Before you start looking into how to find beta readers and critique partners, you’ll want to decide on the type of reader you want. Would you prefer another writer to go over your work? This type of beta reader may become a critique partner if you decide to swap work with them. They’ll usually read your work for free, and ideally you’ll build a trusted relationship with them. You might instead choose to find a beta reader who is an avid reader. Not a writer, but well read and familiar with your genre.
- Beta reader: A beta reader reads an unpublished manuscript and gives feedback on what they enjoyed and didn’t enjoy. It’s similar to beta testing a video game or piece of software. They could be another writer, an avid reader of the genre, or someone with specialist knowledge.
- Critique partner (CP): A critique partner is another writer you swap work with in order to give each other feedback.
Another option is to pay a professional reader. These readers are slightly different to beta readers in your target audience or your fellow writers. They may have publishing experience (such as reading for publishers or literary agencies, or publishing novels themselves), or editorial experience. This type of beta reading is useful if you want feedback from someone with editorial or industry knowledge. But do take note that this type of reading service isn’t the same as a detailed manuscript evaluation or a developmental edit. It’s more of a review. So if you’re looking for something more in-depth from an editor, you’d be better of paying for one of those services instead. There’s a misconception that you shouldn’t pay for beta reading (or that doing so means it’s a scam), but my argument is that – particularly if you’re paying a professional reader – you’re paying someone for their time or their specialist knowledge.
There are pros and cons to each type of reader – that’s a post for another day – but how you go about finding a beta reader depends on the type you want.
Connecting with other writers
If you want to find beta readers among other writers, there are plenty of options. You can join a writing group, either virtual or in-person. Try meetup.com or your local bookshops/libraries to find groups in your area, if you’d rather meet in real life. The downside to this approach is that you might not necessarily be able to find a group of people who are all familiar with your genre, as in-person writing groups are often made up of a mixture of writers, all interested in different things.
Online, there are lots of places you can go to find other writers to read for you. Join Twitter – the writing hashtags #amwriting and #writingcommunity can be useful to find readers. (You can try the same hashtags on Instagram.) On Facebook, search for groups of writers who are writing in your genre, or look for groups of beta readers. A few searches of my own brought up the Fantasy ARC and Beta Readers group, and a group dedicated to beta readers and CPs. There are also Reddit options, such as /r/YAwriters, /r/fantasywriters, and /r/writing. The National Novel Writing Month website is also a great place to find readers as they have a forum, most active during November when NaNo is in full swing.
Finally, if it’s an option for you, you could consider joining an organisation for writers such as SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), the Horror Writers Association or the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. You’ll be able to network with other writers and potentially find beta readers and critique partners there.
Other options online include:
- Litopia (a thriving writing community run by agent Peter Cox)
- Absolute Write Forums
- Nathan Bransford’s Forums (writing community run by agent and author Nathan Bransford)
- Goodreads groups (try typing beta readers in the search bar)
If you need a specialist, such as a medical professional or a detective, to read your work for accuracy, you might like to consider professional organisations or directories for those groups. Also try local universities, who may be able to put you in touch with someone who can help.
There are plenty of editorial businesses and editors who offer beta reading services, if you’d like feedback from someone with industry experience. You’ll have better luck finding someone who is trained and experienced if you look in directories for editorial professionals, such as the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading Directory or The Editorial Freelancers Association website. Make sure you check their credentials before making payment, and ask for reviews or references.
What to look for in a reader
I think the most important thing when you’re looking for a reader, regardless of type, is to make sure they’re familiar with your subject or genre. Age category too, if you’re writing children’s fiction or YA. It’s no good exchanging work with a beta reader who only reads romance when you’ve written a high fantasy. Or sending your YA novel to someone who thinks YA is somehow lesser because it focuses on teens. You’ll be doing yourself a disservice, because they might give negative feedback that was skewed by their opinions of the genre/age group anyway.
Look for readers who are well-read in your genre, or who write it themselves and are familiar with it. If hiring a specialist, make sure they have a thorough knowledge of what they’re reading for. Don’t ask a friend who barely reads to look over your crime novel just because they’ve seen a few true crime documentaries. Find someone who works in the field, or who has read a lot of crime books.
It might take a while to find beta readers that are suitable for you. Don’t be too worried if you don’t click with someone right away! If you find that a reader doesn’t give you usable feedback (or is downright rude), move on. Find someone else. With so many options available, you’re bound to find a circle of trusted readers eventually.
If you’d like some professional feedback on your work, check out my editorial services.