Yves Brown McClain: Literary Fierceness

Open Floor Friday: Beta Readers

Posted by Dahlia on March 4, 2011

While going through my twitter timeline and perusing blogs, I came across a term that is new to me: Beta readers. Knowing nothing of the concept, I turned to my online source of all facts, both useful and useless, Wikipedia. Here is wiki’s description:

“A beta reader is a person who reads a written work, generally fiction, with what has been described as a ‘critical eye’…”

Initially, I had a sense of beta readers being another term for critique partners/groups. However, as I continued to read, I was made to feel like Betas are the test group – they get the advance screening of your book, much like a test audience for a new movie. They are not reviewers, because based on the betas’ feedback, the Alpha (the author) can go back and make some changes, similar to how a movie director or producer can go back and cut scenes based on audience feedback. I also want to point out that according to Wikipedia, the Alpha is not always aware of who his/her Betas are.

Now, I’m intrigued by the concept. How interesting is it to have a select group of people read your book that fits your target demographic and genre before it is officially published? You can find out if the story works, what characters are great, which ones are hated, if the story flows well, etc. I also have a few concerns. I don’t believe I would sub betas for a professional editor. I would rather use them as an enhancement, or another level to the writing process. I’m also curious if there would be a contract that states who owns the work and clearly defining what their purpose is, much like the agreement I had with my editor. How about a confidentiality agreement? Is there anything in place that legally protects the Alpha (other than the copyright which is immediate) and the Beta? Is it even necessary? If you have critique partners, are the betas even needed? Or does it just delay the publication of your book?

So, now I open the floor for feedback. What do you think? Are betas just another fancy word for critique groups or do you see them as being different? Would you be open to using betas? Why or why not? This post also gives me an opportunity to utilize the poll feature, so click away!


41 Responses to “Open Floor Friday: Beta Readers”

  1. I am currently still writing my WIP and am a long way from needing a beta reader. But, I have no problem using one when the time comes. I am just looking for ones that might be in my target audience.

    Like you, I am also concerned about copyright. If/when start looking for beta’s I think that for me the best thing to do is apply for a copyright on the work. Also, I think I am going to send a page with my work explaining that I own it’s copyright. Other authors have their own way of handling the copyright issue.

    I totally agree with you about the beta’s not substituting for editors. Amanda Hocking’s doesn’t use a editor, only beta’s, and admits that errors get missed and she has to update pieces already published to fix them.

    • I just wanted to add, that there is a site where you can get feedback on your work from other authors. It’s a pointed based system but it seems promising.


      • Thanks, will have to check it out…it lends itself to another question: organizing the betas. How would you go about it? Sure, we can give the book to friends/family but they are the ones who will be nice (in most cases) and say it was good and not really give you that necessary feedback. This site seems like a good way to go about it…

    • I understand that writers, particularly new ones, have reservations about sharing work with others, even if it is to their benefit to do so. Copyright is automatic, but some type of agreement or an extra level of protection may help to ease fears…

  2. Trisha said

    Yeah, I definitely want to use beta readers when I’m at that point. I think their value is in the fact that they don’t know you and (if you pick the right one) are gonna be brutally honest with you when you may have been used to being coddled about your story. I look forward to what beta readers will be able to tell me about my novel. But first I have to fix the problems I myself already see 😉

    • I agree. Betas can give you valuable input that a friend or family member may not be able to because they don’t want to hurt you…but I want my story to be the best it can be, so it is a matter of finding the right beta(s).

  3. I think this is a great idea and I would love to do it with my books. In fact, I do after a fashion, by releasing early copies to a few select individuals who are in my target demographic. In this case though it is fairly informal, based on people I already know.

    You don’t need to apply copyright for your books – you get that automatically. Just put a copyright notice on the front of your book.

    Of course, there is nothing stopping your beta reviewers sending your book hither and yon, but I would doubt that would be an issue. People who sign up for this are people who are enthusiastic about their subject and love reading – they know the score.

    If you are worried, you can always embed a ‘DRAFT’ watermark into the document before you release it.

    • A watermark is a great idea…I agree, most people wouldn’t think to take your work and pass it off as their own, unfortunately, the fear of stolen work is a very real one for some writers. And at times, it can be a hindrance.

  4. A beta or test reader is just a regular person who reads that genre – and I’d say it would be greatly beneficial! They might not know what needs to be changed (if anything) but but it’s genuine feedback.

    • So, another question would be: how would you go about getting that constructive feedback? Just trust they will tell you or set up a survey or specific areas to watch for as they read? I got to see an advance screening of a movie when I was in college. At the end, we all had to fill out paperwork. Would you all draft up feedback forms or just give betas the freedom to give feedback as they see fit?

  5. Misha said

    I have five crit partners, but I will still use betas before submitting the book. Simply because I know that I need all the help that I can get.

    Crit partners generally can’t be betas because by the end, they’ll know my story too well…


  6. Great post. I definately plan on posting something on this subject in the next couple of days, because I am also interested in Beta readers. Thanks to everyone for all of the helpful feedback.

  7. Michael said

    I’ll take anyone that wants to read my work and give me feedback. I consider myself lucky if I find someone that’s like that so yeah…lol…I’d take a beta reader. It’d be like finding a nugget of gold.

  8. Akoss said

    I don’t know… I have yet to find Critique Partners, so the beta thing is just so far fetched for me.
    Great post, however. Few people actually take time to understand the concept.

  9. To me Betas are my first readers. They are my friends and family, and generally in my target demographic. They know me well, and they’ve heard me talk about my book. I trust them, and they know me well enough to tell me the truth without hurting my feelings. I go to them to bounce ideas, to read rough drafts for huge plot holes, to see changes I’ve made and tell me whether they are good or not. They aren’t necessarily writers so they don’t nitpick the work (which is good, since it’s usually a very early draft). They just tell me what they liked and what the problems were, and give me ideas to make it better.

    I’ve got two other groups of writers to help me with later drafts and polishing, as well, and I talk about them all here: http://asiagoans.com/?p=755

    • Thanks for stopping in…My understanding is that the betas come in on the tail end of the pre-pub process, after you’ve vetted through edits, crit partners, and revisions…however, I have done the same as you, given my drafts to a few trusted ppl who will be straight with me…

  10. I wondered about Beta readers since I first heard about it at the beginning of the year. Thank you 🙂

  11. Lisa Nowak said

    In my experience, beta readers can be synonymous with critique partners. The main difference I see is that a critique partner is usually a member of a group you attend and may see the book only in pieces doled out over time. A beta reader reads the whole thing and gives you more comprehensive advice. I’ve picked many of my beta readers from my critique groups. Others I’ve met online. Most of my betas are writers, but I do have some other people who give me advice.

    The hardest thing to get good feedback on from a critique group is the overall flow of the book, and that’s where betas are truly valuable.

    • Thanks, Lisa for that. I can see how it can be tough for a crit partner to give you overall feedback, esp if they’ve been there with you from the start. They may be just as vested as you by the end and may lose some objectivity? I have not used a crit partner. My editor kind of stepped into that role…

  12. The poll thingy is fun, hey! I’m definitely going to use some trusted betas (ie. people that I already know) who aren’t really in the writing industry, so they can give me feedback purely as readers, which I think is the whole idea of betas! Just gotta finish that WiP first…

    • You know, I was beginning to think that readers would make better betas…writers are great and can definitely catch some things for you, especially b/c we should be reading as well. However, a beta that is NOT a writer, but loves reading that genre may be best…I don’t know, just throwing thoughts around

      As a side note, I replying via my wordpress app on my phone and every other comment I make I have to approve it. Its frustrating me b/c it’s my blog! I don’t think it’s cool to have to appv my own comments. Ok, rant over. Carry on…

  13. Yolanda said

    I’ve never even heard of Beta Readers until today. Thanks Yves for this. You really do help me learn about this business.

    I’d consider using them since I want to put out the best product possible. But how does one go about finding Beta readers??

  14. Lisa Nowak said

    For those of you looking, you might try here: http://grou.ps/critpartnermatch or here: http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=30. In my experience it’s hard to find a dedicated beta reader online. I’ve made agreements with four people I didn’t know, all of which fell through. I’ve had better luck approaching online friends I trusted. The best way to get a beta reader is to agree to swap manuscripts.

  15. 3rd draft of my WIP is almost finished and I am open to beta readers. I have 2 friends who are currently reading my work, one editor and one writer. I also have friends’ children who I send my work to because they are my target readers 🙂

  16. Crystal said

    I hosted a beta reading on my blog some time back, and the feedback was phenomenal. Beta reading is not about edits, but rather the overall feel and flow of the story. (Character motivations–believable or not, plot loop holes etc.) Grammar and wording are more a question for critique groups an dedicated editors. Good luck!

  17. I have my critique group, who edit, let me know if plot lines are working, and encourage me, help with problems I may be having.

    My beta readers, on the otherhand, are my test readers. I pick about 5 or 6 and run it passed them. I also hand out a “survey” type form as well with questions like: how catchy is the title? Did the first line/page/chapter hook you? Where did it start to slow in pacing? What parts of the book were B.S or things you just didn’t buy happening? Charcters believable?…things like that. I don’t want them coming back just saying, “I liked it. You’re awesome” (which is nice, but not the point). One of my beta readers (after going through all the edits with various people) caught the fact that I handcuffed both of my MS’s hands behind his back–he only had one hand. Good catch.

    I love my critique group. But I also value my beta’s.

  18. I used beta readers for my novel, which will be out later this year. It consisted of a diverse group—friends, avid readers, other writers, people who work in the fields that my characters work in. These were people that I trusted enough to read my work without fear of theft or what have you.

    You see, I wanted to make sure that my story was authentic. That it flowed well, that my characters and their actions were believable. I was mostly concerned with ensuring that the story I wanted to tell was told WELL.

    I can honestly say, the feedback has been invaluable. And while a beta reader is no substitute for an editor, a few of them offered lots of helpful notes.

    My experience with beta readers has been positive for the most part. And lest you think my beta readers were simply friends paying me lip service, the majority of them were relative strangers. Most of the close friends & family I reached out to still have yet to give any feedback.

  19. […] and my Fan page is showing an increase. Who knew all these people wanted to hear me ramble on about beta readers, dashboards, and getting over WIP-sharing fears? Certainly not me. I also didn’t know I had this […]

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