How do you find a good beta reader or “test pilot” to critique your manuscript, preferably for free?
“Beta reader” is just a fancy term for a person who reads your manuscript, and gives you feedback to help you make it even better.
Finding the ideal beta reader can be a challenge. But here are some tips for where to start.
I’ll tell you about the long-term solution. I’ll also give you a couple of quick fixes, in case you’ve left it a bit late. (We writers do that sometimes.)
- Click your heels together three times.
- Say, “There’s no place like home, especially one with a beta reader in it.”
Did a beta reader appear?
Dang. I guess we’ll have to work a bit harder at it.
The simplest way to find good beta readers is to network with other writers.
Yes, I know that sounds like it might take more than 15 minutes to achieve, but think of all the fun you’ll have. And all the support and encouragement you’ll receive from other writers, who are the only ones who really know what this mental illness called Writing is all about. 😉
Making friends who are writers is a long-term investment in your writing career, as well as being socially rewarding.
Where can you meet other writers? Here are some ideas:
- Join a local writers group. In my town they tend to meet in libraries, and can be found listed on library websites. If you google “writers group” and the name of your town, you should get some options for what is available near you.
- Go to seminars and workshops for writers. Take the time to chat with people at coffee break time. If you “click” with someone, find out if they’d like to keep in touch and encourage each other as writers. They don’t have to live near you. There are plenty of technological ways these days to connect with people from afar.
- Join Twitter. I’ve written before about why Twitter is so useful for writers, but I now believe its greatest benefit is in helping writers meet other writers. You start by exchanging tweets, move to commenting on each other’s blogs, and in time some of these friendships develop to the point of email or Skype conversations. I’m not making this up. Two of my beta readers for my own novel Poison Bay were people I met on Twitter, and they provided excellent feedback that really strengthened the book.
- Visit writing blogs, and get to know other writers, including how they think, how they write, and what matters to them. As you comment on their posts, over time they may visit your blog and comment there, and sometimes friendships develop from those beginnings, especially when you share values and interests.
- Check out the presence of writers on your social network of choice. For example, LinkedIn has a lot of writing and publishing groups. Get to know people, and visit their blogs and websites.
- Don’t let geography stop you. Two of my beta readers live in another country. One is in another state. The one who is in my own city, I have not yet met in person!
How to approach people:
- Be real. Make genuine friendships. Don’t “case” people, to see if they might make a good beta reader, before you make friends. People can tell if you’re using them.
- Be patient. I knew my two Twitter friends for about a year before we asked each other for beta reads. (Yes, I know. You want it tomorrow. I’ve got some suggestions for the panic phase, below. But still pay attention to this concept, and start now to avert next year’s “I need a beta read” disaster.)
- Be generous. Help people if you have the skill and the time, even if they may never be able to help you back. That has value in and of itself as a worthwhile thing to do. It also makes you feel good and lifts your spirits. And sometimes the most surprising things come back to you (in a good way) in days, months and years to come.
The quick fix
Should I pay a beta reader?
Paying someone is not my first choice for a book critique, but it’s always a possibility if you are in a rush and you have the budget for it. Using a paid reviewer can also be valuable when you are writing a book as part of your business, and you need to move quickly to get it to market.
How do you find a paid beta reader? These are some options:
- Google ” manuscript critique “. (“Beta read” tends to be a term used more by writers amongst themselves. People who do it professionally are more like to call it “manuscript critique” or similar.)
- Go to LinkedIn and type ” manuscript critique ” in the search window up the top, select “people” from the drop down box to the left, and hit Enter/Return. You’ll get quite a list of people, descriptions of their abilities, and links to their websites.
But how do you know if you’re getting someone good?
I know one person I would gladly recommend to do a critique of a book, but her schedule is clogged 8 or 9 months in advance, she’s that good!
These are some possible ways to evaluate people who offer beta reads, structural edits, or manuscript reviews:
- Ask exactly what they are going to do, as you need to know what you’re getting for your money, and whether it suits your needs. A written report is ideal, so you have plenty of time to think it all through later, but a Skype session can also be valuable, especially if it’s in addition to the written report.
- Ask about the genres and styles they generally review.
- Read the person’s blog or study their website. Is their writing of good quality, and does it show insight into the book writing, publishing and reading process? If the writing and general quality of the blog is sloppy, I’d be very wary.
- Ask them for testimonials from authors who have used their services. Then do an online search to see what each writer’s work is like. Is it similar to yours? Or a completely different genre? You could even consider emailing the writers via their websites to find out if they were happy with the beta read they received. This will also allow you to find out if the testimonials were genuine!
- If you are able to get the titles of books for which they have done a beta report, you can chase down the book and read it, to see what you think. (Of course, if the book is rubbish, it may be that the writer didn’t do what the reviewer recommended, but at least it’s a start! And most beta readers/manuscript reviewers will only give you the names of books they are proud of.)
- You can also ask your writing friends who they may have used in the past. Word of mouth is often the best way to find one of these mysterious people.
- A little warning: brace yourself for the cost. It takes a long time for someone to read your book and then prepare helpful, intelligent comments on it. It’s often hard for many writers to afford, but it is appropriate for the reviewer to be compensated fairly for their time, as any other worker would be.
Other articles in this series:
Join the discussion! How have you met other writers? Any success with beta readers? If you’ve ever used a paid manuscript reviewer, how did you find them? Share your ideas.