in a certain way. Feel free to ask the reader if you can do this too.  

As a writer and an editor/proofreader, I would suggest always doing the beta reading process before going into editing yourself or using an editor. By using beta readers first, you can make adjustments and rewrites at your own pace. Plus, you won’t spend more money on getting an edit, then needing another edit on things you’ve changed because of a beta reader.   

To conclude…

Beta reading should be something helpful and fun, something which gives something back for both sides.

It helps those book worms amongst us to have an outlet for their knowledge and passion, and it helps writers to connect more to their intended audience, and gain that all-important manuscript feedback. To me, it’s usually a win-win process.

I hope that this post is inspiring and helpful for you, whether you’re a writer or a reader. If you’ve read this and you need a beta reader, or have any other questions please let me know! You can follow me on twitter and ask me more there.

Published by Amy Ollerton

Hi! I'm Amy—a professional copy editor and proofreader living in the beautiful Scottish Highlands. I provide friendly, personalised services that boost writing while retaining the author's unique style and voice. I write a little myself, shown through my blog. Alongside my work, I read books, enjoy baking, and explore the Highlands with my partner and my dog, Lula. If you've ever any editing queries, feel free to get in touch!

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