We started a beta reading service at our company about a year after opening our doors. The decision to do this started after multiple calls with authors who faced challenges finding early readers with mixed or no success. Surprisingly, many authors are unaware that there are several types of early reader options they can utilize before they publish their books.
Learning what types of readers are available and how they can help you can be a huge source of feedback for authors and a great way to start early marketing for your new release. I’ve compiled a list of the types of early readers that authors should consider utilizing, what to expect from them, where to find them, and how to utilize their feedback.
Writing Partner or Writing Coach
What they are: This is often left off the list, but this is a writer friend or reader friend that is willing to read early versions of your outlines, chapters, or manuscript. They are a trusted and reliable person that is willing to provide soft critiques or questions to your earliest story.
What to expect: They’re a very early sounding board as you try to flesh out what your story is growing into and if your ideas are hitting the mark. They should be able to reliably provide feedback. You should expect this to be a reciprocal relationship. If this is a writer friend, you would offer a similar service, or if it’s a writing coach, you will pay for their guidance.
Where to find them: If you’re looking for a writing partner to exchange feedback with, my recommendation is to join a reputable writing group. These groups exist on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and many writing websites. I want to add here that this will require some tenacity and vulnerability. You will also want to explore confidentiality agreements to protect your work. Before committing to a writing partnership, consider looking up the other person on social media. Check their name in the search bar and sites like writersbeware.com.
If you’re looking for a writing coach, there are a plethora on social media, ACES, and the-EFA.com. As with anyone you hire, check credentials, read agreements, and read testimonials and referrals.
How to utilize their feedback: Early readers are there to help you flush out ideas and get organized in your story. Disregard any line or grammar edits. The focus should be on honing the emotions and logistics of your story. A writing partner is there to give you a unified picture of how your story is coming together. Think of any feedback at this stage as very big picture help.
What they are: Beta readers are the first round of group feedback you’re going to receive. They are the “test” readers for your book. They are readers that read in your genre regularly and are willing to read your book and provide valuable feedback. This should be a group of readers that are not related to you, think a minimum of three and a maximum of six.
What to expect: Expect feedback on characters, plot, pacing, problem/offensive areas, and relatability. The readers will likely have some differing opinions on these things, but that’s okay. Look for a consensus or any helpful information regarding areas you may have gotten stuck in the writing process. You should also expect more information than if they enjoyed the book. Beta readers should be giving you specifics like the overall impact of your characters, twists, or storyline.
Where to find them: Many editors also offer beta reading services. This is a great place to start and it can help you learn editor feedback styles before you move on to the editing phase. You can put a call out to your followers to see if your potential readers would like to help you out. E&A Editing offers a beta reading service with pre-screened and trained beta readers. You can also find beta readers in online groups for beta readers. Lastly, you could ask author friends if they have beta readers they recommend.
How to utilize their feedback: When getting feedback from beta readers, it’s vital that you look for a consensus in the feedback. Wherever there are multiple people, there are multiple opinions, which means you need to look for patterns. If four out of your five beta readers felt hooked by your beginning, you’re safe to assume the beginning of your book is strong.
But, if three out of five of them wanted more information about a side character, you could conclude two things. The first being that you need to develop that character more. The second would be that that character is standing out for the wrong reasons. Whichever you decide is up to you as the author.
Sensitivity Readers (if needed):
What they are: These are readers that fit a demographic that is represented in your book, but that you do not fit into. This could be a race, ability, or situation that is represented and you have not experienced.
What to expect: The feedback should be specific to the situations you have written about the scenes involving the sensitive character or situation. Their feedback should be provided from a first-hand perspective and should offer ways to improve the manuscript without disparaging your work.
Where to find them: My best suggestion is to reach out to your followers on social media, friends if you’re close enough, or asking other authors if they utilize any themselves. This is going to require leg work on your part. Be kind and professional when seeking their services as the purpose of sensitivity readers is inclusivity and representation.
How to utilize their feedback: This will be based on the individual and the feedback you receive. It’s important that you choose a sensitivity reader that’s willing to be open about their experience. Using their feedback to inform your story and research will be necessary to create a realistic reading experience.
What they are: Alpha readers are your last round of test readers that dive deeper on your story. They are usually someone that is looking at the overall impact of your development and story. They’re a step removed from developmental editing. You usually only want one to two alpha readers.
What to expect: You can expect more in-depth commentary on the impact of your story and characters. An alpha reader offers an overview on your story that need more work and where characters are falling flat.
Where to find them: Many editors offer alpha reading and this is a great place to start for alpha reading because you only really want one alpha reader to help you streamline your feedback. You also want an educated reader to help with alpha reading. Also, if you have a beta reader from your earlier group that you’d like to use for a second round or more in-depth look at your story that is a good place to look at developing a long term feedback partner.
How to utilize their feedback: By this point, you have hopefully had one to two rounds of feedback at this point. You will use the information they provide to identify weak points in the book, but also to fuel your knowledge on where you may need to improve your writing.
If you realize that after three rounds of feedback your hook still isn’t working, you may need to do some reading and practice on what it looks like to hook a reader. You can dive into your favorite hooks or research connecting with readers early on. Their feedback should help you to realize where you need to be working and how to hire an editor to push you the final bit to publishing.
What they are: ARC stands for advanced reader copy, which means these readers receive finished pre-published manuscripts to review publicly. They sign up either via a service or sign-up sheet to receive a free copy of your book in exchange for honest public reviews.
What to expect: You can expect to send dozens of these, some authors send over a hundred ARC copies. However, expect to only receive about 50 percent of these copies as reviews. This is for several reasons, most of which are out of your control. Keep in mind that not receiving a review can also be helpful. If someone didn’t like your book, they’re saving you a bad review. Expect to share and hype up those that do review you.
Where to find them: There are several services that cater to helping connect authors with ARC readers. For example, the best known is NetGalley. They have dozens if not hundreds of readers that are willing to sign up for books.
Be mindful that you may need to pay a service fee or a subscription fee. But you are not paying for nor guaranteed reviews.
It is unethical to pay for reviews.
You shouldn’t be paying anyone to review your book. You can also use it as a time to develop your own mailing list of readers. Start with setting up a Google form and allow people to volunteer on your pages to read for you. Those readers are going to be the most invested in reading what you’re trying to put out.
How to utilize their feedback: Overall, their feedback is public and varied. Do not respond if their feedback is in the form of a review, especially if it’s negative. If it’s positive, share it and save it for marketing. If it’s something private that you can fix, you luckily can fix this before you hit publish. Don’t stress too much over any of these forms of feedback. Remind yourself that all authors get one-star reviews and not all books are for everyone. You will be someone’s new favorite author, and that’s what you should celebrate.
Do You Need All of These Readers?
No. Authors utilize all or none of these types of readers for lots of different reasons. However, the above early readers typically come at a fairly low price-point and can be invaluable when it comes to editing your book. Being scared to utilize feedback may be a sign you’re not ready to publish either. The great thing about most of these readers is they want to see you succeed. Their feedback is provided with grace and kindness.