Relax! Beta Readers Aren't Scary: Here Are 3 Truths About Them

Relax! Beta Readers Aren’t Scary: Here Are 3 Truths About Them

Have you ever written a terrifying character? Nate Williams is my latest antagonist, and each time he encounters my protagonist, his entire demeanor makes my skin crawl. But when writing Nate, I wasn’t nearly as terrified of him as I was scared about what my beta readers would think.

If you’ve ever sent a manuscript out to beta readers, then you know how frightening that endeavor can be. After all, you’re asking them to rip apart your beautiful work of art. If it’s your first time recruiting beta readers (like it was for me), then thoughts of self-doubt and uncertainty are likely in the forefront of your mind.

  • What if they hate it?
  • Will they understand what I’m trying to say?
  • Will their feedback make me feel less like a writer?

Each time I got that email reply back saying “Beta Reader Feedback,” my heart would beat wildly in my chest and I’d bite my lip nervously. (I’m serious. That’s not just imagery for your benefit.) I was so scared someone was going to tell me that I was no good or that the book was simply awful.

The good news? All of my beta readers’ feedback only lifted me up, and I’m here to share my experience so that when you embark on your first adventure with beta readers, you’ll get as much out of it as you can to make your story shine.

Here’s 3 Truths About Beta Readers

Not sure if your beta readers are going to prove frightening? Here’s what I discovered after getting my beta reader feedback.

Truth #1: They’re All Really Nice

Think about it: If you received a book for free, are you going to rant about how terrible it is, especially to the author’s face? Unless you’re an all-around terrible person, probably not. The truth is that your beta readers are going to be grateful to be a part of the process, and in return, they’ll be kind about their feedback.

The best thing about their kindness? Beta readers are really encouraging. After giving their constructive criticism, every single one of my beta readers gave words of encouragement to build me up and make me feel better as a writer.

Truth #2: They’ll Strengthen Your Story

What I really loved about each of my beta readers is that they weren’t nice to the point of saying, “Wow. This is so great. I wouldn’t change a thing!” They all had a suggestion to offer, and those suggestions only helped strengthen my story. Here are just a few ways your beta readers will help make your story better.

1. They’ll suggest plotlines that you never thought of.

2. They’ll point out confusing character motives and suggest ways you can tweak the story to make the characters and the plot work better together.

3. They’ll tell you when you need to explain something better to help readers understand.

Truth #3: No Matter How Perfect You Are, You Need Them

The truth is that when you’re writing a story, you get so close to it that it’s hard to see outside of your own mind. That limits what your story is capable of. You need a second opinion to help you see the plot holes that you missed or to incorporate new scenes that will push the story forward.

Okay, but what if you’re perfect? Your story may be great how it is, but beta readers can still make suggestions that will blow your readers’ minds. The good news is that they’re just that: Suggestions. You can choose to incorporate their feedback or not, but either way it gives you an idea how readers will react once your book goes on sale.

How to Overcome Your Fears of Beta Readers

No two beta readers are the same. Even though I didn’t have any nasty beta readers, there is still that possibility you’ll run across one. Here are a few things you can do to make the process a little less frightening.

1. Send Your Manuscript Strategically

While there is no “right” way to send your manuscript to beta readers, I suggest doing it in “rounds.” A few people will receive the first draft. After you get their feedback and revise accordingly, you’ll send it out again to other beta readers who can give feedback based on the new revisions.

That means you have a chance to organize who will see which draft. To minimize your fear, send out your manuscript strategically. I suggest two ways of doing this:

1. During the first round, which will presumably feature the worst draft anyone will see, include people whose opinion you care about the least. This could be people you don’t know, or if you’re more concerned about strangers’ feedback, send it to people close to you first. Since the first round will likely be the one with the harshest feedback, choosing to send it to the people whose opinions you care about least will reduce the impact of the blow if you get negative feedback.

2. Send your manuscript to people you know will be constructive and kind. If you have friends who you know are kindhearted and have a nice way of giving constructive criticism, then have them read it in the first round.

As you get closer to a final draft, try to hone in on your target audience. If your beta readers are the type of people who will buy your book and you get positive feedback, then you know you’re doing something right.

2. Get Nitpicky With Your Questions

Whenever you send a manuscript out to beta readers, you should have a list of questions you want them to answer. Just a few might include:

I sent my beta readers these exact questions. When you ask questions like this and people reply to them, you won’t feel that they’re criticizing you as much as cooperating with you. I realize some people like to give beta readers creative freedom and don’t ask a lot of questions, but I found this to be a good way to feel better about the feedback.

Using beta readers doesn’t have to be a scary process. In fact, they’re an important part of writing that can take your story to a whole new level!

Tell me your opinion: Have you been holding back from sending your manuscript to beta readers? What’s scaring you about the process?

Relax! Beta Readers Aren't Scary: Here Are 3 Truths About Them

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About Alicia Rades | @AliciaRades

Alicia Rades is freelance writer, blogger, and editor. When inspiration strikes, she is also an author. Alicia has a short ebook, a poetry collection, and a novella under her belt and is thrilled with the release of her first full-length novel Fire in Frost.


  1. Well, I found these article really interesting 🙂
    My story is with my beata readers now. This is the first time I work with beta readers, thought I’ve been working with critters for many years. So this is kind of a new and at the same time a familiar experience for me.

    What I find Intersting is that I’d work (and in fact to a point I did work) the other way around from what you are suggesting.

    First, I never allow anyone to see my first draft, nor the second, nor the third. When I allow people to see my work, that’s the best I can do at the moment. Maybe that’s why when I send out my story to betas the first time, those are the critters I care about THE MOST. They are the first who will see the story, so they’ll likely the ones who first will see its flaws, and I want to trust the opinion of people who will see the most flowed version.

    Working with critters on workshops I’ve learned most critter aren’t very keen. Many just repeate what they learned, sometime without even relating that to your actual story. Many don’t go in a lot of in-depth critting. This is why, when I give out the worst of the versions anyone will ever see, I want to be sure the people who will see it will give me thoughtful insight into the story. I want them to rip it apart, that’s why I need to trust these people the most.

    Sometimes I ask questions to my critters. I didn’t ask any question to my betas.
    I chose this because I want to have their most honest reaction to the story. I want to hear what popped out to them, without me guiding them with my questions. I had an experience with a very trusted beta on this same story and I ended up knowing exactly what I wanted to know without asking any question and without her ever talking about that issue. Sometimes, what they don’t say is as much important as what they do say.

    So. This is just a partial opinion. When I’ll have my response from my beta readers…

    • Oh, gosh. When I said “first draft,” I didn’t mean the VERY first draft! I mean the first draft anyone will see. So I definitely did a LOT of rewriting before having anyone look at my draft.

      As far as not posing any questions, I can respect that, and I can see how that can help your story in different ways. I suggest asking questions when you’re kind of nervous about the feedback or if you want to make sure to get feedback on a particular scene or character.

      There are tons of ways to do it, and I definitely won’t say anyone is doing it wrong (unless maybe if they don’t let anyone see the draft AT ALL before publishing).

      • Well, you know, I know people who do post their first drafts on the critting workshop I’m a member of, that’s why I thought you did mean the FIRST draft.
        I should also add that when some of these people told me that was a first draft I shaded my whole hair!
        My first drafts suck and I know it, but some people’s first drafts are as good as my third or fourth.

        Of course there are as many ways to go about beta reading as there are writers, I just wanted to offer a different perspective 😉

  2. Thanks for having me on the blog today, Katie!

  3. I totally agree that betas are invaluable, but it’s definitely possible to get hooked up with ones who are totally unhelpful and unprofessional, and it’s important to be able to figure out a way to deal with it. (I like chocolate :))

    On my last book, I received feedback like: “this is boring, pointless drivel” and: “the only thing wrong with this chapter is that it’s even more boring than the previous chapter.” And this was a paid service with good reviews and reputation.


    • I’m so thankful to say that I didn’t have anyone like that, but I definitely don’t doubt that it happens. I think it’s really important to work with people who understand what beta reading is–that it’s about constructive feedback. I’m so sorry you paid for someone to not even give you feedback on how to make your story better.

  4. thomas h cullen says

    I will give some thoughts of my own, but later on this evening..

    This way, Alicia, I’m giving back to you the same time and effort you’ve given to others.

  5. Steve Mathisen says

    As someone who has done some beta reading for a number of my friends, I can say, without a doubt, that beta readers are eager to see the author do well and succeed. I really enjoy the process of beta reading. It gives a reader an opportunity to give some pretty immediate feedback. It also builds the author a chance to build a good relationship with readers who are anxious to like your work, but will also tell you when it’s not so wonderful. Honesty is key.

    • It’s awesome to hear this from the other side. Yes, honesty is key! I love that my beta readers would tell me when something didn’t work, but I also enjoyed that they gave me advice on how to fix it rather than just saying, “This is crap.”

      I don’t know if I was lucky as much as I think I chose my beta readers wisely. A few of them were people I knew, and others were friends of friends. A few of them didn’t really get the whole “feedback” thing, though, and just said, “This is pretty good.”

      So next time, I’m going to be more conscious of who I’m working with and be sure they understand the process like the way you do. 🙂

  6. Thanks for the advice! 🙂

  7. Excellent post — very succinctly and helpfully stated! My strategy for my current WIP has been to share it chapter by chapter (as they’re finished) with family and about three close friends. I find my family is actually pretty tough on it (in a VERY loving way), but they’re not afraid to point out repetitive phrases or weak links, etc. I was a little nervous trying out my new method initially (before I had always waited till I was all done with a first draft before letting anyone read it), but I’ve been super happy. They’ve been able to brainstorm with me and when I get *stuck* my sisters have sometimes pulled out amazing suggestions that are bringing a whole new color and vibrancy to the story. 🙂 When I’m done with the first draft and an initial edit, I have several people already willing to beta-read the entire thing at that point, which should bring further fresh eyes studying the whole overarching story from beginning to end. Altogether I’m pretty excited with how it seems to be working out!

    Like you said, it takes a bit of a leap, though. At first I was super nervous (and still am sometimes). When you invest so much of yourself (and your deepest thoughts/feelings) in a character, it can be nerve wracking to see how people will take it — wondering how they’ll view *you*.

    So thanks again for the great post!

    • I wouldn’t personally send out chapter by chapter because I always want to change a few things after I’m finished with the initial draft. But I can definitely see that there could be a benefit to it depending on your writing process. Do you get them to suggest things you can add later in the story before you actually write the rest of it?

      • I’m (now) pretty comfortable with changing and adjusting things as I go along/as I’m getting their feedback and I’m also asking for very specific feedback (i.e. “Are you getting lost anywhere?” “Do the characters actions seem logical?” — that sort of thing). My sisters are the only ones who actually know where the story’s heading, so I’ve been able to brainstorm (privately) with them, which has been very helpful! But no, I’m not asking for “future suggestions” from everyone else. (I think that might get rather unsettling, with too many fingers in the pot. It is *my* story. ;))

  8. This is something that is a benefit when it comes to writing fanfiction. Most GOOD fanfic writers have a Beta and a community of people who frequently offer feedback and encouragement. It’s the best benefit of the fanfiction community and its something I tried to carry over when I moved past Fanfic and became an Indie author.

    That first time offering your MS, your BABY to someone to read, though… it’s butt-numbing. It’s not likely they’ll hate it, but I do often find that they’ll pick up on things I don’t want to address, they’ll dislike things I love (and want to kill my darlings) and they’ll insist on keeping something I want to cut.

    The important thing to remember is that the words are YOURS. The work is yours and if you don’t want to change a thing, you don’t have to!

    • Definitely! There are some things I didn’t change that beta readers suggested, but I also put a lot of thought into changing other things, especially when several people pointed out the same thing.

  9. Jo Anne Burgh says

    Well-chosen, skilled beta readers may not be scary, but there are also The Other Kind. So, when it comes to beta readers, a word of caution: choose very, very carefully.

    Several years ago, when I was an administrator on a website that included a library where members could post their stories, I received a cry for help from an inexperienced writer who had accepted an offer of help from a beta reader. (Mistake #1: choose your beta reader. Don’t let your beta reader choose you.) The beta reader was not a writer, but she considered herself knowledgeable about writing. (Mistake #2: if you’re looking for a copy editor, this is fine. In my experience, the best beta readers are also writers.) While the beta reader was reasonably good at spotting grammatical errors, it turned out that she had no idea how to provide constructive feedback. (Mistake #3: choose a beta reader who knows how to provide constructive feedback, and tell her precisely what kind of feedback you’re looking for, such as the questions in Katie’s post.) Instead, she chastised the writer for including sex scenes (since she didn’t like to read about sex) and for having the main character engage in behavior she didn’t agree with. In one scene, the main character ended a meal at a nice restaurant where he was well-known by telling the waiter to add a tip and sign for him. The beta reader was horrified because “I’d never let my husband do that!” (Set aside for the moment the idea that she “lets” her husband do anything.)

    By the time she contacted me, the poor writer had reached the point where she doubted every instinct she had, and it took some serious work to convince her that the beta did not speak for the entire readership and other people might have very different reactions. Not being a person comfortable with confrontation, the writer was not willing to authorize me to speak directly to the beta about her situation, nor was she willing to replace the beta. In the end, the best I could do was to remind her that she could always say, “Thanks for your comments” and ignore them.

    That beta reader might have been excellent for someone else, but for an inexperienced writer whose confidence was already wobbly, she was the worst possible fit. The writer did finish the story, but as far as I know, she never wrote the sequel she’d originally planned–or any other story.

    • That sounds like a horrible situation. I definitely understand that there are those people out there who just aren’t great at being beta readers, but there are also a lot out there who will help build you up.

  10. Hi Alicia – I love, love, love my beta readers. Because my first-round is obviously the roughest, I got to the folks who give me the strongest critique, BUT also tell me the truth in the most positive way. I don’t need my WIP bleeding read at this point.

    Also, you’re 100% right that you need to be very specific with what type critique you want from your beta readers, otherwise you could be asking for trouble.

    Great post. Well done.

    • I prefer the truth, too. I don’t want someone telling me they “loved” my story without telling me why or leaving out things that bothered them. I try to be specific, but I’m just hoping that doing that doesn’t make my beta readers feel confided by my questions, either.

      • You’re right, Alicia, but I guess I’m specific with my beta, but still keep it general enough (ie – this time I’m most concerned with the plot. Does the plot work? I’ll get to characterization and more description later).

        Thanks for responding and best of luck to you.

  11. I found that the most helpful beta readers were the ones that would read it and just point to the section in the story and say, “i didn’t like that part,” or, “there was so much i couldn’t follow.” I had some beta readers who gave specific feedback on how to change it to make it better and I found that the least helpful. I just want to know which parts are ringing bells and which are ringing gongs.

    • That makes sense. I like it when they tell me WHY they didn’t like it or why they did like it. I actually was thinking about removing two chapters that I felt didn’t do a whole lot for the main plot line, but pretty much everyone told me those were their favorite two chapters, so I kept them in.

  12. thomas h cullen says

    You wrote this page, Alicia, which in fact means that anything you write will be correct; the same as with any person able to post such a page.

    I want people to read The Representative. However the past year and a half’s also been spent feeling incorrect, having this desire..

    Not people, per se, but any and all persons connected to the kind of industry which, were people at large to follow the virtues of The Representative, would stop functioning just the same as all-so-many other industries.

    Yet, I still query.. To do so is right, otherwise to not do so will make me feel like I’m letting the mainstream publishing industry to become just a farce.

    Intelligence is intelligence. Achievement is achievement.

    I have the most reason, amongst all, to not want to share the fiction that I’ve written.. And, amongst all, the most reason to want to.

  13. Interesting. I have had bad experiences with betas, who offered little feedback.

    Which draft do you send them? (An almost polished/final draft?)
    Do you send it to them after your CPs have edited it?
    Right before you publish?

    I rely heavily on the feedback of my critique partners because I feel that other writers can better see big picture stuff and offer suggestions.

    • I know a lot of people do it differently. I personally send them the first draft I’m comfortable with. So once I rewrite to the point where I feel it’s good and I don’t really know what else to fix without a second pair of eyes, I’ll send it to them. Then I get their feedback, revise, and send it out to a few other people.

      After I’ve incorporated all their feedback do I send it to an editor and get their opinion. I only send out the “right before publication” draft to advanced copy readers, but at that point, I’m not looking to make any more changes.

      That’s just me, though. I know a lot of people have different processes.

      • You’re right. Most writers have vastly different writing processes. I might try to find a few beta readers for my current WIP. Maybe I just need to be more specific.

  14. I look at my beta readers as collaborators, even though I’m doing most of the work. I’m a little tighter on who I send to, but the people I send to give great feedback and I trust their instincts. I’m so glad to have their help, and I really think they’ve helped make my books better. In my latest book, I ended up removing one of my antagonists completely at my beta’s suggestion. While I lost some aspects that I loved about this story, it improved other areas, and I’m overall happier with this story. Now I just need to publish…

  15. My editor told me to send the edited first draft to some beta readers. She said, “Ask everyone in our writers’ internet support group.” I did, and out of the eight I asked, one said she’d love to, one said she was too busy, and the rest didn’t bother replying. The one who said “Yes,” has been invaluable. We’re going away in June to a seaside resort for a week to give it a thorough going over before it goes to for a final edit. Three cheers for beta readers!

  16. My biggest fear with beta readers has never been bad feedback, but that they won’t bother replying at all, and that then I’ll start worrying that the story was so terrible that they were too embarrassed to even tell me how awful it was. At least half of the people who have offered to beta read for me over the years never actually got around to it, even if we were in a beta-reading exchange and I fulfilled my end of the deal.

    I’m far less insecure about my writing now and realize that many people are just lazy, but at the beginning the non-responses were pretty devastating.

    • That was one of the issues that I had using beta readers. They usually took months to get back to me and the feedback wasn’t very useful. Guess that is why I prefer a critique partner exchange. Much faster and more reliable.

    • Yes! I had a few family members who agreed to read the book and never got back to me. I figured it would help me make better decisions on who to work with next time. I also worked with a few people I didn’t know, and I’m glad they got back to me. Their feedback wasn’t always useful, though. So, again, it gives me a better idea of who to work with next time.

    • If you need a beta reader who will actually read your manuscript and get back to you in a timely manner, send me an e-copy. I’d be happy to read your work and give you my opinions and observations

  17. Hello,

    I’ve just send out my first novel to two friends and my sister. I have no idea what to expect from their feedback or how to guide them into giving it. Thanks so much for this post which has helped calm me a little. My question, though, is where does one go to find trusted beta readers outside your immediate circle? I live out in the middle of nowhere and don’t have a lot of friends. By the other posts on this blog, I’m guessing asking those same three people to read revised drafts would be asking a bit much…

    Also, how do you know your manuscript is safe if you’re sending it to strangers over the internet? Are their protocols you’re supposed to follow? Like maybe, typing a copyright sign on every page?

    Thank you for any responses

    • I’m actually scared of sending my manuscript to complete strangers for that very reason. So what I did, because I didn’t want it to be completely biased feedback, was send it to some interested friends of friends. I’d never met the people before, but my friends trusted them to treat my manuscript well. I hope that helps!

  18. I love my beta readers! I know my writing isn’t as good as it could be, and one of the best ways for it to get better is by having it read and critiqued by knowledgeable readers, most of whom are authors themselves. I gobble up their observations, I just wish I was better at putting them into practice.

  19. One of my best beta readers is also one of my cruelest. When she doesn’t like something she definitely lets me know it, with exclamation marks and sometimes language that stings. I haven’t followed all of her suggestions, as I know, like everyone, she has her particular biases that won’t necessarily be the ones of my target audience.

    What makes her so great is that despite sometimes ‘nasty’ feedback, she gives well thought out suggestions. She’ll never just say she doesn’t like something. She’ll say why she doesn’t like it and how she would do it differently. Again, I don’t always agree. But when I DO agree, I know her suggestions opened my eyes to something I didn’t see and following them or figuring out a new way to put my own spin on her thoughts will make my story better!


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