Finding astute readers who will read your work before publication and offer insightful, free feedback is golden. Beta readers may help you spot continuity and other errors, SPAG and style mishaps, or give general but helpful feedback. What are beta readers, and how can you find yours?
What is a beta reader?
Unlike a substantive, developmental or copy editor, a beta reader is typically:
- Not paid for their writing feedback
- Not necessarily experienced as an editor in your genre – their feedback represents the average reader in your genre
A beta reader is a book lover who is enthusiastic about the genre you’re writing in. Someone who is willing to offer honest, constructive feedback. This is usually without compensation for their time.
You’ll also find paid beta readers on freelancer and other platforms. Their services may be cheaper than a comprehensive edit. Yet you should be able to find similar experience and enthusiasm for free.
Note that having a beta reader is not a reason to skip editing. Multiple feedback rounds from regular readers and editors is still the best way to catch and correct errors.
Where to find beta readers for honest writing feedback:
- Ask select friends and family
- Build your own fan community
- Find beta readers via discovery platforms
- Join a supportive writing group
- Vet voracious readers on Goodreads
- Find Facebook groups that love your genre
- Connect on writing forums, Quora, Reddit
Let’s explore where to find beta readers. We’ll answer some of the common questions about beta readers that many writers have.
1. Ask select friends and family
Who better to be your beta reader than a close friend or family member who supports your creative work?
But wait – asking friends or family to beta read your work is risky. If you tend to bristle or balk at feedback, it isn’t worth risking these relationships. Then relative strangers’ insights may be better.
If you are especially sensitive to feedback, family or friends will likely know this and deliberately be gentler. The problem with this is that ‘real’ readers of your manuscript might not be as gentle. You want to gauge real-world reader response.
So if you ask friends or family members to read your work, make sure you pick people who:
- Are the type to tell you the complete, unvarnished truth
- You are certain you want to involve friends and family (you don’t want to be censoring love scenes for dad, grandad, or Becky’s sake!)
Finding beta readers close to home – example
USA Today bestselling author JT Lawrence, who wrote and leads our course on publishing and book promotion, shared that her mother and stepdad are two of her most treasured beta readers. They even have contests for who can spot the most errors.
Turning beta reading into a game or competition is a great idea to get your first readers invested and ensure thorough feedback.
2. Build your own fan community
Do you have an author website, blog or author-branded social media pages? Your followers or subscribers are a good pool for finding beta readers.
When someone has followed you, or has subscribed to your mailing list, they’re likely already interested in your voice.
If you don’t have even a fledgling audience, put building your audience in your writing business plan ASAP.
You’ll find many authors’ sites where writers invite their regular visitors or newsletter subscribers to join exclusive beta reader groups.
Often, these advance reader teams or ‘street teams’ are kept more for distributing ARCs (advanced reader copies) in exchange for early reviews, as these are crucial for publishing success. Yet you can find beta readers for earlier, less public feedback this way, too.
Award-winning YA and dark fantasy author Nerine Dorman (who frequently co-chairs our first page feedback panel webinars) shares how to become a beta reader (which is another way to build up your beta feedback network – by helping fellow authors):
Generally, you become a beta reader by befriending authors. A good beta reader is worth their weight in gold – helping authors look at general issues related to pacing, characterisation and overall structural development. Best place to find authors online is to join writers’ groups. Off hand I can think of the Absolute Write forums as well as the Dragon Writers group on Facebook, but there are myriad other social media groups. Just join, spend some time becoming familiar with your group and then offer to help.
Granted, there’s a fair degree of trust that goes into a beta/author relationship, so it’s best that you get to be on a first-name basis with the authors that you want to work with.Nerine Dorman, via Quora
3. Find beta readers via discovery platforms
You can find beta readers online via a host of platforms that connect authors with readers. Betareader.io is one platform connecting authors with beta readers.
Common questions many authors have about finding beta readers among (relative) strangers include:
- Can beta readers steal my work?
- How can I trust a beta reader’s feedback to be good or authoritative?
- Is it best to pay for them on services like Fiverr? (this question is from a helpful self-publishing subreddit on finding beta readers)
It is highly unlikely beta readers will steal your work (plagiarism tends to happen more between published authors).
If in doubt, have beta readers you don’t know particularly well sign a contract. Include an agreement to not share or distribute your work.
You can also run sections of your writing through plagiarism checkers to see if anything you’ve shared has ended up elsewhere on the web.
As for trusting beta readers’ feedback – get to know whoever you choose to share work with. Closed social media or Google groups (apply to join Now Novel’s invite-only beta reader group) that vet members before allowing them to post often are better at weeding out chancers and long fingers.
You could pay for beta reading services. Yet when you need to also budget for professional paid editing services, investigate free options first.
One commentor in the subreddit linked above suggested finding discord channels dedicated to your genre, saying many include beta reader groups.
4. Join a supportive writing group
As Nerine says in her Quora answer above, befriending authors is a great way to both become and find a beta reader. Many writers provide first read throughs for one another.
As an example, a group of fantasy authors on Now Novel’s Group Coaching course volunteered to read each other’s work. This was after they had built relationships through meeting for daily writing sprints.
Find writing groups by genre, chat and swap critiques for free in our own online writing groups in the members area of Now Novel.
Alternatively, you may prefer to meet in person. See whether there are local writing circles advertising at your local bookstore or library.
5. Vet voracious readers on Goodreads
Goodreads is another helpful community for authors. The beta readers group has over 22,000 members at time of writing.
Many active members on Goodreads give long, detailed reviews of their favorite (and least favorite) books free. As with any beta reading groups, make sure you read member guidelines before posting.
In the Goodreads group’s guidelines, there is useful further information such as choosing between a beta reader and critique partner.
The latter functions a little more like our own free critique groups. Here you can swap feedback on work-in-progress in a constructive community.
6. Find Facebook groups that read your genre
Facebook is another useful platform for finding beta reader groups that enjoy your genre.
Author K.M. Weiland canvassed Twitter for beta reader group suggestions, and lists some Facebook options (as well as what to look for in a beta reader).
A closed, well-curated group with vetted membership and strict engagement guidelines is perhaps your best option. It’s more likely there’ll be processes to weed out trolls and hatchet job feedback.
7. Connect on writing forums, Quora, Reddit
Other places writers and potential beta readers hang out on the web include writing forums (though a more ‘2000s’ option in style and features), Quora and writing-related Reddit communities (subreddits).
Although building connections and networking on social platforms takes time, the more word-oriented platforms are useful as you can get more of a feel for fellow members personalities and their ability to offer critical insight.
Interested in becoming a beta reader or trading reading services with an intimate writing community? Fill out this quick Google Form and you may get an invite to join Now Novel’s beta reader group.