Self-Publishing: Beta Readers

Self-Publishing: Beta Readers
July 11, 2016 1 Comment For Authors, Writing Advice Nancy E Miller

A good Beta reader is great in all writing context but especially when self-publishing.  Most of us can’t afford 1000+ dollars for an editor.  And, right now, I am having a trust issue since my editor was a dud.

But I digress.  Betas are people who read your story, novel, etc. for free.  They just enjoy the idea of reading books and pointing out glitches to the author so they can be fixed.  I figure with a source like ProWritingAid and a good Beta, I have most of this editor thing covered.

Now don’t go getting your undies in a bunch.  There are really good editors out there and, if you have the money, go for it.  Beta readers are necessary whether you go it alone or with an editor.  And, like editors, there are good and bad ones.

So where do you find a good Beta reader?  Word of mouth is always best.  Some groups have lists of people who volunteer to be Betas.  If you put out a call in writing groups, you will nearly always get several recommendations.

What do you ask for?  Do they read and understand the nuances of your genre?  If not, move on.  Each genre has requirements and your beta should understand what they are.  Do they have experience with reading as a Beta?  Pardon me, but you want someone who has already cut their teeth on several books.

Try to get a feel for whether this Beta is an honest reporter of what they find.  There are some toxic Betas out there that just like to be mean…it’s a personality thing with them and has nothing to do with you.  If the Beta you work with starts slamming your work just for the heck of it…walk away.  Don’t let the negativity sink into your heart and soul. 

Now, if they come back with a good attitude but an arm long list of issues, suck it up, buttercup.  There is editing in your future.  That is the whole point of having a Beta read your work…to find the issues BEFORE you send it off. 

And NO!  You can’t have a relative or close friend beta for you…they love you and won’t be tough enough.

[bctt tweet=”Where do you find a good #beta #reader @NE_Miller #amreading #writing #advice” username=”OurWriteSide”]

I’ve included two worksheets I found that will help illustrate what you should be looking for.  Check it over and, if you have questions, give me a yell. 

Here is a list Our Write Side made for Beta Readers:

Thank you for beta reading my book “_______________________________________” for me. To help you know what I’m looking for, I’ve included this checklist. Use it as needed, and feel free to add your own feedback for anything not listed. You may return it anonymously when you’ve finished.

Did you find any plot holes?

Were you able to get invested in the main characters of the story?

How long did it take you to start feeling anything about them?

Were you hooked by the end of the first page?

Does it flow well from scene to scene, chapter to chapter?

Did you find any inconsistencies?

Was the point of view always clear?

Was it an active and engaging read?

Did it end the way you expected?

Is the conclusion logical and fitting to the story?

And finally, here’s a short checklist of elements within the story I’d like to know how I did with:

___ Too much description

___ Too little description

___ Too much backstory

___ Too little backstory

Please take a moment to explain any check marks above and email me your response.

[bctt tweet=”Our Write Side has everything a writer needs. #beta #reading #writing @NE_Miller” username=”OurWriteSide”]

And another one to look over.  Thank you, Jami Gold, Paranormal Author for this worksheet.

Beta Reading Worksheet

HOW TO USE: These questions can be thought triggers, discussion prompts, answered with a 1-5 score, etc. Use however works best for you. You don’t need to answer every one.

Opening Scene:

  • Does the story begin with an interesting hook, creating a desire to read more?
  • Does the manuscript begin in the right place?

Characterization & Motivation:

  • Are the characters compelling, sympathetic, or someone you can root for?
  • Do the characters feel real and three-dimensional, with distinct voices, flaws, and virtues?
  • Are their goals clear and proactive enough to influence the plot (not passive)?
  • Do their motivations seem believable, with well-drawn and appropriate emotion?
  • Are the secondary characters well-rounded and enhance the story rather than overwhelming the story or seeming like they should be cut?
  • Are the relationships between the characters believable and not contrived?

Plot & Conflict:

  • Are the internal and external conflicts well defined for each main character?
  • Are the internal and external conflicts organic and believable, i.e. arising out of characterization and circumstance rather than feeling contrived or forced?
  • Are there enough stakes and/or tension throughout to make it a “page turner”?
  • Does the premise avoid cliché and/or bring a fresh perspective to an old idea?
  • Are the plot twists believable yet unexpected?
  • Do the characters act or react to events in a plausible, realistic, or believable way?


  • Do scenes progress in a realistic, compelling manner and flow with effective transitions?
  • Does every scene add to and seem important to the story?
  • Does the story move along at an appropriate pace, without rushing or dragging?
  • Is there a hook at the end of each chapter or scene that makes you want to read more?
  • Is the story free from information dumps or backstory that slow the pace of the story?

Setting & World-building:

  • Are descriptions vivid and give a clear sense of time and place?
  • Do the details enhance rather than distract from the story?


  • Is the dialogue natural and appropriate for the story, not stilted or overly narrative?
  • Does dialogue move the story forward and reveal the characters?
  • Are characters’ voices consistent and distinct from one another?
  • Is there an appropriate mix of dialogue and narrative?


  • Does the writing “show” the scene with the senses, using “telling” only as appropriate?
  • Does the writing quality allow the story to shine through and draw the reader in, or are flaws jarring or intrusive?
  • Is the tone appropriate and consistent for the story?
  • Is the point of view (and any changes) handled appropriately and consistently?

Overall Impression:

  • Is the voice unique, fresh, or interesting?
  • Does the story deliver on the promise of its premise and opening scenes?
  • From a reader’s point of view, did you enjoy reading this story?

Additional Questions for Comment:

  • Are there any confusing sections that should be made clearer? (Mark in the manuscript)
  • Do any sections take you out of the story? (Mark in the manuscript)
  • Is the story a good fit for the stated genre, and if not, why not?
  • Who are your favorite—and least favorite—characters and why?
  • What aspects are especially likable or unlikable about the protagonist(s)?
  • What three things worked best for you?
  • What three things worked least for you?

Visit for help with editing needs.

For more thoughts on beta readers, check out You Wrote A Book, Now What?

Please check out my other columns on Self Publishing on Our Write .  I will have more coming up in August as well.

Nancy E Miller Nancy E. Miller, romantic suspense author of Shark Bait and Crystal Unicorns, lives near St. Louis with her husband and three dogs, pygmy goats, chickens and a cranky rooster named Ketchup. Her degree is in Psychology and Sociology. She has worked in education and mental health as a case manager and crisis counselor.
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    The Parts of a Finished Book: An Inside Look - Our Write Side

    […] you’ve written your novel, had it beta read, made corrections, and gone through the editing process. Now what? Can you just throw it up […]


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