string lights on a book

“As I read it….” 

Or, Cultivating Beta Reading to Your Advantage as an Author

As if tracking the intricate phases of manuscript critiques, levels of editing, and getting a manuscript ready for a proofreader wasn’t complicated enough, there’s another term to familiarize yourself with as an author: beta reading.  You may be aware that it’s one of the intricate processes of refining your manuscript—another turn in the labyrinth that eventually leads to self-publishing. For some, it’s a crucial step. Others don’t find it useful enough to take the trouble of arranging it or the time required to wait for feedback. Keep in mind—you can help your beta readers help you.


If you’re considering working with beta readers, here’s an intro guide to some of the questions and considerations of how to work with them to improve the advantage you receive from their insights into your pre-published book.  

What is Beta Reading?

Beta reading involves enlisting a group of trusted individuals to provide feedback on your manuscript before it undergoes final revisions and publication. Depending on how complex your book is, you can ask for beta reading reactions after your book has gone through editing or before or both (although readers who review your book before or in the early phases of editing are often called alpha readers). Unlike editors who focus on refining language and structure or proofreaders who meticulously search for typos and grammatical errors, beta readers offer the perspective of general readers. They may comment on the overall story, narrative, research, or readability. They’ll likely comment on the characters, pacing, and plot coherence in some way or another. Basically, beta readers are a test audience, highlighting strengths and weaknesses while pinpointing areas for improvement.

Are Beta Readers Specialists? (And Are Authors Expected to Pay Them?)

Beta readers might be fellow writers and they should be avid readers, enthusiastic about the genre of your book. While some may have professional expertise and qualification in literature, storytelling, or specific subjects, others offer insights simply as readers with an interest in books like your book. It’s important to select beta readers who align with your defined audience and can provide constructive criticism. No, they don’t need to have a degree or training (unless your readers would be expected to). But they should be familiar with/have a working knowledge of the traditions of your genre. If you’re writing a memoir, they should regularly read memoirs and gravitate toward them. 

Beta readers often offer their services on a voluntary basis. But don’t assume that. Beta reading is also offered as a professional service for a fee. A voluntary or paid beta reader isn’t necessarily better than the other, but if your budget allows, consider paid readers if you’re unable to find voluntary readers for your genre.


Is it a Good Idea to Use Friends and Family as Beta Readers?

Some authors might gravitate toward asking friends and family to beta read for the sake of convenience while others may be inclined to go out of their way to find beta readers who don’t know them or their work. There are all sorts of reasons why an author might make such decisions. There’s nothing wrong with incorporating feedback from friends and family members, but keep in mind—they might not be as objective as readers who you’ve never met and who have no expectations.  Familiarity with you and your writing style may result in more candid feedback, or it can also lead to bias or reluctance to offer constructive criticism. If you are getting feedback from people in your social groups, it’s often advisable to supplement their input with comments from impartial beta readers. And whether they’re friends, family, or strangers, remember that they should fit the description of the audience you’re writing for.

When in the Editing Process Are Beta Readers Most Helpful?

Think carefully about allowing yourself the ability to incorporating feedback without having to go through copyediting and proofreading all over again. Likewise, you’ll want to demonstrate that you’ve put substantial attention into your draft before asking others to do so (especially if they aren’t paid for it). If you’re using alpha readers, they’ll be more “hands on” about developmental suggestions. Beta readers should be approached after the first rounds of editing but before copyediting and proofreading. Their insights can help you fine-tune plot points, deepen character development, and refine the pacing of your story, narrative, or nonfiction work, setting the stage for a polished manuscript.

Do I Have to Use Comments From Beta Readers in My Revisions

Beta reading comments should be approached with a willingness to revise if you’re provided with a sufficient reason to do so. If you’re determined to argue with every suggestion you receive, there’s not much point asking for such opinions in the first place. That said,  the author is still the author and any revision implemented should be at their discretion. Once you’ve received the insights you requested, you are under no obligation to remain in dialogue with beta readers, have them approve your final draft, or offer explanations for why you may not be revising according to their suggestions. Beta reader feedback is a tool for refinement—not a contract for revision.


Do you know that I now offer beta reading in specific genres? And if you sign up for my new book production management offer, I’ll provide customized beta reading prompts to send to your beta readers to help guide their feedback to the aspects of your book where you are most interested in reader reactions.  


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