Confession: I never knew what a Beta Reader was. I could guess—and did—but I didn’t truly know.
In the event, you’re curious:
A beta reader is a test reader of a not-yet published book/writing. He/she provides feedback to the author re issues that the average reader might experience upon reading said writing.
Confession #2: I’ve never used one. That’s not to say I believe my writing and plots are flawless or that I’m so talented I don’t require critiques/assessments. I’ve just never given it much thought (maybe, subconsciously, I figure 38 edits for every manuscript will [eventually] capture all those issues).
Beta readers are often writers as well, but for the purpose of the role, they focus solely on reading. Generally, they provide an overall [objective] opinion of the writing, such as if the:
- writing appropriately reflects the genre
- story maintains interest
- characters are strong / likeable
- plot and scenes flow logically
- pacing is smooth
- description and details are thorough / informative enough (to paint visuals)
- loose ends were tied up, and
- climax/ending was fitting / appropriate.
If you’re a writer who’d like to enlist a beta reader, you could request volunteers from your social media followers and friends. There are sites, too, like Goodreads (there’s a beta-reader community to connect with) and Scribophile, where you can upload your writing and get feedback (with a couple of provisos). Google for more, but do your due diligence because not all are necessarily right for you.
How many beta readers you have is up to you, but less is probably better, at least initially. Start with two or three. Utilize the advice gathered. If you feel you’d like more input, enlist the aid of two or three more.
The important thing to remember is that beta readers are not editors; they’re first readers providing feedback about your story. Punctuation and grammar shouldn’t be part of the equation; that’s what editors and proofreaders are for.
If you love reading, or simply want to help fellow writers, maybe you’d like to be a beta reader (I’m serving as one for the first time). You won’t be paid, but you will receive a sense of fulfillment. Not only are you learning to “look” for pros and cons, and outstanding issues in others’ writing (which may help you with yours), but you’re assisting and supporting fellow writers in need. How awesome is that?