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#WriteTip: Beta Readers

Sam av

When I first started writing, I didn’t understand what beta readers were. I’d read fan fiction and there would be a note from the author thanking their beta readers. It seemed unnecessary to me, or at least more tedious than it was worth. However, since I started taking writing more seriously, my opinion has completely changed. Beta readers are the most important part of this process. I will never again try to publish something without submitting to beta readers.

What is a Beta Reader?

Beta readers are people who read your book when you think it’s ready. You can do this before or after editing (I have seen people do it both ways). I typically do it after editing because often the beta readers get distracted by all of the typos and can’t focus fully on the story.

Beta readers are NOT editors. They may also be skilled editors, but that is not what they are doing when they read your book. They are only supposed to read your story and help you perfect the story itself.

Who Should Be a Beta Reader?

Assembling your beta reading team is up to you, but there are several things to keep in mind.

  1. You must be open to critique. Commit to making the story the best it can possibly be. It’s your baby and you owe it to your story to do what is best for the novel, not protect your ego. You may hear feedback you aren’t going to like. Someone might hate a character, or suggest you delete an entire arc of plot. They may say things that inadvertently hurt your feelings. It is important to remember that they represent your potential readers. You don’t have to accept every single thing they say, but you should at least be listening.
  2. Your book is not published yet, so choose someone you trust. A despicable human being might take your manuscript and publish it as their own. You could probably fight that and win, but it’s best to just avoid it. Even then, it may be a good idea to back up the authenticity of your work. Any timestamped material would help you with this. One way to do that is to print it and mail it to yourself. The post office timestamps the envelope.
  3. Choose people who will honestly criticize. You want people who will like your story, but you also need feedback. If everyone who reads it is just going to tell you it’s awesome (or awful) without offering any input, your book won’t be as perfect as it can be.
  4. Choose people who would like your genre. Don’t beg a hard sci-fi reader to read your romance novel. They aren’t going to enjoy it or even appreciate it properly, so they won’t give you meaningful feedback. They also won’t have a great understanding of what the story should be like, or the experience reading your genre you need them to have.
  5. Choose varying levels of readership. I have several layers of readers.
    1. The first people I submit my novel to will be the easy-to-please readers who will mostly tell me they love it. They can help me find the major flaws but not much else, and that’s fine. I know the novel is worth pursuing if it makes it past them. Family members may be good choices.
    2. The next people I submit the novel to will be people who don’t really want to hurt my feelings, but who read and write in my genre. They will help me fine tune mechanical devices and pinpoint necessary/unnecessary passages. They will critique the structure of my story as well as the plot. These are typically my closer writing friends.
    3. The last set of people I submit to will be readers/writers in my genre who are also writers and have no interest sparing my feelings. They are usually more removed friends who are incredibly picky about what they read and know exactly what to look for.
    4. Finally, after I have taken the first three beta readers into account and made necessary changes, I have a final set of readers that represent the broader fan base. Basically, I want to make sure I can please 5-10 readers and determine if the first three readers were too unique. A fluke. This is an added layer from me, as not doing this the first time led to me publishing a slightly disappointing scene in my first book.

How Many Beta Readers Do I Need?

As few or as many as you want, really. The more you ask, though, the longer you will have to wait to be finished. Reading your book might take a long time. However, if you don’t choose enough people, you might not get enough feedback.

What Should They Look For?

Beta Readers should be helping you shine up your story. Ask them to focus on muddy/unclear parts, point out what they love and what they hate, and especially flag what confuses them.

I linked this blog post on our blog, but am quoting it here:

1. At what point did you feel like “Ah, now the story has really begun!”
2. What were the points where you found yourself skimming?
3. Which setting in the book was clearest to you as you were reading it? Which do you remember the best?
4. Which character would you most like to meet and get to know?
5. What was the most suspenseful moment in the book?
6. If you had to pick one character to get rid of, who would you axe?
7. Was there a situation in the novel that reminded you of something in your own life?
8. Where did you stop reading, the first time you cracked open the manuscript? (Can show you where your first dull part is, and help you fix your pacing.)
9. What was the last book you read, before this? And what did you think of it? (This can put their comments in context in surprising ways, when you find out what their general interests are. It might surprise you.)
10. Finish this sentence: “I kept reading because…”

Lastly, thank your beta readers for their help. The work they do for you is incredibly important to the success of your novel. 

Special thanks to all of my friends and beta readers, even the ones who upset me. I try to keep my frustration to myself. Feeling angry is often just my gut reaction to the work that has to go into a story to fix it. That’s just me raging in general that I messed up, not me getting angry at anyone in particular.

Because honestly, the work that ACHILLEA needed (and still needs) to prepare it for publication was daunting and exhausting, but it is going to be worth it when it is finished, I promise!

Thanks for reading!

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

Check out the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!


Writing versus the Wrists #writerproblems


I haven’t updated in a while because my wrists will not let me.

Review for Elegy for a Dead World:

Reponse to Frankie’s Vid


Frankie’s video made me need to say things! So in this video I talk about:

  • My works in progress (fanfiction)
  • Posting all at once vs. chapter-by-chapter (fanfiction)
  • The beauty and strength of fanfiction.
  • Posting reviews
  • Work/career things
  • “Writing Rules”
  • Just wriiiiite.

What it all comes down to is that I have faith in the power of imagination, and I think the more one constrains it, the worse the end result. If you’re an artist of any kind… just let go. Create.

Also, I decided not to post my 50SoG opinion. I’ll keep it to myself for now. 🙂

Head Things #amwriting


I kept it under 10 minutes this time! That’s an accomplishment!

In this video I’ll tell you about my mini vacation and how unproductive I was. Also, my brain hurts.

Photo on 2-1-15 at 11.43 AM #2

My new Facebook Page for my hat shop:

Etsy Shop:

Query Circus!


Sam is in the querying stage!!! 

It’s been said that you should never really talk about your rejections. I’m breaking this rule. I promise not to be a jerk about it, but rejection is part of the process and if/when that happens, I’m going to share it with you.

I’m currently refreshing the crap out of my inbox. Agent #1 responds within 2-10 days and it’s been 3. Every time I get a fresh email I completely freak out. Pretty sure my soul drops through the universe. I feel sick and excited and nervous and doubtful and cocky as shit and… small. I feel small.

This is… crazy. I wrote a book. I edited a book. I got it beta’d. I cut more than 70,000 words from it. It’s beautiful. My readers love it. No matter what happens, guys… I already won this game. I’m so pleased. ^_^ Anyway. Enjoy the videos! Thanks for following!

Notice me, senpai. 

The Plans of a Dragon, Gone to Hell


So nothing went quite to plan over the past few days, but I DID get some things done.

#Manuscript Complete! On to the #Query!




Tweaking will never end, I don’t think. More read-through. More tweaking. Read again. Tweak again.

But it’s beautiful! ^_^ And it’s finished! And I’m so happy I might faint.

Special Guest Panderp: Weekend Warriors


I have a special surprise for you today! Jori came over for a weekend. I had most of it off (1pm on Friday through Monday morning!), so I made it my goal to completely finish this revision by work on Monday. Spoiler alert: I didn’t manage to do it. I’m partway through Chapter 12 (of 17). The good news is that I’m at 133K. THIS IS TOTALLY HAPPENING!

Also, if you ever get that random urge to keyboard smash while wearing a stupid hat… don’t. I nearly lost 4K of story today by being an idiot. I was like, “How crazy would I look if I just went nuts on this keyboard right now wearing this goofy ass hat?” Visual aid:


Jori and I laughed our asses off this past weekend. And, since she was still here and I needed to make a video for you, I invited her to join me for it. Hilarity ensued. Enjoy the video!

Jori on Twitter: @jor_jor51


That Etsy shop (If Heike DID cross stitch, she’d totally do this):

An example:

Query Letters


Today I whine about losing half of my job, mope a little, and discuss query letters.

Also, #ZappaTheDipshitDog makes an appearance. She’s my adorable, cuddly puppy who is REALLY dumb. You can follow that hashtag on twitter, if you want. She’ll make an appearance occasionally.

Query Samples:

Writer’s Digest “Successful Queries” series:

Query Pet Peeves:

If you want help with your query/writing, etc… you should join a writing/critique group or make some good friends. If you’d like for ME to help you, I’m open to that. Disclaimer: I’m not published, but I’ll do my best. Also, I won’t go easy on you. XD But that’s what you want, right?

Another lesson I learned early: Get a thick skin. This industry is a nonstop barrage of feedback, critique, and rejection.

All Nighter


43,817. The number of words I have so far cut. I’m thinking about logging these. Some day I’m going to look back over my theoretical publishing career and mourn the loss of the hundreds of thousands of words that no one will ever get to read. Maybe each year I’ll celebrate them alone and with booze. “Cheers to the words that were too purple for my prose.”

(For those of you who don’t know… ‘purple prose’ is a term for language that is considered overly complex, wordy, and unnecessarily flowery to tell the story. I am constantly guilty of this. I am also not ashamed of it. I wish publishers liked it more. A story that is cousins with poetry appeals to me).

One thing I wanted to add after I had already filmed the video:

Everything you say on the Internet is permanent. As writers, our reputations are all we have. I worry that someday I will ruin mine when I’m upset. A lot of people do. The one thing all of us will have in common is rejection, both by agents/publishers and our readers. It’s important to stay professional. I read somewhere to never blog about your rejection.

I’m going to blog about my rejection. It’s part of the process and it needs to be shared. I know it will happen. I do, however, pledge to never mention names, and I won’t rage. I will be upset. I’ll probably cry and be sad. But it’s not an agent’s fault if they don’t choose your work. Finding the right agent is akin to finding your soulmate. If they rejected you, you’d have had a bad relationship anyway because your interests are not the same. The right agent will be one of your biggest fans. Rejection is good for both of you. It’s a renewed opportunity to find the right agent. (I’m looking at you, senpai.) But it will still hurt, and it is important to me and to you to share the sentiment that we are not alone. Every artist has been rejected. It strengthens us. As I like to say, it separates the men from the boys. You need a thick skin to get through all of this. Writing is a discipline as well as an art form.

Did senpai notice me today?

Answer: No.