Fishing for Beta Readers

Monday, October 25, 2010

I read the acknowledgements pages of books with as much as interest as the books themselves. I’m hoping to find the secret to beta readers in those few words. Authors thank their agents, their editors, their publishers, their mentors, their families(not necessarily in that order). They also thank their beta readers, the people who first read their manuscript.

I’ve come to believe that those first readers are invaluable as the buffer between the author, who has read the manuscript so many times they no longer know if it’s good or drivel, and the professionals. But who are these mysterious people and where do you find them? Some authors have their families give opinions on their manuscripts. I’m not sure that would work for me. In twenty years my husband has not met a word I’ve written that he didn’t like. He’s pretty sure I slipped it into the wedding vows. “To love, honor, and support by loving everything she ever writes.” My mom, a voracious reader and former English teacher, is certain it’s part of the mom code. In my family, objectivity is not an option.

Recently I had been considering hiring a reader but I don’t really want someone to edit yet. I just want someone to read the manuscript and give me an overall feeling…what they like, what they don’t, what doesn’t fit. Then a beta reader fell into my lap. At my last writer’s group during a discussion about grammar(I know, we’re wild and crazy) a fellow member mentioned how I’d read a piece for her and corrected the grammar and she “owed me one”. She did? Why didn’t anyone tell me? As soon as the meeting was over I cornered her and started laughing about her “owing me one” before zooming in for the kill. Turns out I actually had a manuscript I wanted a few people to read before I sent it out to agents and since she owed me one maybe she’d read a few chapters? What could she say, she’d just told me in front of two dozen witnesses “if you ever need anything…”.

So I’ve snagged my first beta reader and while she peruses the first few chapters I’ve been making a list of a few other people who might be willing to read a few chapters. Some of these people are just acquaintances but that’s what I need, people who don’t feel pressured to like my writing. Most I’ve done a favor for here or there. Turns out that after you snag your first beta reader the rest are easy—you just need the right bait.

Do you have beta readers and where did you find them?

You can read more about Jodi's search for beta readers at Words by Webb. Jodi has plenty of experience with magazine writing but fiction writing is new territory for her as she polishes her historical novel The Cookie Ladies.


Jackie Bouchard said...

I found two of my beta readers in my book club. Some of the women in book club only vaguely say "I liked/didn't like the book" and that's it. However, two of the women always give much more thorough feedback on explicitly *why* they liked/didn't like it. I asked them to be beta readers and let me know: overall reaction, which parts of the manuscript didn't work for them, if there are any things that pull them out of the story. They make great beta readers and they enjoy being part of the process of trying to help me ultimately get published. Another beta reader is a woman in my writing group - we always trade off reading each others' work.

Unknown said...

Another plus for writing groups!

Best with your work!


Anonymous said...

TWITTER!! I found my lovely beta reader-who is no stranger to WOW and The Muffin-on Twitter. Julie Lindsey, who's been published here a couple times, has been utterly informative in so many ways. She led me here! *wink* I'm SOOOO thankful I found her. She is an awesome writer and has become a good friend as well.

Jodi Webb said...


Glad to have you at WOW. I should start giving out finders fees to Julie for everyone she steers our way!

Thanks for all the encouragement!

Linda P. said...

I am lucky enough to have two great beta readers. One is my oldest daughter, herself a writer about to submit her first novel. Another is a writer I met at the inaugural meeting of the Houston Chapter of the SCBWI back in 1989. At the time, we were both unpublished want-to-be writers. We've each gone on to publish in our own fields and still sometimes serve each other as beta readers. Her input and my oldest daughter's have proven invaluable. Each feels comfortable providing constructive comments of the "you might consider" type, much more needed than compliments.

Angelica R. Jackson said...

The Absolute Write Water Cooler forum has led to a few beta readers for me. They actually have a section where people who are willing to beta put themselves out there, sometimes for a reciprocal read and sometimes just because they enjoy reading widely.

I've developed online relationships, getting to know people through their AW posts, that have led to more targeted beta reads.

Also, our critique group formed through our SCBWI memberships; they have a list of people in your area that have signed up for an "interested in forming a critique group" email.

Here's link to AW's beta reader section:

And an article about our critique group (how it formed, what we get out of it) Page 4:

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