Take a deep breath.
You did it. You just finished your novel. After all of the hard work, you can write the word “END” in capital letters below the last line, and be real proud of yourself.
But is your piece any good?
You think it is, but you might also be a tiny bit biased… Asking your opinion would be like walking into the next gelateria to inquire who makes the best ice cream.
So whom should you turn to?
Your best friend Esmeralda comes to mind. She is all-around awesome, but you are not sure if she has the patience to analyze your piece.
You are tight with your uncle Albert too, but he exclusively reads books about the technical challenges of oil drilling. Maybe not precisely your audience.
Or your aunt Gini. She loves to read these little paper booklets you can buy at train stations. And she always aims to please. But that means it’s possible she will not tell you what she really thinks.
You could also give it to your parrot Einstein, but you are afraid he would only swear at you.
What should you do?
Don’t despair, esteemed reader, this post is here to help. It will tell you everything you need to know about finding your perfect beta reader.
In this article, learn:
- Which characteristics make the perfect beta reader, so you can pick somebody that can truly help you out
- Where to find your perfect beta reader
- Online resources you can use to find your perfect beta reader
- How to best deal with your (perfect?) beta reader’s feedback
And like always, you can find a helpful print-out, fresh off the printing press (which is your own printer at home):
Your Helpful Beta Reader Guide to Print out
Download this free PDF to remember the basic points of this post when hunting for your ideal test reader. It’s a handy 3-page-summary to keep.
Now let’s see which characteristics make the perfect beta reader.
What Your Perfect Beta Reader Looks Like
Not everybody you get along with well makes a great test reader. Conversely, not everybody who reads piles of fiction makes a great test reader either.
Look out for the following traits:
1. He reads fiction books
Your beta guy or girl needs to like fiction; that’s an indispensable characteristic. No matter how smart she is, no matter how close she is to you: If she doesn’t read at all, or only reads non-fiction or the occasional news online, scratch her off the list.
To be able to truly judge fiction, they need to have at least a little bit of a sense for it. And you acquire that sense from reading and writing fiction stories. You wouldn’t want to let a guy who has never seen a horse in his entire life judge your jockeying skills either.
And yes, if your potential beta reader writes fiction herself, that is even better.
2. He understands you and where you are coming from
Of course, there is a better chance your test reader will understand you and what you are after, if he is really close to you. So pick somebody who understands you very well in real life.
Your novel is always an extension of your inner self into the outer world – it’s something personal that comes from deep within you, even if it isn’t meant to be that way. Who understands you, will understand your novel, if your story makes sense.
You can also look at which genres your potential beta reader prefers. You might not want to give your newest horror slasher “Gumbo Eats the Orphanage” to your sweet granny, who only reads romance novels.
3. He is not afraid to tell you the truth
That’s a big one. Because what good is it if your beta reader sees all the slip-ups in your novel, but covers them under a sugarcoating thicker than a chocolate cake’s? Does that thought give you diabetes?
If you know somebody brutally honest, more honest than is good for them, that will be perfect. Then in return, try to not punch them in the face when they tell you what they think. They might be right, or they might be wrong (see below).
Of course, there is the perfectionist type that only tells you what’s bad about your book, and not what they liked. In that case, ask them specifically: “So what did you like best about it?” They will tell you.
In return, if somebody only tells you good things, make sure to ask them “What did you like least?”
You can ask “What did you not like (about it)?” several times, until you squeezed the last drop of information out, and they reply “Nothing else, I told you everything I can possibly think of.”
4. He is curious what you got (at least a little bit)
Even if they read fiction, understand you well and say what they think, they might still not be your ideal beta reader. Of course, the above three traits go a long way. If nobody else is available, give it a shot.
But we said “perfect” beta reader, didn’t we?
Yessss, its got to be per-fect! And that means you should also look for somebody who is a bit curious about what you have to offer. Ideally, they have asked you themselves if they can read your story. I always love these kind of requests, because interested people will put some effort into their critique. If they know me well and don’t make a secret of their opinion, they are in.
5. You trust their judgement (to a certain degree)
Do you trust that they will have to say something smart about your book? The answer to this question is entirely intuitive, you will feel it in your guts. Thoughtful people have thoughtful thoughts. Got it? Nothing else to say.
You now know what you are looking for. Let’s see where you can find that wonder of a beta reader.
Where to Find the Beta Reader of Your Dreams
Here are several suggestions for how you can find a beta reader that makes a really good fit. Start with the first option (it’s the best one), and then go down the list.
Friends and Family
Your family and your close friends are probably the people whom you trust most, at least I would hope so; so start with them. Do you have somebody amongst them who loves to read stories? She would probably be an excellent choice.
Make sure they know that you want to hear the truth though. Tell them upfront, before you hand over your manuscript. After they have started sugarcoating their critique, it’s more difficult for them to backtrack.
I have had excellent experiences with people whom I wasn’t really close to as beta readers; for example an ex-classmate, or the friend of a friend I got along with really well. They both had requested my novel and seemed super interested.
The ex-classmate was an avid fiction reader, and the friend of my friend was a DJ and music producer, so he definitely had a knack for art (even if it wasn’t writing in the first place). They both turned out to be excellent beta readers.
What is it about acquaintances that makes them really useful for test reading?
Maybe it’s because they are not afraid to tell you the truth, or maybe it’s because they do it for themselves rather than as a favor to you. It could also be because they have absolutely no reason to fake interest. Just listen up, if somebody who doesn’t even know you that well requests an exclusive pre-read: He or she might be the perfect fit!
Writers Meetings/Critique Groups
If you don’t personally know anybody fitting, then a writer’s group will be a good option. Keep in mind these people are writers themselves, so they will not just judge you from the perspective of a reader, but also from the perspective of a writer. This could be a bad thing if they have little experience, and a good thing if they have a lot of experience.
Try to get ahold of something the person who critiques you wrote. How good is their own writing?
The better their writing is, the more their feedback is worth. Don’t put too much weight on the feedback of a person you don’t even know, and whose stories you have never read.
How can you find a writing group for your area?
Just google “Writing group” and the name of your city.
Also try “Writing meetup,” “Writing circle,” “Writer’s meeting,” “Writing critique group,” or whatever else comes to your mind.
Another excellent resource is the website meetup.com
You can find meetups of any kind there, and it’s very likely they have some meetup for writers too.
If all else fails, there is always your old buddy, the internet.
In fact, I would probably prefer a good writing forum over a writers group, just because I can choose between many more writers on the internet than I could in the real world.
On the other hand, you get to know the other person better if the two of you are in the same room and share the group experience. Choosing between online and real world is a matter of preferences and entirely up to you.
If you want to surf the bottomless depths of the internet, I would definitely look at a writing forum first. The big internet forums feature an avalanche of likeminded people. Just imagine: A huge group of people who, just like you, love story writing! How awesome is that?
To my knowledge, this is the biggest fiction writing forum on the internet. You will find a ton a people trying to ride their pens in there. Most of them do sound like beginners though. If you have some writing experience under your belt, be picky.
This is also a big forum, and it has the most knowledgeable audience out of all the writing forums I have come across. You definitely have some people in there who know what they are talking about.
There are a lot of other writing forums too, many of them smaller. Just use google.
When you look through these forums, look for somebody who sounds knowledgeable. Look at their profile and go through their post history. Ideally, get ahold of their writings. Do you like their posts and their profile? Do you think you could click with them?
You have a ton of people to choose from, that’s the beauty of the internet. So choose carefully. Then participate a bit on the forum, send friendly personal messages to a couple of users, see who responds, and go from there.
Another option are writing groups on Facebook. You can use the same search terms you used for google when you are looking for a group of writers on Facebook.
Back in the Old Days: Stone Age “Like”
Pinterest is huge for writers. You might not directly find writing groups, but you will probably find pins, posts and contributions that can lead you to groups.
Back in the Old Days: Stone Age “Pinboard”
Oh, and one more thing…
Register It Before You Send It Out
This is essential if you send out your complete story to somebody you don’t know well. I suppose you do trust your close friends and family, anything else would be sad. But if you send it out to an acquaintance, a writing group buddy, or even somebody you only know over the internet, then make sure to register your novel beforehand.
You have the copyright on your writing anyways; this is just a precaution to be able to prove the story is yours in worst case (no legal advice).
To register, you usually have to send your entire script to an institution, either online or by physical mail. You might also have to pay a small fee. Find out the exact procedures for the country you live in on the internet.
Back in the Old Days: Stone Age “Friendship Request”
How to Deal with Critique
This is also something we should talk about, isn’t it? After all, you might not agree with the feedback you get at all. Now is your beta reader mistaken? Or are you just ignorant?
Some points for you to consider:
- Ultimately, you decide. Keep in mind that your critique partner’s word is not law.
- Before you decide, give it a good hard thought, and try to see things from his point of view. Why does he think this? If it’s not clear to you, ask him.
- If you still think he is wrong, then feel free to dismiss his critique. Everybody can be mistaken once in a while, and sometimes it’s just their personal opinion.
- If two or more beta readers, independently from each other, give you the same feedback, then it’s extremely likely there is something to it.
- Sometimes, your beta readers might sense that something is wrong, but be unable to put their finger on the exact problem. For example, they say the action is boring, whereas you clearly have a lot of action going on. But maybe it’s your characters who are so boring that the reader just doesn’t care about the action…? Keep that in mind.
Now let me remind you of…
Your Beta Reader Guide PDF
Download the free PDF; it’s a short summary of this post, and the best way to archive it, on your PC or in printed form.
Your Critique Partner Prompt
The topic of this post doesn’t directly call for a writing prompt, but I will give you a prompt of a different kind. The best place to find a critique partner might actually be on this very blog.
Think about it: Chances are, other readers of this blog see writing the same way you do; they probably like the same kind of posts and the same kind of humor.
How can you contact other readers, you ask?
Tell us in the comments that you are looking for a critique partner or beta reader. Don’t forget to leave your email address in the “email” field. Your email address won’t ever be public, and I will be the only one who can see it. I will give it out to people who contact me and ask for it (but only if you indicate in your comment that you are looking for a writing partner!). You can write to alex at ridethepen dot com
And if you are not afraid to post your email publicly, just leave it directly in your comment.
I will connect you guys with each other.
If you decide to write a comment, you can also quickly describe the genre you are writing in, for how long you have been writing, and other fun facts. Let’s see what happens and if you can find a great match!
Your perfect beta reader needs to read fiction, know where you are coming from, and not be afraid to tell you the truth. Ideally, she is also curious about what you have to offer, and you do trust her judgement.
Look amongst close friends and family first, then acquaintances or writing groups. An excellent idea are internet fiction writing forums or writing groups on Facebook. Lastly, when you deal with feedback, don’t forget that ultimately the choice is yours. You know your story best.
A great and trusted beta reader is awesome help: He sees your story with fresh eyes, and might give you insights you never thought about. It’s also great fun to hear how your very first reader enjoys your story! She might very well like it… and that will be your rocket fuel, once you sit down at your desk again…!
Image Credits: Cover Image Woman Reading: Валерий Качаев/123rf.com; Dog about Atoms: Andrew Grossman/123rf.com; Trash Can: Igor Sapozhkov/123rf.com; Stone Age Likes: /123rf.com; Stone Age Pinboard: mistac/123rf.com; Stone Age Friendship: Maxim Popov/123rf.com;