Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Beta Readers - What do they do?

Why Beta Read?

Beta Reading is one way to help a writer and it is a good way to get the first look at a new book. The process of analyzing stories can also help you be a better story teller if you are, or want to be, a writer.

What is Beta Reading?

It is reading an unpublished (but finished) book in order to provide authors with reader feedback before publication. The purpose is to test characterization, setting, plot and other story ingredients. It is NOT line editing. Here’s what writers consider when looking for Beta Readers to help them improve their book.

Family or close friends are often not the best Beta Readers. Generally, friends and family are the least objective in the world for manuscript reading purposes. Additionally, telling a family-friend-writer you don’t like their work is difficult. What if it damages your relationship? Or you might say too much, too harshly and actually cause an interpersonal problem.


Who should Beta Read?

However if you have some or all of these criteria, you may be just what is needed.
  •   You have studied the craft of writing and can identify problems and explain them.
       e.g. confusing, out of character, out of sequence, too vague 
  •  When you like the story, you can explain why.  
  •  You are familiar with [an avid reader in] the genre and understand the current conventions of the marketplace for that type of book.
  • You will be honest, marking both the good and the bad.
  • You will be kind in your presentation using phrases like: this confuses me; sorry, but right here –I wanted to stop reading or - this bit made me laugh - is that what you intended?
  • You are willing to take the time necessary to provide feedback.

Many writers will help your process by providing specific questions. Often it’s a list for you to simply read before you start the book. You can then set it aside and come back to it after you are done reading.

The questions might cover: characters, setting, plot, pacing and the appeal of the story.
Some general examples are:
  • -          After reading my manuscript, how would you describe my main character?
  • -          Was there any part that triggered laughter, tears, anger or confusion?
  • -          Was there a spot in the book where you wanted to put it down? (Where?)
  • -          Did you find any part of the book unbelievable or annoying?
  • -          Could you “see” where the story takes place?
  • -          If you paid the going rate for this book, would you be happy you spent the money?

Find out more:

Here are two sites that discuss Beta Readers and how writers can work with them to help improve their book. If you’ve been asked to Beta Read, or would like to be asked, check them out. If you are choosing Beta Readers, learn more.

If you were to Beta Read, what genre would you prefer to read?


  1. Excellent post! If I were to Beta Read, I would prefer to read cozy mysteries and contemporary women's fiction.

  2. Thanks for joining in, Joanne. I'm with you - cozy mysteries and contemporary women's fiction would be on my list. Not surprising I suppose, given that that is also the are in which I write.