Beta Reading 101, by Shannon Mayer



For authors, beta readers can be the lynch pin in making or breaking our books. Beta readers can find the little details that somehow slip past the editors (I use my beta readers after editing, other authors use them before). For some reason, my beta readers remember the story lines BETTER than my editors. Why? Because they are so invested in the story, and it isn’t about the monetary gain for them. It’s about the characters they love.

lovetoreadBut how do you become a beta reader, how do you approach an author, and why would you want to be beta reader?

More important than anything else you need to LOVE to read. Love it. Or this relationship between you and the author won’t work.

Have you ever followed a series of books where there are OBVIOUS mistakes later on, incorrect references to characters you KNOW are wrong? For instance, I read a series where a secondary character was a lesbian in the early books. Then in the later books, she was suddenly straight, and even derogatory of other lesbians with no apparent reason. I could care less about her sexual orientation, but I was PISSED that the author would try to pull that on the readers. Or maybe, she just missed it.

As a beta reader, you get to point out these kinds of things. You get to help make sure that the characters you love don’t do, say, or even wear clothes that they shouldn’t. You basically get to yell at your favorite author when they mess up. What fun, right? 😉 You also get the books WAY before the release dates, which is a perk if you are super invested in the author’s series/writing.

How to approach an author is easy, though there are no guarantees. Send an email or private message on one of their social thCA2605QNmedia sites. Here’s what I would say to my favorite author if I wanted to beta read. Be sure to point out any credentials you might have (like reading for other authors), and try to keep it short. You are really pitching yourself to them, just as authors pitch to agents.

Dear  ——–,

I realize you might already have all the beta readers you need, but I would love to offer my services as a new set of eyes on your work. I’ve read everything you’ve written and have a mind like a steel trap when it comes to your characters and storylines. I’ve done beta reading for Stephen King (who found my beta reading extremely helpful on ‘Carrie’ as I suggested the pig’s blood scene) and also for JK Rowling (who pointed out that without me, Harry never would have been a wizard but instead just a boy in the cupboard).

I would love to read for you if you are looking for another excited beta reader, I’m your gal! (Insert email here)

 Once you send the email, you are going to have to just wait. Not ALL authors will respond. Don’t get your feelings hurt. The big authors just don’t always have the time to respond to every email.

RI_FINALNow, we are going to assume you have the author you love dearly responding to you, and they WANT you as their beta reader! Don’t wet your pants yet. There are a couple more items you need to check off your list.

1.       Beta reading is not a leisurely pastime. An author needs you to read and respond in a reasonable amount of time. I’m going to say less than two weeks and ideally less than one. Sure, you can probably read the book in a day or two, but you want to be able to think about the book and give some feedback.

2.       Feedback. Don’t be vague. No, you aren’t a paid editor, but saying you liked/loved the book isn’t helpful either. Point out chapters that you got bored in. Point out characters you like or didn’t like and try to give specifics as to why. Honesty is the best policy even if you HATED the book.

3.       Recognize that your ideas/suggestions might not make it into the book. You are there to help, but don’t expect that everything you suggest will happen.

Finally, realize that authors LOVE their beta readers and the immeasurable help they can be. You are a part of a journey that would be far more difficult without your insights and suggestions. So to my beta readers, and all those who take the time to be beta readers—you rock the writing world.


§ § § § § § §

ShannonMayerShannon Mayer is the author of the bestselling urban fantasy Priceless which has sold over 20,000 copies in its first two months. On her down time, she hangs out on the farm coming up with ideas for her next books, herds old people to the local cribbage club, and in general makes a nuisance of herself.

Connect with Shannon on Amazon  Facebook  Twitter  or of course on her Blog




  1. I love beta reading. I wish I had more time for it. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said detailed feedback is invaluable. Authors want to hear what beta readers honestly think. They don’t want their egos stroked.

  2. Thanks, Jesi! It’s sometimes hard (as we all know) to hear someone’s critique, but so vital. And I think Beta Readers have such a big part to play and maybe don’t realize how vital they are :0)

  3. Michelle says

    I enjoyed the chance I had to beta read.. It was the first time I had ever done that and before that I didnt even know there was such a thing as beta readers. Many times I have wanted to comment to an author about why they did things or comment on a scene so I had fun being able to do that.
    I would love to be able to do some more beta reading as school is going to be over soon so I have plenty of time to read.