So how do I get beta readers?

Fellow writers, I need your help. I see so many of you blogging fondly about your beta readers, so I thought to myself, “I should really get me some of them!”

First, I went to my local supermarket. Not knowing much about the nature of beta readers, I thought it made sense to start there. After getting blank stares from the pimply store clerk and the lady at the enquiries desk, I looked around the shop myself, but found nothing. (And yes, of course I checked the stationery aisle. Duh.)

I was about to leave the store when a man in a hat and trenchcoat (which is very rare in our climate, come to think of it) approached me cautiously and whispered, “I hear you’re looking for beta readers. Try the hardware store.” He turned and walked away before I could ask him more, but not before I noticed he was grinning widely. I decided it was probably what’s known as a “knowing grin”, and followed his advice.

The big, friendly guy at my local Bunnings showed me several readers – a Holman Stainless Pressure Gauge that reads water pressure; a Garman Soil pH Meter that he assured me with a twisted smile was very accurate indeed, several thermometers, and so on – but none of them even had the word “beta” anywhere on them. I thanked him, walked away a few steps, thought of another question, but he was already busy chuckling with another customer in a trenchcoat. Those must be becoming popular again, maybe I should think about getting one.

My wonderful wife, who, right when I told her about my lack of success, was giggling at something the kids must’ve said, suggested I go to the optometrist where her friend works; she gets her glasses there. When I arrived, her friend was just getting off her phone. “Ah, Amos,” she greeted me, “I just heard a wonderful joke; please forgive me if I giggle for a while longer. How can I help you?” She made me do some eye tests and let me try out several pairs of reading glasses, but they just made the magazine she asked me to read while wearing them all blurry. “Your eyes are fine,” she giggled at last – I really should’ve asked her what that joke was! – and, disappointed, I went home.

Very reluctantly, I braved the Interwebs and attempted to do a Google search, but, as I’d feared, Google asked me in its typical condescending manner, “Did you mean… ‘better readers‘?” If it could have giggled, I’m sure it would have.

I threw up my hands in frustration and decided I would ask you, dear readers of my blog (yes, both of you!), about getting me some beta readers.

  • How do I go about getting me some beta readers?
  • How many beta readers should I have?
  • At what point should I even consider getting them?
  • Is there something about my pronounciation of “beta” that makes people giggle uncontrollably?

(Ok, in all seriousness now – no giggling! – I’m at around 85k words and am aiming for about 100-110k total in the first book of my fantasy series. Any hints leading to the capture of a suitable beta reader will be much appreciated.)

About Amos M. Carpenter

Web dev by day, author by night, and generally interested in (and opinionated about) way too many things.

Posted on 10 June, 2014, in Humour, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. This is amazing! I think you could just place a call for beta-readers on a writers’ forum, because WordPress does not seem the most useful place to do so. A maximum of two or three beta-readers might be best – otherwise you’ll be going crazy over all different opinions. Besides, your manuscript should be seen by as few people as possible, just in case of bad intentions. Start looking for them once your manuscript is finished; otherwise you and your beta-readers probably will have to wait much longer, causing them to drop out of the project… You don’t want that. Good luck with your manuscript!

  2. Several of my friends are also writers (and one was even a proof reader as a past job) so they are my first port of call since I know that I can count on them for honest and constructive feedback, rather than the typical “It’s good, I like it.” that people tend to get from relatives.

    My second port of call, is the one already mentioned – online forums. Personally I am part of the NaNoWriMo community, and there are threads set up on there for the finding and exchanges of stories and people offer to beta read or ask for beta readers. But with online people you can meet them, exchange stories, and then get honest feedback since the community is built around writing.

    Find beta readers when you are happy to have other people see your work. (I’m currently on my third edit of my novel and I still reckon I’ll have a couple more edit runs before I actually go looking for beta reader) and send it out to a few people. Up to five or so is how many I plan to have.

    As for bad intentions, one tip I got given (which actually managed to catch someone out for a famous author when her work got leaked) is pick a page of the manuscript, and then on the bottom or top line, put a double space in between two words, then send it out to the reader and record which reader gets which spaced words. The next reader will get a space between two different words on the same line. So if it leaks, you know who has leaked it because you simple need to find the double space and see which words it’s between.

    Wishing you all the luck with finishing the manuscript as well 🙂

    • Wow, more great advice! Thanks for taking the time to post the detailed comment, and I like the “leak-catcher trick” 🙂

      Yeah, I currently have one family member read and act as a sounding board, one to give detailed (and very good) critique, and a friend who’s a stickler for details (like me) and knows his grammar. But none of them are writers themselves, which is why I’d like to fill that gap as I’m getting closer to completing my manuscript. A fellow writer-blogger would be great to have, but I may have to look around in forums as well.

  3. This was a great post to go with the question! 😀

    There are lots of writers forums, and quite a few writers groups on places like Google+. Once you find beta readers, it’s finding those that work well with you though, I think 😀

    It’s quite a relationship!

    • Thanks, Mishka – thought I’d have some fun while asking for advice. 😀

      I can imagine that the relationship would be quite interesting; after all, I’d be letting them see something that’s very… personal, and dear to me, something I’ve poured a tremendous amount of effort into and would hate to see ripped into (metaphorical) shreds, yet I’d need to be able to trust them to give me honest feedback if something isn’t working… but sooner or later, I’ll need to go down that road and hopefully, my writing will improve as a result of it.

  4. Hilarious! I wish they sold them at stores…

    I got my best beta readers/critique partners through my blog. I post snippets for WIPpet Wednesday, and people were interested enough in my work that they offered to read for me when the time came (for two books so far). I do the same for one of them in exchange. The others just wanted to read and help. The problem I find with having writers as beta readers is that many of us just don’t have time to read for pleasure, let alone for work. I like helping fellow writers out, but it does take time away from writing, so I have to be careful about offering. I’m much more likely to offer to read for someone if I’ve seen and loved a sample of their work.

    There are websites for critique partners (which I think is what you want, if you’re looking for opinions from writers and have already had friends/family read). I used Ladies Who Critique, where they set up partners like an online dating service (I think they welcome human type peoples of all genders and genres, but I can’t find that information ATM). There are also sites like critique circle and scribophile that do the same thing on a points system, and you might hook up with people there (again, you have to put the work in).

    People get paranoid about others stealing their work, but I don’t worry too much about it. I had to say no to reading for someone because she wanted me to sign a non-disclosure agreement re: a fairly generic-sounding vampire thing. Since I occasionally write Urban Fantasy myself, I declined. I don’t want someone suing me because my vampires drink blood, and OMG HERS DRINK BLOOD AND I STOLE THAT FROM HER. I have plenty of my own ideas. I don’t need to steal anyone else’s*.

    That said, I do like to get to know people a little before they read for me. Knowing their tastes and a bit about their process makes it easier to know whether they’re my target audience, and whether they’re likely to flake out on me. I tend to give more weight to criticisms from fellow Fantasy authors whose books I love than to those from people who are kind enough to read for me, but aren’t really into the genre.

    As for when the book is ready… I wish I’d let people see my first novel sooner. I waited until I thought it was perfect, and then it was a shock to find that it wasn’t. Much easier to change things before you think it’s all set in stone. (Thank goodness I had that experience before I got notes from my editor. There was a time when that might have killed me!). I’d finish, do a few rounds of revisions, then send it out.

    Sorry for the long comment. Hope it helps. Good luck!

    *For the record, she seemed nice and was very understanding about it. I hated to have to say no.

    • Please don’t be sorry for the long comment – great advice, and great insight that makes a whole lot of sense!

      I completely understand what you mean about beta reading being a huge commitment in terms of time. It would certainly be asking a lot of someone to spend time not only reading my work “for fun” but taking the time to write down notes about errors or suggestions for improvement, which would be no easy task for an essay let alone a long manuscript. Of course I would happily offer to “beta read for my beta reader”, though I’m not sure anyone would enjoy my obsession with the little details (is there a politically correct term for “grammar-naziness”, like “OC(G)D”?).

      You mention that you’d be more likely to beta read if you knew what you were getting into – are you saying it would be a good idea for me to post part of my work publicly? I’ve been very hesitant with that so far, mainly because I don’t want to burn any bridges that I’m not sure I might need in the future (I even went so far as to post a short story on my blog with password-protection, althought that turned out brilliantly well and it ended up getting published through Nicholas, a fellow blogger who read and really liked it). Or would you recommend offering to first send a sample chapter or two (e.g. via email) to “beta reader candidates” to see who can imagine reading and critiquing the whole thing based on the sample?

      I also appreciate your thoughts on trust and paranoia; I must confess, I hadn’t given it much thought prior to my post. (My reluctance to let anyone see what I’ve written was thus far mostly based on, well, maybe being more introverted than I would have thought.) It is certainly something I’ll keep in mind, though I don’t think I could ask anyone to sign an NDA. (By the way, I hate to tell you this, but I think you might both have stolen the blood-drinking vampire idea from one or two other works whose names escape me at the moment! 😉 ) Like you said, ideally it would be someone I’d know at least a little through their blog; that might still be a relatively superficial relationship, but I’d feel much more comfortable than using some impersonal random match-up algorithm or some complete stranger from a website I don’t really know. Someone familiar with my genre (Fantasy) would indeed be a bonus.

      This blog post was essentially me stretching out my feelers in the “beta reading direction”, and I’m absolutely delighted with the great feedback I’ve received already. Thank you for the great comment, Kate 🙂

  5. I’ll be a beta reader! Here are my qualifications: I’m an English teacher and I’ve read a ton of books.

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