Every writer needs some form of beta reader, someone who can look through their work and spot things they may have missed, someone who can make suggestions or just give feedback. People use various names for various stages of their writing, but for simplicity’s sake, I’m going to stick with beta reader here.
For a writer, seeking feedback for the first time can be a little daunting. I studied Creative Writing at uni, and remembered the feedback I got in seminars and tutors. I wanted something similar, but knew I was limited in regards to time. Ideally, I wanted to join a writer’s group, so I tried to locate one in the area, but to no avail. It is hard to find other writers to give you feedback, or even general readers, but hopefully the below tips will help you find what you need. Remember, none of these are going to suit every person. It’s best to consider what sort of feedback you’re looking for, how quickly you need it, and whether or not you have the time to provide feedback in return.
More details on my own beta reading below under freelance, but you can also find my Fiverr page here if you want to take a look.
The classic, IRL approach. If you need company, and enjoy the presence of other writers, this might be a good option. It can also result in making some friends. If you’re not sure about this approach, consider finding a one-off workshop in the local area. Other writers there might be part of a group, or you might find some interested in starting one. Some groups are more about feedback, others are designed to get the juices flowing, so to speak, with exercises and discussions.
Social media – and the internet in general – has made it much easier to find writers than it was before. If you look on Facebook, you can find groups dedicated to writing or to readers themselves. Twitter has #writingcommunity, but you can also reach out to book bloggers and general readers. Using the hashtag #betareader #betareading or searching for those terms should help you find someone willing to give feedback. Some people will happily do it without anything in return, but others might want you to look at their work in exchange. Always check with the person what’s the best way, and find out what they offer. Reactions, critique, edit suggestions?
Online Writing Groups
Although I’m sure there’s many out there, the one I have most experience with (and use myself) is Scribophile. Here you’ll find a variety of different writers, forums, and groups dedicated to various genres. There’s also contests, some with cash prizes. I was published in the Seven Deadly Sins: A YA Anthology series, in three volumes, thanks to entering the competitions on Scrib. I’ve also met many, wonderful, talented writers on there. You need to provide feedback in order to gain it, and there are different ways of doing so. I always do in-line critiques, as it allows me to suggest edits and provide reactions. The main drawback is that you need Karma in order to post your work. You get little over 1 KP for the critiques, if they are in spotlights, and you need 5 KP to post your work. The suggestion is to post in blocks of under 3K words, and the KP system is set up to support this. Not many people will critique something much over 3,500. You can post short stories or novel chapters, however I’ve found I get the best responses on short stories. If you have the time to critique, it is a good idea, and some members offer bonus KP on their stories. If you do use Scrib, let me know!
There are many people out there who will beta-read/proofread/edit your work who can be found online, especially if you’re happy to pay. I’m currently on Fiverr, with a beta-reading gig which has had some excellent feedback from clients. I read the work, making in-line edits, edit suggestions, and marking reactions or making comments, and then I compile a reader report, with thoughts on characters, plot, description, pacing and SPAG. So far, I’ve done short stories up to 7K, novel openings, and novellas, in a variety of genres. I get it back as fast as I can, usually within a day. I currently have all 5* ratings from clients, and their feedback has been really good. There are also other beta-readers on the website, and probably on places like Upwork, too, so if you’re willing to pay, have a look around. Right now, I charge $5 for up to 7K words (or the first 7K) and $1 per 1K after that. You can check out my gig here, and you can contact me via Fiverr, via the blog or via Twitter if you have any questions about it. My key words when providing feedback are honest and encouraging.
When should you get a beta reader?
This is completely dependent on the writer, and what they’re writing. For novels, you can use a beta-reader to ‘test’ the first few chapters, but I would suggest doing this after at least two drafts. They can also look at the first chapters before you send them off to query. If you are going for traditional publishing, publishing houses will have their own in-house editors, so beta-reading is an alternative to having a ‘professional’ editor look at your work. For self-publishing, a beta-reader could be useful prior to sending it to an editor.
For a full novel, again, after two or three drafts is probably best, or somewhere between drafting and final editing. They’ll be able to catch a lot you might not see.
Short stories is slightly different. You can ask a beta-reader to look at a short story after the first draft, then before you send it to submission, or one or the other. For me, it’s dependent on whether I’ve got a deadline. If I don’t, I tend to do three edits of a story myself, then post it. If I have a deadline, I’ll do one, edit it a little if I have time, then post it. But I make sure I’m editing based on feedback then reposting it, so I can get at least one person to look at the final version before submitting it.
Either way, a beta-reader should be someone you can work with, someone who can give you decent feedback – if they absolutely hate horror, don’t send them your horror stories. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, either before they look at your work, or after. Sometimes what they’ve said might need a little clarifying.
If you beta-read, or use websites not mentioned here, please let me know! I’ll happily add links to specific people and other sites on here. And feel free to add any further tips in regards to this, too.
Most importantly –