Finding BETA Readers for your Work In ProgressThis ending is too easy, Andi.  You need to mess it up a bit. Be more honest.

The most compelling parts of what you’ve written here, Andi, are your personal reflections.  I’d like to see more of those.

I love the voice of Mary, but then she starts talking about the ideas behind slavery and her voice gets older. That was jarring for me.

These statements are just a few of the many very helpful comments that my BETA readers have given me about my books.  Each of these statements, and the dozens more like them, have helped make my books stronger, wiser, and more fluid . . . not to mention more error-free.  (I really will never get its/it’s right.)

I’m blessed to have them, I know. So many people tell me they have trouble finding BETA readers. At the request of many of you, today I’m going to spend a few minutes suggesting some ways you might find some folks who are reading to give your book a look after you’ve done all you know to do but before you publish it.

First, a couple of criteria for what you’re seeking here.

  1. You need to think of this relationship as reciprocal. If someone is willing to read your work, you need to be willing to read theirs, or help them in their garden, or promote something they’re doing.  It’s not good literary citizenship to always be asking people for help without giving anything in return.
  2. You look for people who are good readers.  Note, they don’t have to be writers, but they do have to read well and critically enough that they can tell you not only that they don’t like something but why they don’t like it. They also have to be willing to tell you that they don’t think something works. We need cheerleaders AFTER we publish, but before, we need critics.

Now that you’re going into this with the idea of giving something back and you know who you’re looking for, here are the ways I have found GREAT BETA readers.

  1. I went to school with these folks. Either we were in undergrad or grad school together. . . or maybe I taught with them.  I know these people from English classes – ones we took or ones we taught – and so I know they are critical readers. Think about the writers and readers you know in person. Would any of them be willing to read for you? 
  2. I met them through organizations that we both belong to. Some of my best BETA readers for Steele Secrets were people I know through Coming to the Table, an anti-racism organization I’m a part of. They helped me fact-check, challenged me when I was too nice, and helped me pin down the story in a way that was believable. Consider the organizations to which you belong. Are there any people there who would give you an honest read of your work? 
  3. Check on local organizations. Here in Charlottesville, we have a great placed called WriterHouse, and if I was still looking for readers, I’d be talking to the folks there.  Or ask at your local library.  Maybe the librarians would be willing to read for you or maybe they know of some avid readers who have the time and ability to help you out. Senior centers are another option as are churches.What local organizations might connect you with potential readers?
  4. I asked. Yep, it’s that simple.  I asked folks – people I knew from high school, friends of friends, people who follow my blog.  I asked anyone and everyone who might be interested, and if they said yes, they got a free copy of my book in exchange for their thoughts.  Now, of course, not everyone read the book and gave me feedback, but a lot of people did – and all of it was so helpful. Who could you ask to read your book? Friends on social media? People’s whose emails you have? Your childrens’ friends’ parents? 

For Steele Secrets, I had 69 BETA readers available. Of those folks, about 10 got back to me with feedback, which was excellent, and a lot of the others posted reviews of the book once it was live (also excellent.

Finally, I’ve learned a couple of things that may be helpful as you go forth and find your BETA readers.

  • Be sure that you only send a PDF file, not a writable file. In this process, you are not asking people to edit your work, so they don’t need to be able to go in and change commas for you. In fact, you don’t want that. It’s just too confusing, and as much as people think they are grammar wizards, many are not.  So just send a PDF that they can read and ask them to note page and paragraph #s for any changes they suggest.
  • Set a deadline for feedback.  I recommend 2-4 weeks and no more. If you give people a tighter deadline that gives them enough time to read the book but not enough time to forget about reading it, then you’re more likely to get some good advice.  Plus, if people have six months to read a book, they may read it in dribs and drabs and, thus, forget parts of the story and then identify those things as problematic in the book itself. Deadlines help us all.

In my experience, people want to be helpful, and while not everyone you’d love to have read your book – does Anne Lamott do BETA reads? – will be able or willing to do so, you may just find some of the best readers are people you didn’t expect.

If you’ve had BETA readers for your work, where did you find them? Any great experiences or horror stories to share with this process? 


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