One of the most economical and efficient ways to help make your book as strong as possible is through a beta reader. Beta readers, sometimes called test readers, are people you can find online to read your novel and suggest edits (generally for free!!) before getting it published. But when looking for beta readers, it’s important to find the right readers for your novel. Not just any beta reader will do, after all.

The first consideration is, of course, genre. If you’re writing contemporary romance, you probably shouldn’t be looking through a forum for science fiction or fantasy beta readers. If you’re writing a YA LGBT novel, you should look for YA and LGBT readers (and maybe even authors). You want these readers to enjoy your story, even as they critique it. Any fix they suggest should be from a desire to make your story the best it can be.

Another factor to consider is the setting or culture of your piece—you want people reading that are both familiar and unfamiliar with the topic at hand. The person who knows it well can make sure it’s accurate to their knowledge; the person who’s new to it can make sure general readers understand the way you presented the topic or culture.

Think outside the box and pick a beta reading audience that is diverse in background, age, and race.

For example, if the setting of your book includes a rural, city, or an ocean-side setting, seek readers who live in these areas to help tailor the smells, sights, and sounds. If your book is women’s fiction, seek women readers from each age span: 20s, 30s, 40s, etc. And unless you’re in a narrow niche, make sure your book is relatable to readers of multicultural backgrounds.

More eyes and more perspectives can draw different things to the surface that you, as the author, were too close to see objectively. Whether that’s plot lines that don’t make much sense, or subplots that should be altered or removed, beta readers are there to draw attention to things you wouldn’t normally see.

If you have characters of a minority background that you don’t share, or with a disability you don’t possess, having someone from that background read your piece is incredibly valuable. If they say you’ve gotten something wrong: listen. They know what they’re talking about, or you wouldn’t have asked them. (This goes for all of the people you’ve chosen to beta read, but especially the people you’ve chosen for their status as experts in a particular subject.)

The best places to look for beta readers depends primarily on what kind of book you have. Most major genres have their own forums and websites dedicated to connecting writers with beta readers or even connecting writers with other writers. Being critiqued by a fellow writer is another kind of beta read and valuable in its own right. There will be more give and take with other writers as you’ll be expected to beta read in turn, but some of these arrangements can work out even better than a more traditional, non-author beta reader.

If you don’t know where to start, GoodReads has a forum where people can look for beta readers of any genre—there are threads for just about anything, and if there isn’t one for what you’re looking for, you can try starting your own! Otherwise, a quick Google search will uncover all kinds of places where beta readers can be found—from LGBT groups to genre-focused writing groups, you’ll find all kinds of places to ask for a beta or even exchange critiques!

When you choose your beta reader (or readers), make sure to do a few things. The manuscript you send should be as perfect as you can get it on your own. Do not send them a first draft. Beta readers are still readers and might spread the word about your book if they enjoy it. Help make their reading experience simple and comfortable by making sure they can read your book in the format they prefer, be it PDF, on an eReader, or by printing it out themselves. You want this process to be easy for them—if they like you, they might read for you again!

Keep in mind, you’ve chosen these people to read your work and look for things that need fixing. Give them questions to guide their reading, and be ready to receive criticism. It’s uncomfortable, but in the long run, the process will only make your book stronger. You don’t need to make every change they suggest, but you should keep an open mind.

And if you get asked to beta read, consider saying yes if you have the time! It’ll open up a new relationship or strengthen an existing one if you’re returning the favor.

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