Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Writer's Resource: What's a Beta Reader?

Like many other writers committed to a large project, I finally finished my first rough draft of Scattered Stones, set in 1840s Scotland. "What's next?" I wondered, after putting the novel aside to 'marinate' for about a month. "How can I efficiently finish this story?"

At first blush, I knew I needed reader feedback. Did my story work as I hoped? Diving back into research, I discovered so many resources, some paid, some not, to help me reach 'launch date'.

Beta readers could help me reach that goal to publish, but I wasn't quite sure.

What's a beta reader? A beta reader is someone who reads a free copy of a nearly finished novel and agrees to provide feedback to the writer. Said feedback depends on the beta reader's expertise and interest.

Here's what I've learned . . . so far. Surprisingly, the very first step is to analyze more precisely what I need with this story. Do I need:

  • Proofreading or copy editing to check spelling, grammar, punctuation, or consistency of voice or style because my story is just about perfect in every other element? In other words, it's nearly finished! NOTE: Most professional writers will say, "You need to hire an editor!" But some beta readers can copy edit.
  • Developmental editing to analyze my story concept, plot coherence, character development, or story arc to find if something's just off? Because I sense something is missing, maybe a plot hole?
  • Structural editing to analyze the story's plot, pacing, characters, setting, theme, and overall style to discover if the 'bones' of my story are working together effectively?
  • Reader response to simply find out what folks who read my genre think about my story. 
OK, I'm in. Now, how do I find a beta reader? I began by reaching out to writers I know locally and who I've met through writing groups I belong to (for example, Sisters In Crime, the Insecure Writer's Support Group, and Spokane Authors and Self-Publishers). I posted a call for beta readers on my author Facebook Page, and here on this blog. As I have served as a beta reader for other writers, I reached out to those writers as well.

My goal was to create a Beta Reader Team, a group of folks with diverse interests and skills, who would give me feedback. The results have surpassed my initial hopes. Comments from my wonderful beta readers hit every category summarized above, giving me focus and new insight into what's next to revise that nearly final first draft.

Sisters in Crime hosted a fascinating online discussion about how different writers thank their beta readers. In addition to that free copy of a novel, nearly all writers acknowledge the contribution beta readers have made in an afterword. Some give extra, more personal gifts, swag, or gift certificates. A writer I did a beta read for, M. J. Hudon, gave me a set of potholders featuring werewolves, really charming and related to the theme of her book. I'm looking forward to reading her work again.

And that's the point to building that Beta Reader Team. In much the same way that we reach out to our readers and want to connect with them, our beta readers give us valuable feedback as well as a supportive community. Of course, the wonderful feedback I've gotten from about eight beta readers will lead to several more months of hard work, but I'm so thankful for their thoughtful comments. 

I hope this discussion has been helpful to you. If you're a writer, have you worked with beta readers? What did you learn? What questions do you still have? Here's a link to "The Ultimate Guide to Beta Readers" at The Write Practice, if you'd like more suggestions. 

Meanwhile, spring is finally morphing into early summer. May your writing go well. 


  1. Yes, Beth! Beta readers are incredibly valuable. For Plunge, I used eight beta readers from different backgrounds, countries, professions… I’d do this again if I ever publish another book.

    The We Love Memoirs Facebook group has a subgroup called WLM Authors, which is a helpful and knowledgeable community. I’m currently beta reading a memoir for an author friend, but am not making much headway, because life has thrown us more curve balls. I, honestly, don’t have time to read.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Liesbet. Sorry to hear about those curve balls. I'm currently up to my ears copy editing for a friend, with time to write seriously cut back! But what can I do? After all, we're a community of writers and support each other when we can. Every beta reader I've worked with has given me so much insight and help. Persevere!