Beta-Reading: Author Standards

Many authors take the sensible step of sending their work to beta readers before they publish. However, especially with the greater reach granted by social media and online writing communities, there is a risk of differing expectations. So here are my thoughts on what is and isn’t a reasonable approach: today, how authors should treat beta readers.

Guiding Principle: Your Beta Readers are doing you a favour.

Your book is not a shiny gift; your beta readers are not getting the opportunity to read your amazing novel before anybody else; your beta readers are giving you the gift of their time by reading a book that isn’t ready for publication yet.

Applying the Principle

  • Make the technology invisible

    The only issues you want them to notice are the ones in your book, so don’t do anything that makes them reading and responding to your book less than effortless.

    • Some beta readers might want to quote from the text, so don’t set permissions to prevent copying

    • Not all beta readers will have the same eReader, so try to offer more than one format

    • Not all beta readers want (or even can) email from their eReader. So if you include an email questionnaire in the book, state your email as well.

  • Don’t make them guess

    Most beta readers are not literary critics, editors, or mind readers. So if you want them to focus on something, or don’t need them to comment on something, tell them.

    • If you are sending the book out before the final proof reading, tell your beta readers at the start that you will be having the spelling/grammar/&c, checked afterwards.

    • If you are particularly worried about, say, the level of sex/violence, portrayal of women, or evocation of racial tensions, then tell your beta readers at the start you would like their thoughts on those things.

  • In matters of taste, the stomach is king

    A not inconsiderable number of readers care deeply about issues that many don’t feel are important. So make it utterly clear you want to know anything that they notice, however trivial. And don’t, under any circumstances, tell them what they are not allowed to care about.

    • Beta readers are not editors, so respect any decision not to comment on technical issues.

    • Even if you are sending a book to an editor after beta reading, don’t tell readers not to point out technical issues; if nothing else, fixing them before it goes to the editor will save time.

    • If a beta reader doesn’t really comment on the plot, choosing instead to send detailed comments on issues with formatting, cherish them as a valued insight into people who will stop reading a book if the typesetter used the wrong sort of quotation marks.

  • Say thank you… frequently

    At the time of writing, the guideline rate for a developmental editor is £15-25.00/hour. So paying a professional to do the same job as a beta reader would be expensive. Recognise this.

    • When a beta reader sends you comments, thank them for their help.

    • If a beta reader sends you six pages of all the things that don’t work, none of which you agree with, thank them for their help.

    • If a beta reader indicates they don’t want to read any further, thank them for their help.

Read my thoughts on how to be a good beta reader here.

Do you think authors owe beta readers more? Do you think authors are permitted to impose more on beta readers?


2 thoughts on “Beta-Reading: Author Standards

  1. I am so grateful to my beta readers, especially the ones who enthusiastically volunteer to read 500 pages of what might be utter crap in the name of helping me become a better writer. Thank yous are huge! It’s nice to be appreciated for what you’re doing, as it’s no small thing. Great post, Dave. 🙂


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