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I'm writing a book right now. I want to get beta readers for it, but at what point in the story should I get beta readers?

Should I get them early?

In the middle?

Near the end?

After the book?

I'm wondering when I should get beta readers. And how should I pick those beta readers?

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Writers vary enormously in when they have beta readers read their work. Some people have others read the work while the first draft is still in progress. Others will complete several drafts before letting anyone else read it. And anywhere in between.

Completing the first draft at least will let them see the story as a whole.

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  • Ok, thanks! I'll keep that in mind. I was just wondering if there's a certain time that should be done. – Acid Kritana May 22 at 3:53
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    There are trade-offs either way. You will never get a second chance for a beta reader's first impressions; if you revise, the beta reader will probably still remember the first one and it will show some influence on the reader's reactions. On the other hand, a beta reader who notices a major structural flaw in the plot may invalidate months of work on details that will have to go if the flaw is to be fixed. The one rule I would suggest is that you want to give it to beta readers before you are sick of working on it, so you can make revisions. – Mary May 23 at 3:55
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I think the term 'Beta Reader' gets used for a lot of different things nowadays. In my understanding:

A Beta Reader reads through a later draft to check for enjoyment.

Within the framework of this definition, Beta reading comes quite late but shouldn't be too formal. Grammar and plot errors are only considered in as much as they affect the over-all enjoyment of the piece in question. Beta Readers don't need formal qualifications, but they should match the target readership reasonably well.

Before even beginning to write a first draft some writers employ a Structural editor to give them advice about their concept for story arc, setting and characterisation. This can help to avoid gaping plot holes, inconsistencies and inappropriate content at a later stage.

For early informal feedback during the creation of the first draft, I would look for Writing buddies or Mutual critics these are often other writers with an interest in mutually supporting each other's journey to improved writing craft.

In contrast, formal reviews of later revisions of a piece are best tackled by Line & Copy editors. These champions identify weaknesses in prose and suggest ways to put a polish on the final manuscript.

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I've heard get them pretty early. This is because what an individual as an author things is a good idea, and its better to get told that at an early stage when things can be easily changed than late in the process when you have made the idea very intricate and it is much more difficult to fix things. This video is mostly about writing or programming video games, but it also applies to writing and in a sense when to find beta readers.

I had that problem. I have an issue where if I tell someone else about my ideas I lose interest and never end up writing them. So I tried keeping my ideas to myself and ended up writing a much more than I usually did, but my plot became so intricate and interconnected that when I discovered severe problems in my plot that could potentially wreck the story I couldn't figure out how to fix it without ruining the plot. All because I didn't seek out feedback early in the process.

That said, I don't know the exact relationship to have with beta readers. Beta readers generally don't appreciate reading incomplete chapters or at least things that can't be made coherent in context, but at exactly what point a chapter is considered worth sending is unclear. They do say be very considerate with your beta readers because they're almost invariably reading unpolished stuff that's harder to read through than a final product.

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This answer may fall somewhat into sophistry...

The term "Beta Reader" comes from Software Development, where you have "beta testers". This, in turn, comes from the terminology used by IBM to describe their release life cycle:

  • Pre-Alpha : Work in progress, before first full build.
  • Alpha : First viable product build. This may not contain all final features, and may contain features which will be cut.
  • Beta : First feature complete build. While (in theory) the software is fully usable, it may contain significant bugs / issues to fix
  • Silver (a.k.a. "Release Candidate") : Known issues have been fixed or mitigated and, unless new major issues are discovered, can be released without embarrassing the creators. This is often considered to be a special type of Beta.
  • Gold (a.k.a. "Production Release") : The final Release Candidate, which has passed all testing and verification. This is a 'promoted' Silver, and is what goes out to customers.

Strictly speaking, a "Beta Reader" should then not be before the second full-draft. You can also have "Alpha Readers" (who examine the story from the perspective of a reader before it is complete, to identify where things will need to be added or removed) and, most commonly in Professional Publishing, "Critique Partners" (other writers who examine the story from the perspective of an author) and "Proofreaders" (who examine only the spelling and grammar, but to not comment on the content)

Many people will refer to Alpha Readers (and sometime Critique Partners or Proofreaders) as Beta Readers, but it is often useful to (for reasons that Mary mentions in comments) keep your Alpha Readers and Beta Readers separate. This way, you can get a fresh perspective from someone who isn't remembering, anticipating, or looking for old plot points / plot holes that have since been removed, and won't be thrown off stride as much by new ones you have introduced. (Think of all the people complaining "but they changed this and that" when a book is adapted for TV or Cinema, versus the people who never read the book!)

As such - and, this is my subjective opinion, so feel free to disagree:

  • Alpha Readers: Once the first draft is finished. These are to help you find gaping plot holes that need fixing, or boring / irrelevant parts of the story that changing or removing.
  • Beta Readers: Once the Alpha Readers can no longer find large flaws or holes in your plot, and you no longer need to add / remove subplots, story arcs or characters. Try to make these different people from the Alpha Readers.
  • Critique Partners: As early as you think you won't be too embarrassed. Because they are looking at your work as another author, they will probably be more sensitive to things like trope-usage or writing style than an average reader. You can try joining a writers circle / writing club to get this advice, and to help provide it to others. They can sometimes help to shape and direct the plot, before the first draft is complete.
  • Proofreaders: Frequently. Very frequently. Definitely after every draft, but possibly within drafts too - you can get software to do a cursory examination between chapters, but they often miss edge-cases or obscure / unusual situations. Ideally, the Alpha and Beta readers don't get to see anything until it has been proofread.

Note that "Critique Partners" and "Proofreaders" are often available as trained professionals for hire. Alpha and Beta Readers typically are not, because you're looking for the reactions of a normal reader or fan.

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