How to Become a Beta Reader
Whether your interest in this article was sparked by finding out what a beta reader actually is, or you already have some idea and you’re looking for some guidance on how to go about becoming one, then a succinct definition of the role and a more general introduction to a beta reader’s work and development are both needed.
What is a beta reader?
Beta readers are the people who writers go to when they need the first reactions to a new book or publication. By giving the book’s contents an honest read-through before it has been manipulated by other parties, such as editors or proofreaders, facilitates identifying and fixing common and often glaring errors that the original writer has missed. A beta reader is often the first person to read the text as the author finishes the initial writing process, and also the first review that the author will get. They provide a fresh pair of eyes.
The seemingly infinite number of times a writer reads, ponders and literally plunders her own work as it is shaped into what is hoped is perfection, make it very difficult to remain aware of minor or even major issues with the story, content details or other important elements of the structure and flow of the work as a whole. This is where beta readers come in, by doing so they provide an invaluable service.
How to set yourself up as a beta reader
The qualifications for this role are very simple: be able to read — perhaps be able to read and comprehend at certain high speeds when necessary — and also be able to prepare and give intelligent feedback to the writer.
The important task ahead is to find the works you need to read to become a beta reader and perhaps one day evolve into a manuscript critic — a paid beta reader — if that’s your goal.
Find writers that have new works that need to read
Writers network with other writers, so writers’ groups and workshops are the best places to find them. Local writers’ groups exist in the real world and there is more of a chance that you will get a printed manuscript to read, nowadays online activity here is where you should head, but local literary groups are supportive and creative communities.
If you think you have more knowledge or experience in a certain area, field, or genre, some writers groups are more specialized than others; Critters.org, for example, is for writers and associated stakeholders in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres.
Social media is also a gold mine for such resources. The largest groups on Facebook include Writers Helping Writers and Writers’ Group, which have 240,000 and 131,000 members, respectively. Such groups have strong connections to the geographically local groups (pretty much they are the same people.) The specialist beta reader groups Beta Readers and Critique Partners, and Beta Readers & Critiques can boast 12,000 and 16,000 members, respectively, and are solid sources of information, support, and development.
Leaving the best until last, the Good Reads Beta Reader Group is an unmissable source. You cannot go wrong if you pay close attention to their Beta Reader Checklist.
Classic beta reader hangouts
This guide can go no further without directing you to reddit. The reddit.com/r/BetaReaders community can give you exactly what you’re looking for if you wish to become a beta reader. The community slogan is even “Connecting Authors with Betas”.
You could backup your research and adventures thereby going directly to reddit.com/r/writing and reddit.com/r/write. Although these contain more general threads they are a good way to learn more about the writer’s craft and therefore more about the trends that beta readers should be keeping up with. As with the BetaReaders reddit, there is an unstoppable flow of short and long texts on offer, with the bonus, of course, of providing direct communication with the authors responsible. These reddit resources have 3,900, 17,000 and 1.2 million users, respectively.
The other place to head straight off the bat is Scribophile.com. Their current stats are: “1,214,950 critiques served for 209,581 works, and 4,539,203 posts in 148,038 threads”. Not surprising, then, that they are also very happy to tell writers that “We’re the writing group to join if you want to find beta readers”.
Create relationships with writers
This does mean “writers whose work you would like to read” but it does not mean write to Stephen King and his publisher begging for his newest pages. Follow writers, join interesting groups where you can show that you are interested and interesting. Be sensible and be smart with the writers you meet and read online, if you like their work, know they’re looking for beta readers or reaching out as newbies, then make sure to be as professional as you can in the way you present yourself as a beta reader.
Presenting yourself as a sincere and trustworthy beta reader
There are many ways to do this and they do not differ much from working in any other media-related or creative field. Honesty as both a keeper of someone else’s material and ideas is vital, but this is also a factor in the way you give your feedback — again, the interpersonal relationship is key. You do not have to be a family member or close friend to get the access and trust you need to be good beta reader. You may meet a writer through a group or workshop centered on a certain genre, but also show that you read, enjoy, and are critical of other fields, subjects, and genres.
In practical terms, always be as specific as you can when dealing with the writers you read for or want to read for:
- Set an agreed deadline.
- Ask for both a print and an ebook version of the title, if available, in order to facilitate your reading of it.
- Provide information about or even testimonials from writers you have read for in the past.
- Be aware, and relate the fact that you are, of the writer’s perspective and goals both in terms of the book and your beta-reading of it.
- Offer a summary of your approach.
As a beta reader, you may be prompted by writers about the specific things to look out for, or you may not, but you can also offer this sort of thing in a friendly way. Fiction titles have many areas where an error can enter unnoticed or untamed by the writer to the extent that the story, direction or structure are negatively affected, these include: how the story advances or progresses, its pace; the creation of the encapsulating environment where the story “takes place”, known as worldbuilding; and the characters portrayed. You could give some general examples, e.g. dialogue review to make sure all direct speech and even stream-of-consciousness content sounds natural, realistic, and appropriate to each character; are the characters developed adequately.