Beta reader

900 300 Writer and the Wolf Editorial

What is a beta reader?

Beta readers are your book’s trial audience. Just like Facebook rolls out ‘beta’ versions of new updates to test them on a few (or few thousand) users before launching, authors often show their early manuscript to beta readers to get feedback before revising and sharing with professionals or self-publishing. Many writers distinguish between alpha and beta readers: an alpha reader, as the name suggests, is the first person to ever lay eyes on your first draft in its raw, unpolished state and give you critiques that lets you revise and tidy your manuscript before sharing more widely for feedback.

For me, that person is my husband. He’s always the first to read anything I write and even though I *hate* him every time he makes a suggestion or points out a massive problem with the plot, I’d much rather have him notice those things now than have friends or writing partners spot them later! So, once Steve has ripped my manuscript to shreds, I make changes and then share with somebody a little further removed from me: a writer friend or a tutor on my writing course, for example.

Beta readers will come at your novel from a reader’s perspective, telling you what they liked, which bits felt slow, whether they spotted any obvious plot holes – the sorts of things you might discuss at a book club or with a friend who read the same novel as you. They’re usually unpaid and are not qualified editors, although some professional editors do offer beta reading as a paid service.

It’s a great idea to get at least one beta reader to look at your manuscript after you’ve self edited it. You can then take their feedback on board and decide whether to make changes in your next draft based on their recommendations.

So, how do you find one? Maybe there’s a friend who enjoys your genre and you trust to give you an honest opinion about your story. Maybe you have a critique partner you can swap manuscripts with. If not, you can join social media groups designed to match authors with beta readers. K.M. Weiland has a brilliant, comprehensive list of ideas for finding the perfect beta reader.

What do children’s authors need to know?

It’s all very well handing your book over to your husband or friend for their feedback but what if your novel is aimed at children? How do you get their opinion? Well, if you’re lucky you’ll know some children or teenagers who like reading and you can bribe incentivise them to read your story with a gift voucher or cash. Be prepared for brutal honesty: children don’t tend to mince their words! But you’ll get really valuable feedback. What’s better than finding out how your target audience is actually experiencing your work?

There are also services that will match you up with a child or teen reader for a very reasonable fee, like Quiethouse Editing.


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Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Siobhan O'Brien Holmes is a developmental editor working with middle grade and YA authors. She specialises in speculative and genre fiction, particularly horror, fantasy, mystery, sci-fi and anything with a dash of magic or macabre. She is a member of the SfEP, EFA, ACES, British Fantasy Society, Horror Writers Association and SCBWI. She has an MA in Novel Writing and an MA in Children's Literature.

All stories by: Siobhan O'Brien Holmes