writers / writing

#IWSG–Beta Reader? Or not?

writers groupThis post is for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers Support Group (click the link for details on what that means and how to join. You will also find a list of bloggers signed up to the challenge that are worth checking out). The first Wednesday of every month, we all post our thoughts, fears or words of encouragement for fellow writers.

This month’s insecurity – Do I have to have a beta reader?

I don’t–that’s the problem. I’ve had lots (and lots) of people, from experts to avid readers, review my current WIP, but none from start to finish in a short period of time (say, a week). What are your thoughts? Have you gotten a lot out of beta readers that you DON’T get from critique groups and writing buddies?

Thanks. I appreciate your help.

More IWSG articles:

Am I good enough? Does it matter?

Am I a Storyteller?

When does technical become boring

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

56 thoughts on “#IWSG–Beta Reader? Or not?

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  17. I’m a beta reader for an author who lives thousands of miles away from me. She writes fantasy for middle-school readers. Yes, I think beta readers are going to tell you things you won’t get from the person who reads sections just for the simple reason that the beta reader is evaluating the entire story. It’s like in music. Sure, hear a passage only can be breathtaking in itself but experiencing the whole piece fill you up. (Listen to The Pines of the Appian Way) As for how much time to give to beta readers — I would suggest 4 weeks. I know it sounds like a lot of time, but don’t forget, they have things going on in their lives.


  18. A question that comes to my mind is, “How to select your beta-reader?” And the reason I ask this question is that, in my view, there will be as many opinions as people. Thus, how do you get a beta-feedback from one, or a few, that represents the thousands you hope to reach through your book. But, to answer my own question, I guess one feedback might be better than none…


    • I’ve always felt that way, too. It’s always on us, the authors, to decide which suggestions work for us and which change our voice too much. I do listen to an outcry though–if everyone is saying the same thing.


  19. My beta readers take about a month to read something of mine. Because they read the whole thing, their notes are more helpful versus me taking a chapter at a time to my critique group. They can pinpoint repetition, inconsistencies, and voice and pacing issues by reading the whole manuscript in a given time period.


  20. Like so many have said about, betas are great for pointing out where the pace slowed down or perhaps threads that got lost while critique partners help with the nuts and bolts or grammar and formatting.


  21. Hm, that’s a good question. I have readers that comment on my stuff and then I have writer friends that comment for me. That’s the only thing that differentiates my betas from my critique partners. Both of them provide wonderful insight to my writing, but I couldn’t do it without my readers. Why? Because they are my audience. Often my writer friends will get caught up in what they would have done with the story. Even though I’ve “borrowed” from some of their suggestions, in the end the readers help me stay true to my story.

    Make sense?


  22. I’m extremely lucky to have a husband who has no interest in writing and has no problem telling me where he thinks the story is confusing, ridiculous or whatever 🙂 It’s painful at times but after he laid all the themes of my book (ones I hadn’t even noticed I knew I could trust him 🙂


  23. I love every single one of my betas. They always have such valuable insight and I don’t know what I’d do without them. Of course, I’m always ready to read for them, and I think that’s they key.


  24. Since I haven’t actually finished a book yet, I’ve not had the need for any beta readers. But I hope to have that problem corrected soon.


  25. My stories that have been beta read are the ones that have had the most success. I definitely link the two. Getting helpful criticism to tweak your stuff before submitting is important, I think. But find other writers to beta read for you. They are generally more versed in literature and know what works.


  26. Jacqui, you know I’m struggling with this problem and am looking forward to reading all the replies here.
    I was lucky to get 5 readers for my first book but only one gave me a great review. I don’t mean complimentary (though she was basically enthusiastic) but one reader who did an excellent job of evaluating the book and providing useful feedback. The others told me they liked the book but said nothing worth while about how to improve or what they understood as the essential themes, etc. The reader who provided the most insight was the person from whom I expected the least and I made many improvements based on her observations about where it had fallen short. Based on those changes, the book went on to compete in ABNA and placed through 2 rounds before being eliminated.
    I’ve also completed a beta reading for a friend and provided detailed analysis about where I found the book needing more substance, consistency, or background as well as lots of support for the engaging points of her work. She never even bothered to thank me.
    I’m hoping to find someone with whom I can exchange the task – I’ll read for them and they for me.


  27. I’ve had a couple of ‘friendly beta’ readers on my cancer poetry book, they were helpful. But since each is a friend, there is always that little bit of doubt when they say that loved my book. The challenge for me now is to find some other beta readers.

    I have been a beta reader for other people’s work (folks I don’t know) and I found the experience interesting. One book was almost good, but had problems. It’s a bit of a challenge to write constructive criticism that is both honest and encouraging. I was convinced that the writer could make the book better, but feared they were going to rush into self publishing before it was fully polished.


  28. Hi Jacqui, this might be a silly question, but as a relative newbie to blogging I am wondering exactly what a beta reader does. I have never come across the term until I started on wordpress. I assume not like a proof-reader to copy-editor? Or like a smooth reader on Gutenberg that read as normal and pick up any small remaining errors? I would appreciate some clarification. Also who are beta readers? Friends? Professionals? Thanks


    • Mel has a good explanation above. And you’re right–not an editor. They’re simply an interested reader, a model of your audience. I think Beta readers can be from all the groups you mentioned, as long as they agree to be honest and dispassionate. That’s the tough part, innit? Taking that honest advice!


  29. Beta Readers can be invaluable in terms of giving you an honest evaluation from the viewpoint of a reader – they don’t necessarily view the work from a writers point of view. You have other people to do that. We get advice about the flow, the form, that kind of thing – but to have access to someone who is looking purely at the story and offering feedback on that can be really helpful. It’s like having direct access to your audience, at least in my experience 😀


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