To Beta or Not to Beta that is the Question


I’ve said it before, others have said it, pretty much everyone’s said it: Writing is hard, not because the words struggle to come to the surface, not because writer’s block lingers around every bend, and not because ideas at times refuse to form, but because writing demands more than just writing.

You need to revise, proofread, and edit your story to the best that you can. Beta readers can help with that.

Beta readers are a fresh set of eyes. Those common errors and misused words will be more obvious to them because they haven’t read your story countless times before, the words haven’t blended into the background like they’ve done with you. Remember those gaps in the story I mentioned, maybe you missed a few, maybe you didn’t patch it up as good as you thought, maybe you did? Beta readers are a great way to check on that too.

You get to see where you failed to ‘show, don’t tell’, where you thought you included an important part but didn’t, and where you need to add or take out details. As a writer, we know how the story should go but did we achieve molding it in that direction? Here is where you can get feedback from your readers to find out.

But if they are so helpful why do some people dislike and even refuse using them?

Beta readers have received a bad rep because some tend to tackle each area of your book with a fine comb. Some will suggest alternate endings and have you debating whether to rewrite entire sections or toss the entire thing out the window. They will point out parts of your story they didn’t like, but they will also provide you with an early pile of feedback, some good some bad. There are editors that do the same thing.

You need to remember that you don’t have to update your manuscript with all the changes your beta readers throw at you. Not every edit or revision they suggest should be used. This is your story after all.

Then should we use betas or not?

We as authors must remember beta readers are readers too, there will be those who love your story, those who hate it, those who understood the story far more than you do (yes, there are those kinds out there too), and those who didn’t get it from page one. The only thing that distinguishes them from the rest of your readers is that beta readers read the story in its early stages before publication. They don’t get the luxury that the rest do in reading a polished work.

If you can learn not to take every feedback to heart and can keep a keen eye out for the corrections that are worth paying attention to and which ones you can do without than use them. Beta readers provide feedback you can’t get on your own prior to publishing your book. It’s the same concept as reading your work outloud, you get that extra perspective.

Even with using beta readers, you still need to revise and edit several times, but this time around you’ll have a blueprint of what you are looking for, of what needs work.

So how do you get the best out of your beta readers?

  • Make sure your betas are authors that write in your genre or readers of that genre.
  • Try to steer away from using family members and friends, they will be biased to your work.
  • Use those that have been beta readers before that way you will be assured they will get back to you and not leaving you waiting for their feedback.
  • Try two sets of beta readers. Send your work to one group, edit your work again, and then send the revised manuscript to the second group.
  • Make sure to include a list of what you are looking for in their feedback. Ask them to write comments, to write down what they got from each chapter. Was the ending satisfying enough? Was there something they didn’t understand?
  • Ask them if you can include their review in your book. You can never have enough reviews, reviews are another way to promote your work, to grasp readers.
  • Ask those you liked if you an add them to your list for future beta readers. Why start from scratch every time?

Still unsure if you should use a beta reader or not? Check out Devil in the Details Editing Service Am I the right editor for you? Read the pointers an editor gives you on the difference between beta readers and an edit and why you should use one.

Want to use beta readers but don’t know how to get them?

The concept is pretty much the same as with getting reviews. Some people do reviews on early stages of your manuscript, check their preferences and listings to see if they list themselves as beta readers too. Try out writing communities centered around the genre you are writing, there are always people willing to read works in exchange to getting it early and free.

Devil in the Details Editing Service lists two beta readers in her resources for writers section.

Have your own way of obtaining beta readers? Share it with us.


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