Finding Beta Readers

How do you find beta readers? I'm sure the answer to that is different for every writer. The one thing everyone tells me is that once you find some good dependable beta readers who give you good feedback and are happy to do it - you should do everything you can to hold onto them. How many beta readers do you need? I know people who have just two. And I know others who put it out to a large number with every book. I'm still looking, so I'm pretty sure I have more than I need for this book. But I'll winnow that down for the next one. I have a crew of friends and loved ones I go to for help and advice at different stages, but it's important to me to have beta readers who are reading the manuscript for the first time.

When I ask people to beta read for me, I often have to explain the concept of “beta-reader.”

Beta-Readers are essentially a hand-picked sample group. What the writer needs you to do is read it as though you just dropped the full cover price to buy it and report back your opinion. As opposed to big corporations that can actually pay people for being part of a sample group, writers usually have to depend on non-monetary enticements, like sincere gratitude, acknowledgements in the book, free signed copies of the finished book when it comes out and that sort of thing. There are a few key qualities that I looked for when approaching people. Most of my beta readers have many of following qualities:

  • They’re curious
  • They’re generous
  • They’re available
  • They’re honest
  • I like their taste in books and entertainment
  • Other people respect their opinions
  • They may not know me well, but they love the genre I’m working in
  • They like the idea of being a part of someone else’s creative process and contributing to their success.
  • I trust them to be more or less impartial

Before I wrote this book, I couldn’t think of anyone I could approach to beta read and as of this moment I have 14 or 15 people willing to have a look at it. All I really needed to do was keep my eyes and my mind open. I found several of my beta-readers on line. One through Goodreads and another through Wattpad. (I also found my one man workshop, Derryl Richie through Wattpad.) Another of my readers is a neighbour who bought one of my sculptures and revealed in conversation that she loved science fiction. There are also a few friends from my current writing community in Toronto and from my previous writing community in Victoria. Several are people I have never met or know on a very casual basis.

Derryl, my good friend, Sally McBride and my partner, Laura have been with me every step of the way – although I wouldn’t let Laura read it because I wanted fresh eyes on my third draft. I had few people read my second draft and I’ll have about 10 beta readers this summer.  Writing is usually viewed as a solitary art, but without the help and support of all those people – I would probably be on my tenth draft by now, with little idea of where I’m going. Even people who just offer a little help in passing can be incredibly valuable.

A guy I know through work was one of the people who volunteered to read my second draft. He gamely started in on it, but had a new job that demanded his time and attention, a lovely partner he needed to pay attention to, and an active lifestyle. When he had to prioritize what to do with his time, he recognized that going back to the book was not high on his priority list. He was honest about it.
I admit that at first, I was actually a bit peeved at him. “Why did he agree to do it if he wasn’t going to follow through?” And then it sunk in that he was exactly the reader I needed most at that long as he could tell me where and why he had quite reading and found it hard to go back and try again.

At first he prevaricated, insisting that he didn’t quit because of the book or the writing – but rather, because of his job commitments. But he was willing to tell me precisely how far he’d gotten. And in the course of doing that he admitted that he had been experiencing some confusion about the time lines, and was unable to figure out what was happening to who. My other reader had already suggested that the timelines made it a challenge to follow.

I am so grateful to both of them for that information, and once I got a bit of distance I could pretty much see it for myself. So my third draft started with totally restructuring the novel into chronological order – and the new structure is at least five times easier to follow.

Along with the beta readers, I have a number of people reading as advisors on specific aspects of the story (computers/biology/sexual politics etc).

And one thing I'm working hard to do is not get upset or impatient with anyone. Sure I have a timeline, and I can necessarily wait for a long time for feedback. But I am the engine of this machine and I need to keep it moving forward whatever the perceived obstacles. 

So - to those people who intended to help but didn't actually get it done - thank you for wanting to participate.  Your interest and enthusiasm are helpful.

Finding beta readers is actually not as hard as it may seem (finding good ones probably is - but all that will come out in the wash). I just need to put it out there - be ready to accept whatever feedback I get and move on from there.

I'm grateful to all of you. And hopefully the book I end up putting out there will make you all proud.


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