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  • Writer's pictureStefanie Barnfather

Beta Readers

Updated: Mar 18

Beta Readers are important. If you self-publish your stories, you need to have objective eyes on your work before you share it with your audience. Beta Readers are people who go through the FINAL draft of your book, after an Alpha Reader reads it and you've done several revisions. They catch story problems, weak thematic development, and can provide you with information that helps market your work.

But Betas can be tricky. Because they're volunteers, not professional artists -- friends, family, people you meet on the internet, randoms that email you incessantly -- making the most of your Beta feedback requires thought and planning.

Fortunately -- for you -- I spent tears (ha! a surprisingly apt typo) years giving, receiving, and reflecting upon feedback, and I've created a self-publishing method that's wonderfully effective.


How do you get a Beta Reader? Ask people. Ask people who like you enough to devote time to your craft, but not so much that their judgement is skewed. If your parents or siblings or best friends love you, DO NOT HAVE THEM BETA READ. If they love you and are comfortable giving unfiltered feedback, close friends and family are okay. You can't use a Beta who wants to impress you, or have you like them. You want a Beta who wants to help, knows how to read, and who'd like to see your story succeed.

Don't pay someone to Beta read. Money changes Art, friends. Before you bring money into the creation equation [publishing], keep it away. And don't hire a professional. Professional Artists are biased (more than regular readers) and might try to make your story their story. Boo!!! Hiss!!! Betas need to like books, not "know" books.


Different types of personalities will give you different types of feedback. Knowing the pros and cons of each helps you know which comments to use and which to dismiss. When I choose my Betas, I think about who they are and how I might cast them. If you search for these types, and put together a diverse group, your story is sure to be a success.

The Newb

Doesn't read much, or doesn't read your genre.


  • catches big picture plot issues, like 'Where did that character go?'

  • asks great questions (ie. 'What would happen if...?')

  • if your writing is good, they LOVE it

  • if your story is good, they read quickly

  • if your themes are elegantly infused throughout the entire work, The Newb will instinctively provide you with marketing buzz words (ie. 'Wow -- that was disturbing.')


  • doesn't spot specifics

  • can't tell you why they like your story, only that they do or don't

The Specialist

Knows everything about your genre -- has read every book by every author ever.


  • gives you a heads up if your plot is predictable

  • is up-to-date on genre trends

  • tells you every book & writer that your story & style reminds them of (which is great when you need marketing comps)

  • knows if your story is too similar to a Big Five author's

  • if the book is good, The Specialist becomes your fan for life

  • tells you if you've broken a genre rule (ie. 'You can't use a sword that way, George R. R. Martin established in '06 that weaponry larger than a villain's forearm can only be swung left to right.')


  • can get hung up on genre rules, and they'll bum real hard if you don't follow them

The Craftsperson

An unofficial editor who loves the written word, though not necessarily literature.


  • catches spelling errors, incorrect homonyms, grammar trouble, etc.

  • is a formatting dream-come-true -- they'll find all your manuscript problems


  • don't expect The Craftsperson to love your artful storytelling (prose, lyrical sentence structure, realistic dialogue) -- there's a high likelihood they won't notice it because their brains fixate on detail

  • will probably advise you to write more like a textbook than a storyteller -- but if you write non-fiction, YAY!

  • gets grumpy if they don't feel appreciated or that their role isn't as important as the other Betas'

The Unfiltered

Says whatever comes into their head, no matter how rude, or insensitive, or offensive, or judgemental.


  • is brilliant at catching problematic or off-side content

  • if The Unfiltered says your book is good, YOUR BOOK IS GOOD (but they'll never like everything about it)

  • notices weird stuff that ends up being really important (ie. 'Everybody's names look the same. I hate it. I can't tell who's speaking.')

  • if you want to prepare for more public criticism than you can reasonably handle, this is the Beta reader for you

  • is always right about what's wrong with your book -- and usually wrong that you need to change it (ie. an Unfiltered told me the first 40 pages of my book were boring and I should do a total re-write -- my other Beta readers freaked out when I asked them about it, then said, 'NOOOOOOO!!! Just jazz it up a bit.')


  • is highly biased -- and has no idea

  • says your worst fears about your writing out loud -- and you can't take it personally

  • if your book doesn't do well, they'll be the first person to say, 'I told you so'

The Kind One

Sweet, gentle, optimistic, and sees the best in everything.


  • notices elegant writing

  • gets theme, subtly, nuance

  • you'll feel like a million bucks after meeting with The Kind One

  • if they have any criticism, they'll frame it as a question or tell you veeeeeeeeeery gently (ie. 'I love you -- you're so pretty -- and you're the best writer I know, but there was this one thing I didn't totally understand. Can I make you dinner and ask you about it?')


  • feedback meetings are time consuming

  • it's difficult to get a direct answer

  • they downplay the significance of problems ('Oh, nobody really minds if you use that word.')

The Objective

Highly intellectual reader who's more interested in process than product.


  • is the best question-asker ever (ie. 'But why did he do that? Why did she go there? What happened before the story started? Where did all the eggs go?')

  • doesn't get caught up in emotional writing, so they catch plot holes, inconsistencies, timeline discrepancies, etc.

  • wants to know everything about your world // characters, wants you to tell them everything, wants to listen to everything, and wants to remember everything


  • catering your revisions to serve this Beta type could turn your story into a manual

The Amateur Artist

Loves Art, practices Art, but isn't professionally trained or paid.


  • understands literary devices and craftsmanship -- yay!

  • can talk eloquently about your writing, not just your story

  • loves storytelling!!!

  • really wants you to succeed

  • knows that Art is for everyone, and can help make your work more accessible


  • if you catch The Amateur Artist on a bad day, they might give feedback that's distorted because of jealousy; often this type has talent, brains, drive, and desire, but becoming a pro just didn't work out for them -- be patient, if that's the case, because the Amateur Artist is a Beta reader you can count on

After you've cast your Beta team, clearly communicate your expectations for the process (see below). Respect your reader's needs -- if they want six weeks to go through your book instead of four, try to make that work // if they don't want to have a meeting with you, or don't want to fill out your questionnaire, try to make that work. Remember, they are doing you a favour. Be open, be respectful, and be gracious when you navigate content conversations about your book.

If you receive feedback you don't want to hear, please don't punish your Betas because you're disappointed. You don't have to use a Beta twice, but you don't have to tell them it's because they suck at delivering criticism. They might not suck -- you might suck at receiving criticism.


Self-publishing is a business. Beta Readers fall onto the business side of being a writer, not the creative. Treat your volunteers like professionals and you will receive professional-level feedback.

This is a sample NDA -- it isn't a legal document, but it is real. The parts I've highlighted in red are clauses you need to pay attention to. I say this from personal experience; the nicest people can turn into raging jags and go after the things that are important to you. Protect your art.

Non-Disclosure Agreement SAMPLE _ StefanieBarnfather _22
Download PDF • 108KB

  • Timeframe: I ask for a week per 30,000 words. Define this in writing, and remind your Betas (kindly) the week before the due date. If they need more time, negotiate.

  • Business Boundaries: My Betas are my friends and family. Every time I send them a Beta communication, or we have a meeting, I start with, "Stefanie the Author is speaking now." They understand that our work relationships are different than our personal relationships. This allows both parties during "business hours" to speak about topics we might not be comfortable discussing otherwise. After our creative sessions are done, we chat about life before parting ways -- transition in, transition out.

  • Reasonable Expectations: If you self-publish or produce your own art, you'll learn these things the hard way:

A. A Beta reader will ghost you before they receive your manuscript. Get over it. It's their loss, and their communication failure.

B. A Beta reader will break a clause in your NDA. Tell them they won't be collaborating with you again, get your manuscript back, and move on.

C. A Beta reader will say nasty things about your book behind your back. When you find out (because you always find out), walk away. If they ask why, be honest -- then cut them off. You don't need their apologies, you don't need their excuses, and you don't need their drama. Don't waste your creative and business energy on an individual who was culturally conditioned to be callous.

D. A Beta reader will lie to you. Intentionally. They'll want to 'spare your feelings' or 'protect the friendship'. This is because they don't respect business boundaries, or they're worried you won't. If you find out a Beta has been fudging the truth for personal reasons, talk to them (and be kind). Don't get mad if they prioritize their feelings for you over your art. They're human, and lots of Betas can change over time.


Prepare a pretty manuscript that your Betas will enjoy reading -- glitz it, glam it, dot it with a 'p' -- and make it look as close to the final product as you can.

  • PDF: If you self-publish eBooks, format your PDF as an eBook.

  • Print Binder: Loose, printed pages are lovely for the Betas who are notetakers -- The Specialist, The Craftsperson, and The Objective. If you have access to a colour printer, test your cover art.*

  • Bound: I've never done this, but you can get your Beta books professionally bound (spiral or glued). It's a luxury I don't waste cash on, but some readers really like it. My Betas don't care.

Don't let your Betas keep their manuscripts -- ever. Go through the NDA to know the legal reasons why.


Give your Betas a book questionnaire after they've read your work -- I distribute the questionnaires when I collect the manuscripts. Some Betas don't take notes when they read, and some struggle with verbal communication, so questionnaires give them the opportunity to be critical. I love questionnaires, because I can cater my questions to each book instead of getting general comments.

I intentionally include answers in the multiple choice questions that are incorrect or misleading (ie. themes or antagonist options); if readers select the wrong answers, it's a sign the writing is muddy and I need to tidy it up. Plus, I include an answer (or six) that is silly or comedic; this takes the pressure off Betas who get intimidated by "exams" so they respond with more confidence. Beta confidence is crucial; at the top of each Form I say, There are no wrong answers -- be confidently you. It's true! Art is subjective, and well-intentioned readers have great instincts about storytelling. If you tell your Betas you trust them, and you value their opinions, you'll get a more accurate assessment of your work because they'll feel comfortable giving you their honest interpretation.

I've created a bank of Google Forms for each type of story I tell -- feel free to take and adapt. If your Betas aren't computer savvy, you can print them.

Short Stories



from WE CALL HER ROSE Draft Four


from CROWN of the CANOPY Draft Nine


Some Betas are verbal communicators. Set up their meetings after you've collected the manuscripts and have gone through the questionnaires. This gives you time to process what they've shared, and create follow-up questions. If you don't have any questions, have a meeting anyway -- you learn a lot in organic conversations.

Ask your Betas how long they like to chat. One of my Betas won't hold a meeting longer than 30 minutes. Another will talk at me for days. I let them dictate length, unless I have a serious problem with something they shared in their notes.

What To Ask

  • "Well? What did you think?"

  • "On the manuscript // in the questionnaire, you said ___________. Can you clarify and/or expand?"

How To Listen

  • let your Betas talk freely -- without interrupting them

  • bring a notebook and write down what they say, or what questions you think of while they're speaking

How To Receive

  • keep your expression neutral -- your emotions might inadvertently change what they share [WHICH IS BAD]

  • remind yourself that every opinion about your book is real and valid -- but you get to choose what to use and what to dismiss

How to Accept Unhelpful feedback

  • before you read your Betas' notes, or their questionnaires, or you step into a meeting, remember that you are the expert of your work -- of your book, your business, and your life -- so the most important opinion about your story is yours, which means you are not obligated to change or adapt anything you write

  • don't react -- try to respond (ie. don't lose your cool in front of your Betas if they're saying things you don't want to hear -- wait until you have a safe space to vent so you don't alienate useful collaborators)

  • allow yourself to be frustrated if your book feedback was disappointing -- take time to mourn your unmet expectations, then go back to the notes (sometimes disappointing feedback is more helpful than we realize)

  • if it's REALLY REALLY REALLY BAD (like, the Beta didn't get it at all and you're not sure they read the book), let it go -- consider their contribution null and void, and don't ask for their help again


Volunteers need love! Why? Read this amazing blog by Stefanie Barnfather to find out! I always give my Beta readers the following, even if they say they don't want anything:

  • at least one published copy of the book

  • a thank you card

  • a small tangible token -- like baking, or knitting, or a gift card to Chapters


If you get lucky and stumble upon a Beta Reader who's a pro in disguise (this happens -- there are diamonds in the rough whose feedback is better than experienced editors), I offer them compensation. Talent deserves to be rewarded -- and I don't like profiting off somebody who isn't aware of their gifts (that's called TAKING ADVANTAGE and it's BAD).

First, tell the Diamond Beta they're amazing and they should do this for a living. They will say 'no' -- they always say 'no' -- and then you offer them this:

  • percentage of royalties

  • cheque once net sales surpass a predetermined threshold

  • acknowledgment in your book

  • dedication in a future book

  • personalized invites to signings // in-person // online events

  • free bonus copies for fun

  • free business swag

Here's a non-legal agreement you can use to commit to the compensation: Created by Me!


Written Agreement re Beta Compensation _ StefanieBarnfather _ 22
Download PDF • 544KB


Written Agreement re Beta Compensation SAMPLE _ StefanieBarnfather _ 22
Download PDF • 547KB

The Diamond might not accept your offer. If they choose to turn it down, tell them they have a year to change their mind. Then don't mention it again, unless they reach out.


After your book is published, maintain relationships with the Betas you adore. They like to know what's going on, and you'll definitely want to use them going forward. So...

  • keep them in the loop -- add them to your newsletter, text them, become besties on the socials

  • express your gratitude -- read my February blog when you forget why that's important

  • celebrate a Book Well Beta'd -- collaborating with others on your project should be fun and, with the right people, it is

This is a topic I'm passionate about. I've had several beautiful projects implode because of poorly-established collaborative boundaries and expectations. I hope this is helpful! If you have any questions or suggestions, chuck them in the comment section.

Have a great spring, friends!

*get your Betas to give you feedback about your cover!!!

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