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We have several questions on beta readers, including this one on how writers can find beta readers. How does it work from the other side? How can a non-beta reader make the "jump" and start beta reading?

There is a question here on how someone who is already a beta reader can improve their beta reading skills, but that's a different kind of opposite to my question. If a person more-or-less already has what it takes to be a beta reader but they lack the social connections (e.g. they are unknown to writers, don't have provable experience, don't have any letters at the end of their name, etc.) to get that first beta reading opportunity, how, generally, can that be overcome?

Are there any best practices for getting "spotted" as an up-and-coming beta reader?

  • Should one attempt to join and lurk around writers' groups, and, when asked, say that one is there to become a beta reader?
  • Should one become a writer and gain recognition as such as a necessary prerequisite to qualifying as a beta reader, even if writing is not one's goal or interest?
  • Is there a formal qualification to earn that signals to writers that one is ready to start beta reading (e.g. a degree, diploma, certification, high score on a literacy test, etc.)?
  • Are there organizations that one can apply to to be matched with an aspiring writer?

This is not intended to be a primarily opinion-based question, at least not any more than the questions we have here already about finding beta readers. I'm asking about best practices, or typical practices if best practices do not exist.

If it is essentially impossible to become a beta reader of one's own initiative (e.g. if initial beta reading opportunities for readers with no beta-reading experience are typically only given out to people who find themselves in the right place at the right time, and identifying how to locate the right place and identify the right time is essentially impossible), that's an answer.

If the best practice differs by genre, that's also an answer. E.g., "If you want to beta read romance, call this number for placement. If you want to read SFF, call this other number. If you are primarily interested in mystery, you need to pass the National Advanced Examination in Mystery Literature with a score of at least 80%. If you want to beta-read children's books, you need to be a licensed public school teacher, school librarian, pediatrician, or child psychologist."

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    One thing that really improved my critiquing skills was spending a couple of years on an on-line critiquing group called "Critters", at critters.org. The reason I found them so useful was that after a story had been critiqued, they mailed out a file containing all the critiques from everyone, so you could read what others said about the same story you critiqued. I learned a lot that way. You might visit the site and see if they have any information on beta reading. – Francine DeGrood Taylor Jun 5 '18 at 17:46
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Great question!

A great difficulty here is that there's not really much in the way of "professional beta readers." Someone who's really known for giving excellent feedback, and offers that as a service, is pretty much an editor of some stripe.

So aiming to become "well-known", "popular", or "respected" as a beta reader might not be in the cards (although it's not impossible!). And turning into something paid is... well, it's really hard, because it's asking people to trust and pay you, in an area where it's really hard to Show Your Work, and where you've got a lot of competition that's a lot safer.

But you can certainly become a good and busy beta reader. And that's pretty darn doable.

Beta-Read on Online Workshops

This is something anybody can do. Sign up to Critters, dive into Absolute Write, check out Scribophile -- all of these give an endless supply of material to beta-read. Some of them have even more: community, social connections, and/or guidance on becoming a better beta.

There is a catch: this is mostly going to be amateur work; often painfully so. For two reasons:

  • Most writing is amateur work. There are a lot more people who want to be published authors than people who are published, so you're going to have a lot of very unpolished material.
  • Pro authors level themselves out of the big general slush pool pretty quickly. Basically, you find five people who (a) you get along with, (b) are happy to beta-read on occasion, and (c) you find helpful -- and you never have to enter the crapshoot of an online public workshop again.

BUT. If you're just getting started, then working with amateurs is great. It will let you learn. You'll be finding your feet, learning your own taste, and figuring out how to give feedback that's helpful, constructive, and clear.

And, the fact that most of the work will be amateurish, doesn't mean you won't find absolute gems. I certainly have.

Establish a Niche Where You Can Form Connections

If you are active in any community that's even partially related to writing, you can often do really well by making connections within a small, focused group, that would be much harder if you were just hanging out your shingle for anybody in the world.

If you have any particular hobbies or fandoms, some of those people probably like writing. If you are, as so many of us are, living in a particular geographical location, there are probably a whole bunch of writers nearby. Maybe they go to the library; maybe they already have critique circles you can join.

What's nice about these is that they're personal connections that last much longer than the critique of any one manuscript or story. Make a good connection with one writer, and you'll probably get to beta-read a whole bunch of their work. You'll be friends on social media, and see when they're looking for readers. When other people are looking for readers, your friend can point them to you. Actual connections get you far.

Hang Out On Bookish/Writerly Social Media

There is so much of this, and being involved will drop opportunities in your lap. People who need beta readers will ask for them -- and you can volunteer.

Follow authors you love. Follow authors who say interesting things. Follow newbie authors writing about being a newbie author. Join social media groups for writers. I've gotten a bunch of really interesting reads, just by following some awesome people, who pointed me at something interesting that one particular time.

Consider Slush-Reading or Reviewing

Neither of these are the same things as beta-reading. But they will work on the same muscles, and they'll also put you in the right arena -- meeting writers, establishing a reputation.

Slush-reading means reading unsolicited short story manuscripts for a magazine, and writing up comments to the editor. It's much briefer and coarser-grained than beta-reading -- but it is evaluating manuscripts, and even working with an editor (to some degree). Check out magazines (especially online magazines) in fields that you like. See if they're open for applications.

And reviewing -- anybody can open a blog and start reviewing. Gaining an audience is much harder. But you can start out for practice, and to build yourself a little online home-base. And, you might consider looking for existing, established sites which publish reviews. Again, a review is very very different from a beta-read -- it's aimed at the readers, or at prospective readers, not at the author -- but it's still a very helpful skill to develop.

Talk About Beta Reading

Let people know! Tell friends and followers that you enjoy beta-reading, and that you'd love them to send material your way.

Especially tell this to writers you beta read, and especially the ones you enjoyed working with -- they're likely to write something else next, and you'd love it if they went right to you and wanted your feedback.


I hope this helps make sense of things, gives you a sense of options, and offers some concrete things you can do next. All the best!

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    With regards to the fact that most of the writing in groups like the ones you mentioned are from amateurs -- today's professional writers were once amateurs. If you stick at it, and give amateur writers good feedback, they'll still consider you valuable after they're professionals. If I'd put the effort in and continued reading for the people in groups I was a member of in the early to mid 2000s, today I could realistically be beta reading for a number of high-profile writers, e.g. Mary Robinette Kowal, who was a member of a group I was in circa 2005. – Jules Jul 20 '18 at 11:49
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As a reader, you would put your name out there the same way a writer would: by putting your work out there.

How do you do that? By posting well-written, thoughtful and insightful reviews. There are numerous platforms at your disposal (eg. Goodreads and Amazon to name the biggest two). And the best part is that “publishing” your work as a reader is entirely free. In fact, you can even get advance-review copies of books for free through sites like NetGalley or Goodreads giveaways. That, in itself, is beta-reading that you’re providing for free without needing to be put in-touch with an author.

If your reviews provide intelligent, in-depth commentary that goes beyond, “This is a good book because the plot is fun and the characters are relatable,” you can start making a good case that you bring value to a prospective author. It also helps if you are prolific in your number of reviews, thus showing that you can provide feedback within a reasonable time frame once hired.

Many book bloggers provide instructions in their profiles or on their websites for contacting them with review requests. They tend to get inundated, because writers are always looking for more readers, and the world has more independent authors than ever before. So if you make a name for your self, you will definitely start to get requests.

Beyond that, if you want to make money off of your work and grow your business, you would approach this venture like any other entrepreneurial project: build a website, advertise your work on sites that are frequented by writers, grow your business connections, draw traffic to your reviews, etc.

I personally have no idea whether you could live off of beta-reading. But I’ve seen a number of Goodreads reviewers who charge for beta-reading services. If reading lots of books is something you would be doing anyway, then this could serve as a source of supplemental income.

But just as writers publish a lot of work they will never make any money off of, as a reader you will also publish a lot of reviews that will not lead to any beta-reading contracts or other money-making opportunities. Be prepared for that.

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    A note: Reviewing books is a very different thing than beta-reading books. They're obviously related, but the skillset is very different. One is intended for the writer; one is intended for readers. One deals with the nitty-gritty of craft and story construction; the other is creating a meta-commentary on existing work. Just for example: One could be an excellent beta-reader helping a multitude of authors craft perfectly enjoyable cozy mysteries, but reviews of those same books would likely be "welp, it's another perfectly enjoyable cozy mystery, not much to say here." – Standback Jun 5 '18 at 14:48
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    And, becoming a recognized reviewer is a massive undertaking in its own right. Whereas a beta reader can't share almost anything about pieces they've read. I'm not saying one can't gain respect as a reviewer and then parlay that into beta reading, but it's fairly roundabout, and has some very significant challenges. – Standback Jun 5 '18 at 14:50
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I think this will depend on what you want to do and why you want to do it. Is the goal to read good work early? Is it to do something else? Eh? For most authors they want someone they have a relationship with, not a rando on the internet. Why? Because they're giving away their livelihood for criticism and that is both personal and financially risky. So, you're basically asking "How do I not be a rando?"

Published authors tend to have communities (forums or something else) where people gather. I have heard of authors picking people from these places, but how you climb the ranks is likely as unique to each author as their written word. Occasionally authors will form relationships at cons or via correspondence. But, and lets be frank here, most published-famous authors aren't looking for that kind of person. Fame attracts weird people and makes normal people weirder than they might otherwise be. So, this road is hard, but possible given enough time-investment.

Luckily if you just want to be a beta reader for anyone who wants to improve that's easy enough. Writing groups don't require that everyone who joins them writes. In fact, every group I've been a member of has had readers that were writers that have slipped into the other role. As long as you can give good comments and criticisms most writing groups would likely welcome you into their arms; "Most." You can find those easily enough. Don't be surprised if you get a raised eyebrow.

There are also communities online. There's a website I won't name because I'm not sure I feel very good about it that a bunch of people who have "given up" on a book post their work to and/or practice on where the goal is to get critiques. (My problem with the site is that makes the argument people should go there to get better, but simultaneously makes an argument to readership that they shouldn't buy books, but instead get them for free. Snake eats itself // no more money for writing. But it does exist and you could probably help someone who wants the help.)

  • It seems to me that writers who need these so–called beta readers are also those who don't want criticism from an unfriendly source. Various reasons; often, they are unsure of their work and want someone they know and trust because it makes for better criticism and even some back–and–forth while revising. – can-ned_food Jun 6 '18 at 0:13
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    No one wants to deal with a jerk; what every writer who wants to publish needs is readers with a professional attitude. Which means tactfully giving positive and negative feedback. – Kirk Jun 6 '18 at 1:17
  • @Kirk I really think you should edit the point on being tactful into your answer. Not being tactful in your responses might possibly get you one or two stories to beta-read, but certainly any writer is going to give up on you pretty quickly if you aren't tactful and likely also reasonably professional in your feedback; and chances seem pretty good that word will get out to their peers "that guy John Smith, sure he raises some good points in his feedback, but he's also a total ass while doing it". By the time you gain that sort of reputation, it might at best be very hard to undo. – a CVn Jul 18 '18 at 11:14
  • @Michael, reasonable and appropriate application of tact is a simple facet of getting people to like you, which is part of acquiring any job. You're correct, but it's not a point I was trying to make, and I don't think it's a special quality that makes an individual a good beta-reader (it can even, at times, be a problem if you're too tactful). So yes, but I'm not going to edit my response because I don't think it rises to the level and other answers can say other things. "Likability" = tie-breaker all other things considered. – Kirk Jul 20 '18 at 20:01
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I expect established authors have the readers they need.

But I think you could easily volunteer your time to beta read for a new author looking to break into the business.

Try meetup.com for groups which specialize in writing. You will find 'real people' that meet every week - month, and you can take a sample of your work and also critique other people too. You'll hear what the other folks say and generally get a sense of the sorts of things that are useful to feed back to writers, and not useful.

A few online groups include critters.org, writers.com, and absolutewrite.com. The last of these has a forum topic that is titled "Available beta readers." you could easily join and put your background there. Let's say you are a candy maker. Someone writing a mystery that takes place in a chocolate factory might want you to read their story.

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There is no such thing as a "Road to Beta-Reader". In most cases I like multiple views and feedbacks as much as possible.

The main audience of your novel would be the average person from the street, that goes in the Bookstore and wants to get a new book to read. So primary my feedback should be from persons in that audience.

If I want to get feedback for my writing style, unlogical parts or just to assure the scene has the effect I wanted, I would tend to a mix from the main audience and writers.

Beta-Reading is simple said: You pre-release your story to a small amount of people, that then gives you feedback. So basically, everyone who reads is suited to be a beta reader.

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    A lot of those "average persons" will probably not be able to articulate very well why they enjoy something. I know even well-read individuals who are kind of terrible at providing good feedback, because they're worried about hurting feelings / changing the story / being wrong, and so simply say "it was good". While I totally agree you need some of them, a mix of "professional" and "average" beta readers would be a good idea in my opinion. – Erdrik Ironrose Jun 5 '18 at 8:08
  • That is like I wrote the best if you want feedback for style and more detailed feedback. But to meet the audience is the main purpose so it would be better to get people from there. And if you are not personally connected to the people, the less they are worried about feedback – Pawana Jun 5 '18 at 8:12
  • I was reading a self-published book earlier this year (I have no social connections with the author (at least, not yet anyway), I had just become fascinated by the author's story idea). I was screaming by the end of the first chapter. Even in Star Trek (which this wasn't) wounds just don't heal that fast! It was so jarringly unrealistic that it sort of ruined the experience. – Columbia says Reinstate Monica Jun 5 '18 at 13:47
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    See, you thought it is unrealistic and ruined the experience ... so perfect beta-reader. Reveal Plot Holes and mediate the author, what could be done better ... that is the basic work of a beta-reader – Pawana Jun 5 '18 at 13:50
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    What's more, @RobertColumbia, that kind of feedback is both constructive and specific. "Wounds don't heal that fast." Well, that's something the author can actually work with to change what they've written to make it better. – a CVn Jun 6 '18 at 16:36
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my name is Robert and I'm an Beta Reader. This answer is based on my experience.

I started cataloguing my books (the ones I owned and those I intended to read) on Goodreads in 2013. Since then I have consistently recorded and reviewed each book that I have read. I had only started reviewing for a short while before I started to receive requests to review books in return for a free copy.

I am happy to do this because, duh - it's free books, but also because I like to explore different kinds of fiction, and what better way to do this than to read new and up-coming stuff.

I would say that the only qualification you need to succeed as a beta-reader is to be enthusiastic and wide-ranging in your reading habits and to be capable to putting together a decent (constructive) review. It also helps if you're willing to post that review in as many places as possible (with Goodreads and Amazon being top of the pile).

Good luck going forward, in all your endeavours.

  • Wait — were you receiving requests to review books, i.e. suceeding or very near to their publication, or receiving requests to read them prior to publication? If both, then please expound. – can-ned_food Jun 6 '18 at 0:08
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    @can-ned_food - After publication. – robertcday Jun 6 '18 at 8:57
  • If it's after publication, how is that beta reading? Beta reading, at least to me, implies that it's done at a point while the story can still be changed, possibly drastically; that can't be done after publication. – a CVn Jun 6 '18 at 16:37
  • @Michael - I do apologise - I misunderstood the term. My profession is software development and there, a beta test is the second phase of software testing in which a sampling of the intended audience tries the product out. I'll give you chance to read this and then I'll delete the answer. – robertcday Jun 6 '18 at 17:01
  • Hey, no prob. It's actually a slight difference between the release procedures. If your software was being distributed on some form of hard media, like diskettes or them newfangled CD-ROMs, then you'd probably have a special issue of the beta version released prior to mass production. Same can happen with books, too: an author or publisher can, and often does, produce a limited quantity of books which preceed the first edition proper. Usually those are aimed at reviewers shortly in advance to publication, but such could also be done for so–called beta reading. – can-ned_food Jun 7 '18 at 4:06

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