WTF Are Beta Readers?
Updated: Apr 7
You've probably heard of beta testers before. These are real folks who test products, like new consumer products for marketing research.
Similarly, beta readers “test read” a manuscript before publication. A beta reader’s purpose is to assume the role of an average reader. They’ll read a manuscript and provide actionable feedback. I've often mentioned beta readers in my social media posts.
Beta readers typically read a manuscript during an early stage of the writing process. Beta readers’ feedback is considered when revising a manuscript. A revised manuscript may be sent to a second set of beta readers to gather new feedback. If the manuscript is ready to advance beyond beta readers, then it is submitted to an editing service for a professional manuscript critique.
I prefer my beta readers to evaluate a very early manuscript. The feedback allows me to get a handle on what works and doesn't early on in the writing process. I always select from 3-5 readers. Always an odd number for when there is a common issue brought up by the beta's I will lean heavily toward whatever the majority says.
Beta Readers Vs. Critique Groups
A critique group is a band of writers who share their work. The best critique groups are small and filled with fellow writers of the same genre. Critique groups can be supportive and are essential for any writer who wishes to improve their work quickly.
However, critique groups are not the same as beta readers. The first distinction is that a critique group is made up of writers. Beta readers are readers. Most beta readers don’t write and won’t approach a manuscript from a writer’s perspective. They may not get all of the nuances that a fellow writer will see. And that’s the point. I want to see how an actual reader will experience my manuscript.
The second difference is that critique groups are a mixed bag. Not everyone in a critique group may be on the same level. Some may be experienced writers with several published books. Others may still be in high school and working on their first novel. It can be challenging to account for the different levels of experience when absorbing feedback. It’s better to cherry-pick who will read the manuscript instead of submitting it to the entire group.
Finally, a critique group may not accept full, unedited manuscripts for review. Different groups have different rules when it comes to what can be submitted.
Beta Readers Vs. Alpha Readers
Oh yes, there’s such a thing as an alpha reader. Alpha readers are people who see a manuscript before it’s completed. They may even get to see the first draft before it is spell-checked. Alpha readers are likely to be close loved ones, like spouses or best friends, who see the manuscript in its early stages. They may provide a pat on the back and a cheer of encouragement, but they can never take the place of beta readers.
By contrast, beta readers aren’t usually close friends/family and will usually evaluate a manuscript after it is self-edited. The selected beta readers are chosen by different criteria and the kind of evaluation I require.
Why are Beta Readers Necessary?
Why even bother with beta readers if the manuscript will be submitted to a professional editing service? Are both necessary?
A writer absolutely needs both. Here’s why:
Beta readers aren’t editors and do not replace them. Editors are professionals who review and revise manuscripts. An editor may perform several types of tasks. They can offer manuscript critiques where they evaluate the structure of the author's work. This includes plot, theme, character, consistency, and voice. An editor may provide a comprehensive edit where they go line-by-line and analyze prose for revision opportunities. Then, of course, an editor can provide a copy edit where they check on spelling, punctuation, grammar, and continuity errors.
Beta readers are everyday people who read books because they have a passion for the subject matter and/or the genre. That’s not to say that editors aren’t passionate readers. The distinction is that editors are professionals who approach critique from a technical perspective. Not only can they spot when something doesn’t work in the manuscript, but a professional editor can also explain exactly why it doesn’t work, and how to fix it.
Beta readers provide me with early feedback in the writing process which guides me to what and where I should focus to better my manuscript. I value beta readers' opinions and suggestions, after all, they are a small sampling of the readers who will read my finished work.
I would like to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment in the Comment Box at the bottom of the page.
Bestselling Fiction Author
Stories with an LGBTQ+ Twist
corrupting readers since 2008
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