I’ve written before about the importance of beta readers as part of your revision plan. This post will get into some strategies for finding readers, as well as how to connect with folks who will be the most helpful initial audience for your book.
Even if you work with a critique group, you’ll want to find additional readers. A true beta read requires someone who hasn’t seen any of the pages before. They’re standing in for the readers you want to pick up (and love) your book once it’s published.
There are two types of people who make the best beta readers: well-read fans of your specific genre, and people with writing expertise. Some writers prefer only to recruit readers; the reasoning is that writers will give feedback about how they would tell your story, not about how you should tell it.
While your mileage may vary, my opinion is that fellow writers have familiarity with the craft that can make them insightful betas. The trick is to compare all the responses you get, looking for commonalities, discarding outliers, and trusting your gut.
The approaches I’m sharing here will help you target both readers and writers. When in doubt, cast a wide net—it’s likely not all your volunteers will ultimately get back to you, so it’s a good idea to pass your work on to extra betas.
Your social media connections can yield unexpected volunteers, so don’t be afraid to just make some posts calling for betas. Always include key details about your topic and story, though, and be clear that you’re looking for people who read a lot of books in that niche. (“This story is for readers who love fairy tale retellings and LGBTQ romance.”) If you have comp titles in mind, ask for fans of those books. (“Spinning Silver meets About a Girl.”)
This tactic can work well on platforms where you have a medium-sized following. If you’re only connected with close friends, you won’t be getting volunteers with enough objectivity. On the other hand, you do want to be recruiting volunteers you trust to meet your timeframe and treat your book respectfully. So if you’ve got two thousand Facebook friends, consider using the privacy settings to curate a smaller audience for your post.
Online writing communities
Along with using general social media, you can look for betas with writing knowledge through specific online groups. A lot of these groups live on Facebook. Here are a few to get your search started:
Fiction Writers Global
Writers Helping Writers
Binders Full of Speculative Fiction Writers
Fantasy & Science Fiction Writers
Queer Sci Fi
The Writing Gals Critique Group
These communities are great resources for general writing support and comradery. Pick a few that look fun and spend a couple weeks posting and getting to know the group before you put out a call for readers. You’re more likely to get interest from good beta matches if members see you’re contributing, and if they know a bit about you. To find specific people you’d like to connect with, use the search function to scan the feed for keywords.
When you do make the call for betas, don’t forget to include those specifics about your book and similar titles. And always offer to return the favor! Being a beta for fellow writers isn’t just the nice thing to do. It’s also an opportunity to hone your reading and critique skills, which in turn feeds your storytelling abilities.
Twitter can also be a source for readers. There are a plethora of active hashtags used by the writing community, but here are a few for finding critique partners and beta readers:
That last hashtag is also used during scheduled Twitter events created by author Megan Lally (@Megan_Lally). Check out her blog for more on how to participate.
If social media isn’t your thing, never fear. There are other websites where writers can connect. Most of these sites cater to a specific genre and require you to become a member of their community before posting calls for readers. The Write Life has a recently updated list of active sites.
Actual people you actually know
You’ll often see the advice that you shouldn’t use friends or family as your beta readers. For the most part, this is true. Your loved ones are an excellent source of encouragement and support—which makes them not the best source for objectivity and critique. However! As in all things, there are exceptions to this rule.
Some of my most helpful feedback has come from readers who know me well and are comfortable giving it to me like it is. If you’re up for the temporary bruised feelings, these readers can provide an insightful take. They’re more likely to know what kind of writer you aspire to be. They can sometimes spot areas where your unique voice is falling flat. And they have a personal interest in improving your book.
If this sounds like someone you know, be really honest with yourself about whether you can handle critique from a close friend (like, really honest). But if the answer is yes, don’t let the prevailing advice deter you.
It’s also worth asking your book-loving friends if they have folks in their own inner circles who’d make good betas. Friends who are members of book clubs, for example, have real-life access to active, engaged readers. And that personal connection increases the chance of a helpful beta match.
Once you’ve found your volunteers, it’s time to give them specifics about what kind of feedback you’re looking for. Zeroing in on your priorities will make sure you’re getting what you need to make those final revisions. More on communicating with betas in the next post!