How Many Beta Readers Do I Need?

Recently, I went through the beta reading process with a novel I wrote. I had 2 alpha readers, 5 (a 6th may or may not finish) beta readers, and a constant cheerleader.  I’m in the process of courting up an editor now, and I feel like I have had enough input from readers to do this.

Getting Beta Readers

This isn’t easy.  When people read your unpublished work, they’re not getting something finished.  They’re expecting to have to analyze it like they did in high school or college, and a lot of people (even friends!) balk.  Most people will say no.

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That’s why I suggest joining writers groups.  You will give, but you’ll also get in return.

I also strongly suggest finding people online.  When you have in-person writing groups, you’re inevitably going to end up with a bunch of people who share a similar culture.  I needed people from the internet to read my book just so I could make sure someone who wasn’t a white Southerner would read it (not that I don’t appreciate my white, Southern friends who read it!).  The internet is filled with a wider array of diverse people than your backyard, in all likelihood.

Suggestion: Do it One or Two at a Time

I did my beta reading in 3 pushes. This way, I could take action on the feedback prior to getting information from new readers.  I think I got the best work possible for the least money this way.  The problem?  It takes a LONG time.

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Waiting… watching… suffering…

Overall, it’s taken me more than 7 months to get all my beta readers together, gather input, and make the changes needed.  For me, it’s not a big problem – I have no set deadline (though I would like to try pitchwars later this month if I’m ready), and I have another form of income.

Why Quit at 5 or 6?

I’m done getting beta readers now because I reached a point where I’m hearing suggestions that point out smaller issues, things that contradict other beta readers or my own sense of judgment, or things that I’m pretty sure can’t be fixed without changing what I want the book to be.  It’s up to you when you feel like you’re done.

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One thing that helps is to have quality readers.  I was lucky to have access to so many awesome readers who read the book in a reasonable amount of time.  Similarly, I don’t think fewer than 4 is a good idea if you want good results.

Why Should I get More Beta Readers?

I’ve had some FANTASTIC readers for my book.  Their information has been detailed and reasonable.  However, I can see myself looking for more readers if:

  • My simultaneous readers (I usually have 2 at a time) are giving conflicting information that I can’t decide between
  • I were still receiving complaints about the same thing
  • I need to test out a major change in a revision
  • Readers in a certain phase aren’t doling out good info (this could mean that they’re just not saying anything or aren’t answering questions)
  • I just feel like it

Right now, I have a little internal conflict about number 2 – I had one thing that multiple, but not all, readers caught and my changes took multiple iterations to improve.  In this last iteration, I finally think I fixed all the main issues.  This means it’s on to copyediting!

Thanks to My Beta Readers!

Thanks to everyone who has beta read for me, whether I met you in real life or online.  You’ve done fantastic work, and I couldn’t have done it without you!

8 thoughts on “How Many Beta Readers Do I Need?

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      We’ll see! I’m not a fan of marketing, so I at least know I have to go through the hard way and do traditional publishing. If I were to self-publish, the marketing would take the joy out of writing.

      The first thing I’m going to try is the twitter thing, PitchWars. It seems like a low-risk situation to try writing a query letter and testing my luck.

      • Alexander Elliott says:

        You’re braver than I am to attempt traditional publishing, but you have a point about the marketing aspect taking up a lot of writing time and energy.

        For my last book, I tried something different and used two groups of Beta readers at the same time. One was made up of people I know well and have used before, and the other was made up of strangers who I reached through Author’s Cross Promotion (authorsxp.com). I always ask for a 1 week turnaround which usually ends up being two, but within 30 days I had all the corrections made and was ready to publish. The process is easier and faster for each book I have written, since I am able to self-correct as I write – leaving that much less for my Beta readers to find. My goal has always been to send them a “finished” copy which means they are more likely to find the more important things I may have missed. Everybody’s different, so whatever works for you. How exciting!

  1. Liz H says:

    Thanks for writing this! It’s good to hear the thoughts of someone who actively does this thing which is out in distant/fuzzy future!
    BTW, Love the Uhura GIF!

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