Beta Reader Group discussion

Writing Advice & Discussion > How many beta readers does an author generally enlist?

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message 1: by Vee (new)

Vee Taylor-Gunn | 6 comments Hello everyone and this is my first post.
I was just wondering - and please forgive me if this has been discussed to death or is obvious - but how many beta readers does an author generally enlist?
Thanks in advance!

message 2: by Author (new)

Author Cb carter | 16 comments For me, I try to get three beta reads. What I'm looking for is consistency in what the beta readers like and dislike. Plus, their overall interest in the story. For example, if all three beta readers hint that a paragraph isn't needed (and I'm in love with the paragraph as the writer) I kill that paragraph (sad to see it go). If all three love a part of the story then I don't dare touch it. One beta read's take isn't enough to make those types of calls, but I feel comfortable when three are in agreement.

Also, what I've noticed is I've become a better writer in beta reading another's work -- especially when I've delved outside my genre.

message 3: by Keith (new)

Keith Oxenrider (mitakeet) | 1166 comments I did a lot for my first (over 20, if memory serves, but I was very insecure). I also did a major revision, so did another round afterwards. I did fewer with later works, mostly asking those I felt gave me good feedback from the first iteration, but still in the 5+ range.

An odd number is important, for a tie breaker. For me, if I get feedback that makes me itchy to get to rewriting, then it's a good thing no matter what the others say. If the majority all have the same general response, and I'm not in love with it, I'll go ahead and make the change. But even if everyone is against some aspect that I love, I'll only seriously consider making a change, I won't automatically do it. I wrote it for a reason, and while their feedback might give me ideas to rewrite to better express my intent, I'm not going to 'kill a darling' simply because some readers didn't like it.

I feel it's important to internalize that for the vast majority of us, the only joy we're going to get out of our writing is the act, so if we don't enjoy what we're doing we're much less likely to finish.

As for paid vs unpaid, there are some threads on this topic. I paid about half my readers and feel the overall response was about the same. The deviation was wide and had lots of overlap. Some of my free readers gave me valuable insight, some of the paid ones told me little, as I could tell they didn't get my story intent.

As for when, it should be after you think you've made it as good as you can and need other eyes to point out plot holes, etc. You can look for a critique partner if you want input when it's still in the rough stage, but beta readers are meant to give you the same sort of feedback you'd get from a paying customer, and you shouldn't be OK with asking someone to pay for anything less than your best.

PM me if you'd like a link to a blog post where I go into a bit more detail on reader feedback.

message 4: by J.R. (new)

J.R. Alcyone | 275 comments I went through about five drafts (draft = a substantial rewrite) and had nine readers. I didn't enlist readers until I was on draft #2. Several of the readers I used were paid and several were swaps. I couldn't afford a developmental edit, so I used my beta readers plus my own research (there are a lot of good craft books out there as well as a ton of helpful information on the web) to shape my book and characters.

As someone who comes at this both as a beta reader and an author ... You'll get the most out of your beta readers if you give them something relatively clean so they can focus on your story. That's not saying you have to edit your work to within an inch of its life or hire a pro before you send it to your readers, but it is very hard to focus on the story or characters when you must stop every other paragraph to puzzle through the writing.

Also, I agree with Author -- beta reading makes me a better writer. It also teaches a writer what a huge gift a reader is bestowing upon you when they agree to read and comment on your work in terms of the reader's time and effort.

message 5: by Dan (new)

Dan | 1 comments (Really good points above about how to get the most out of a beta read, and I second all of those.)

Personally, I had about a dozen alpha readers, and four or five betas. The betas were divided into two waves, so two or three per beta draft. I had more lined up, but for one reason or another they weren't able to read/comment.

message 6: by Vee (new)

Vee Taylor-Gunn | 6 comments Thank you everyone for your helpful comments - food for thought!!! Happy holidays everyone!

message 7: by Alex (new)

Alex | 136 comments How many you got?

message 8: by Vee (new)

Vee Taylor-Gunn | 6 comments Alex... my novel isn't finished yet!

message 9: by Alex (new)

Alex | 136 comments Ah, Vee, I was speaking of my own needs. Good luck with your novel.

message 10: by Jamie (new)

Jamie Jack | 0 comments Here's a dumb question...what's an alpha reader?

message 11: by Keith (new)

Keith Oxenrider (mitakeet) | 1166 comments Not so dumb. A little less than a critique partner, since there's no expectation to return the favor, but someone who's often also a writer who can deal with rough work and can see the where the story can go. Someone who's an alpha reader can ignore those aspects that are admitted to be raw and unfinished and focus on the aspects the author feels needs input. There are lots of people that can't see past the grammatical/spelling (even formatting) errors and thus provide useless feedback on things the author already knows about and plans to remedy.

You should never send your first (or third (or probably even fifth)) draft to any beta readers, it's not fare to ask them to invest so much time and energy in something you know you're going to improve. Alpha readers, though, can look at something that raw and unfinished and are generally looking to give feedback on the very high-level issues, like character, plot arc, setting, imagery, etc.

Most good alpha readers are also writers, and are used to looking at raw and unfinished work, since they look at theirs all the time. But there are some readers out there who can look at raw work and provide useful input. These people (whether they write or not) are worth their weight in gold.

A critique partner is generally where you act as alpha readers for each other.

message 12: by Emma (new)

Emma A | 3 comments Great post. I wasn't sure either. Thanks!

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