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What is a Beta Reader & Where Do I Find One?

I received the following question via e-mail:

I wonder, have you blogged about how one goes about finding Beta Readers? I looked around your website but couldn't find anything, but I seem to recall from a past post of yours that you do have and value BRs. I'm a bit abashed to say I don't really know what a Beta Reader is.

A beta reader is, essentially, someone who reads your work and offers input while it is in draft form.  Generally, they look for typos, grammatical errors, continuity issues, etc. in order to help improve and polish your work before its submitted to a publishing professional or made public.  A lot of beta readers will do more than check for typographical errors, however, and will extend their generosity and time by critiquing and commenting on plot issues, characterization, believability, overall feeling, etc.  Whatever they find that they feel could use improving.  Mostly, it depends on what you want and what you and your beta reader(s) agree to.  If you're particular and/or thin-skinned, the more up front you are regarding the kind of beta reader and feedback you're looking for, the better the experience you'll have. 

Oftentimes, beta readers will turn into critique partners if you're well-matched and find yourself returning to them as a reader/critiquer.   This can be an excellent arrangement if your partner continues to be as blunt and unbiased toward your work as they were originally.

As for finding beta readers, my advice is to sign up for a writing forum like Absolute Write and to post in the appropriate section that you're looking for beta readers.  Often times, writers looking for beta readers will offer to do the same in return.  If you're not already a member, you're likely to get a better response if you post around the forum for a while first.  Get involved, make a name for yourself, give back. 

Another way to find beta readers is to use your blog, if you have one.  Just put a post up detailing what you're looking for.  Some of your regular readers might be more than happy to help. 

Basically, If you have a way to connect with other writers, use it.  If you don't, start putting yourself out there and network.

In my opinion, it's good to use both non-writers and writers for beta readers as they'll approach the task differently, so don't be afraid to use your family and friends as well.  Just don't solely rely on them.  Unbiased advice from someone who knows the ins and outs of writing has its benefits.

Now, let's turn the question over to everyone else.  Where do you find your beta readers? What do they generally do for you?

39 comments:

  1. I found two beta readers through my blog--just by making friends and then realizing we wrote similar genres. My critique group I found through a contest on another blog.

    Generally, my beta readers provide overall feedback (big picture stuff) then my critique partners dig in deeper and give me more detailed input.

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  2. My beta readers are my CPs and I found them all on OWW.
    http://sff.onlinewritingworkshop.com/

    I'm very particular about my reviewers because I don't want cheerleaders, but rather people who can be thorough observers and articulate enough to show me my weak spots.

    It took me six months to find the kind of reviewers I needed. And we've been together almost three years now.

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  3. I found my beta readers / writing friends in the QueryTracker forum, a place similar to Absolute Write.

    They read for me, letting me know if what I've got is worth throwing to the query trenches or needs more work.

    They are awesome!

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    1. I'm looking for a beta reader, but I have no idea where to start looking. I tried looking at query tracker, but couldn't find where it was.

      Thank you,
      Megan McLaren

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    2. Megan,

      This is the QT Forum

      http://querytracker.net/forum/

      This is the AbsoluteWrite forum:

      http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/index.php

      Both have areas where you can find beta readers.

      Or, if you'd like me to put up a post for you on the blog here, feel free to e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com.

      Good luck!

      ~Casey

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    3. I would love to become a beta reader how do I get started

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    4. Debra,

      I haven't posted for anyone looking for readers in a bit. If you sign up for the AbsoluteWrite forum posted above, there are always people looking for readers there.

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  4. Great post! I have found my beta readers online at a writing forum. However, I haven't really officially had anyone read anything all the way through, I'm not that far yet. I do enjoy someone who can add a few positive comments as well as be brutally honest about everything.

    I also have a great friend that I moved away from who is an avid reader, but doesn't write. I enjoy getting her feedback because it's very honest and deeper than the technicalities of the writing.

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  5. Great post. I met my first beta reader while volunteering at my son's school. She was a published novelist, we got to talking writing, and she asked to see my stuff. I shyly sent her a few pages. Then, she asked to read the whole thing. I've paid that gift forward to others because it was HUGE that she did that for me.

    Critique groups are amazing, but I agree w/Roni, someone who sees the whole thing at once catches big pic. stuff. I've found my newer beta readers via conferences or online. Your post provides great guidelines.

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  6. My friends.

    I'm actually serious. I get my harshest, most accurate feedback from my friends. I'm talking people I know in person, here, though admittedly my best beta now lives in another state. These people very kindly admit they despite my narrator or scold me for a detail impossibility to my face. I <3 them.

    Different friends provide different input for different projects. One's nice at picking out conflicting details as long as the project doesn't have a vampire in it. One friend hates unreliable narrators and tends to be pretty dense as far as foreshadowing's concerned, so she's my litmus test for people naturally opposed to how I write. A few offer whatever they feel like and have time for—be it detail checks, grammar nitpicks, or "I know your narrator's paranoid, but will she STOP WHINING, ALREADY??!!"

    Several of my friends likewise write, see. My best beta tends to write sappy paranormals, and I tend to do the dark end. We're both trying to avoid extremes, so we balance each other out. I'm sensitive to when she gets too sappy, and she notices when I've gotten too morbid.

    I'm not averse to having online betas. But I tend to use them after I'm fairly comfortable with a scene, since whenever you put something online some grammar nerd will eagerly attack my work with a red pen, and I don't want to waste that person's time with a 1st draft for things I'll easily catch myself later. (Yes, I'm the same Carradee who's in the writer's section of Patricia Briggs' forum.)

    I'm blessed with an incredible number of betas. It works out rather well, actually, since when one person's busy another one's generally free.

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    1. I'll be completely honest too. I hate using my friends as betas. Not because they give bad feedback, I wouldn't know, it's because they take forever. I gave two of them the first few chapters of my novel a year ago and they have yet to read them.

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  7. A timely post! I'll be looking for readers soon. OWW is a possibility since my work is fantasy. I like the idea of putting out a call on my blog, too.

    If you're strictly a children's writer, Verla Kay's board is another site to check.

    Thanks, Casey.

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  8. I found critique partners on Forward Motion, founded by Holly Lisle. www.fmwriters.com

    On forums like FM, you are encouraged to critique short stories - and post a few of your own - so beta readers can decide if you are compatible.

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  9. What a great post! I could have written Carradee's response almost word for word.

    Three great friends of mine (only one of whom is a writer) form my slushy beta group; 2/3 of them are HS English teachers, and they tell me when things are really, truly awful but provide me with enough encouragement to move to the next step.

    Then my brother, my BFF (who just signed with Barbara Poelle!), and a friend from high school form the core of my 2nd draft beta group. They are ruthless and fabulous.

    Then I have a motley crew of friends- adults and teens- who beta read completed drafts in bunches for coherency, consistency, and typos (since my core group of six have usually seen things a gabajillion times). I am saving one group of friends at the end for a final, presubmission, fresh-eyed group.

    I am seriously, seriously lucky to have such great friends.

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  10. My betas are my mom (a high school English and creative writing teacher), a couple friends who read my genre, and someone I met on QueryTracker.net just like Elana. Head over! QT rocks!

    Each of my betas does something different, but I gotta say my mom is my harshest and most helpful critic. And she keeps me from going overboard with my characters' foul language and bad behavior.

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  11. What a helpful post. I finished the umteenth draft of my first novel this past spring and spent the summer gathering beta readers. Besides several non-writing friends and relatives, I had four fellow writers - all of whom I met on Nathan Bransford's blog and/or The Public Query Slushpile - beta-read my ms, and the experience was invaluable. I returned the favor to one, am working on the ms of another, and am ready and willing to read the other two mss when they're done.

    I can't imagine going through this pre-publication process without betas. Their advice - all broad strokes - has been so helpful (if hard to hear at times), whereas I tend to be a line-by-line kinda beta, better with grammar and spelling than the big plot/character issues. Which is obviously why I need betas of my own. ;-)

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  12. I have a critique group, so I get (and give) input on individual chapters once a month, or entire novels when they are ready. We've been together for several years, and have grown together as writers and critiquers. We're all members of SCBWI-Michigan.

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  13. Blogging has been my number one source of beta readers, both from blogs I read and from those who read my blog. When you exchange comments with people and reads posts they've written, it helps you get a good feel for what kind of critiquer they will most likely be.

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  14. GREAT responses, everyone! Keep em' coming.

    I found my beta reader / critique partners through Absolute Write and blogging!

    In the future, I'll probably use my blog to find more when I need some fresh eyes.

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  15. Very interesting post. It seems there is a need for a beta reader dating agency!

    This is certainly something I feel the need for. I think I might blog about it too and see if I can find someone that way ...

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  16. This is the link to Verla Kay's site:

    http://www.verlakay.com/boards/index.php

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  17. I tend to find many of my beta readers through different forums I have been involved in. I, in particular, have written fanfiction in the past, so I found many of my betas just within the site itself. On fanfiction.net, there is a list of beta readers who love reading your work. And I'm sure that many of them have original fiction in the list of things they love to read. That's been a handy resource for me.

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  18. Thank you. I've been looking for a beta reader for some time and had no idea how to accomplish such a task. The recommendations are so helpful, please keep them coming. Also recommendations of critique groups would be greatly desired as well. Thanks kindly.

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    1. Hey I'm looking to start beta reading. You could contact me !

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  19. This is great--It was a mystery to me as to where to find beta readers. Thank you-- mystery solved.

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  20. Thank you for this post. Back when I edited fiction, I sometimes told authors that they didn't need to hire me yet. Instead, they needed to find beta readers. How? I don't know. If I did I'd have some for my own novels.

    Problem solved. Thanks again.

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  21. I have had some beta readers come from fandoms that I'm in and only to lose them a few weeks to a few months later. I have been searching for new ones for the past 2 years.

    Sometimes, you have to beta read your own stories yourself, which I have done. But I'm hoping to find ones that will stick with me to the end.

    Beth

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Beth! I occasionally put up "Wanted Ads" on here for people looking for beta readers and critique partners. If you write YA or kidlit and that sounds like something you'd like to do, feel free to shoot me an e-mail.

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    2. Hey I'm looking at starting to beta read. Please contact me!

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  22. You can also check here for beta readers and critique groups http://www.worldliterarycafe.com/content/looking-beta-readers-or-critique-group

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  23. Some one recommended Perfect imagination http://www.perfectimagination.co.uk/
    But I've been trying all month and have received no response. Any idea what's up?

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    Replies
    1. yeah, they had to close their site. They are starting from scratch now, so you can try again. =)

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  24. I will, happily volunteer to be a beta reader if anyone needs one.

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    1. I'm definitely looking for beta readers, Debby and am more than happy to return the favor.

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    2. I'm perfectly willing to volunteer as a beta reader !

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  25. Great suggestions, I'll check out some of the sites mentioned above. I'm also willing to be a beta reader.

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  26. Great Post.

    I am looking for a few beta readers to give feedback on an upper mg, humorous fantasy I am about to start hitting the query trenches with.

    I have an awesome critique partner who has been a real gem and now I just want to polish, polish and polish some more :)

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  27. Great topic - I'm an author who had a very good experience with beta readers. So good that I put together a bulletin board, www.betareader.us, for readers and authors. There are over 400 beta readers on the board willing and ready to go. What we need is more authors to know about the board, so I'm trying to spread the word.

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