Chatting · Writing Advice

My Beta Reader Experience

Last week, I announced that I’m putting my novels on hiatus for the semester. In case you missed that post, I’ll recap here: I know this will delay my publishing goals significantly, as I wanted to release Runaways shortly after graduation, but I think ultimately this is the better choice for my mental health and the quality of the writing.

For one, I need more distance from the story before I can edit with a clear head, and without the self-imposed pressure to rush, I’ll do a better job of cleaning it up. I also need money to pay illustrators and editors, and if I can save up for a year with my Real Life Adult Engineering Job, I’ll be able to afford more detailed and a larger quantity of illustrations, as well as several rounds of rigorous editing. Additionally, I need to focus this semester on getting good grades, applications, and networking, so I can find a Real Life Adult Engineering Job, and that’s eating a significant portion of my time. With what little free time I have left, I want to spend it with my friends before we all scatter to the winds in May.

But I figured this is a good time as any to go over my beta reading process in the hopes that you can learn from my experience! If you missed it, I’ve also put together a post about my full editing process, but today and next week’s post will do a deeper dive into the steps. A beta reader is someone who’s not familiar with the story who volunteers to give you their honest opinion of the draft. While your critique partners, alpha readers, or Designated Writer Friends might already know all the plot twists (or helped you come up with the plot twists), generally speaking beta readers go in with the basic knowledge any reader would have if they picked it up at the library. They don’t have to be writers. In fact, it might be better to have some who aren’t writers and won’t be looking for the behind-the-scenes craft. Here’s how I went about this step of the writing process:

Timing and Numbers

I wanted to recruit my first round of betas in October, get feedback by the end of the school year in mid-December, spend winter break editing, and have it ready to go for round 2 by the time school started in mid-January. This is actually what happened, but after I got the last of the beta feedback around the end of the school year, I hit both sickness and burnout, which made it difficult to keep editing. Dozens and dozens of well-meaning people over the years have expressed interest in reading my work but when confronted with the reality of a book, many suddenly became too busy to commit. I sent it to 15 people in total – a range of kids to adults, strangers recruited from my social media, friends, and family alike. Some were writer friends who had already been spoiled, most went in totally blind, or only passingly familiar with the story from the introductory posts.

Of these 15, a total of 6 finished the draft. I consistently had to send people “poke” messages to remind them of deadlines and check in on their progress. When it was clear that someone really had no intention to finish reading, I asked them point-blank if they would prefer to quit and assured them I wouldn’t be offended but I needed to know where I lost their interests and why they couldn’t continue. Often it was because of real-life commitments, but I still flagged the places at which they stopped reading as potential problem scenes that would need to be revisited. Others simply ghosted me.


Runaways was 45,000 words, and 12 chapters including the epilogue. I divided the book up into four parts, and included a questionnaire at the end of each section to gauge how people felt about the plot, characters, world, and themes throughout the book as they discovered certain elements of the story. I also encouraged people to leave comments as they read to get an impression of first unfiltered reactions. A few people also took the initiative to use highlighter to remark on the prose: green for lines they really liked, yellow for awkward wordings, red for grammar errors and other glaring inconsistencies. I asked people to focus specifically on the macro-scale elements of the story – looking for plot holes, critiquing entire arcs, checking if the lore of the world held up to scrutiny.

Lessons Learned:

Balancing the beta reader experience with the impulse to fix things on the fly is really hard. I figured out a way to fix a minor plot hole after I had already sent it out, and so whenever the betas got to that portion of the document I had to message them going ‘hey actually ignore this bit, I’m changing it” which was weird to say the least. I also had two different versions of the draft out, and so between round 1 and round 2, I could not always make direct comparisons between the feedback.

I realized also I did not give most people enough time to finish reading. Despite it being a short book that one could hypothetically finish in a day or two, I gave it to people right before holiday season, during the busiest part of the school year. At the same time, seven months should have been more than enough time to both read and leave detailed feedback, so consistent reminders were important. Many people also gave me feedback over direct messages in almost an interview form when I poked them, rather than in the document itself, which also worked for getting feedback, but was more difficult to transfer to my editing document.

The mental barriers were the hardest to get over. The waiting for feedback was agonizing, then once the feedback came in, I immediately dropped whatever I was doing to hyper-analyze whatever the beta had said. Of course, I was expecting negative feedback, and so I didn’t struggle with the critiques as much as I expected, but people quitting after the first couple of chapters (regardless of their totally valid reasons for doing so), still shook my confidence. Since less than half of my betas finished the story, there’s been a constant nagging voice in the back of my head saying, “The book is too boring. Nobody cares. It’s a waste of their time.” even though I know logically that’s not the case. The amount of feedback I received also has me questioning if it’s not enough, or feeling too overwhelmed by the quantity of comments. It’s hard to tell when you have the right amount of outside opinions, or when the feedback is just a cluttered noise. As the author, I have to make that call, but it’s not always an easy one to make.

Finally, I needed to take more time away from the story before jumping into revisions. At the beginning of the summer, I already felt burnt out from a tough semester, but forcing myself to start working on the draft again so soon after compiling the beta feedback was a recipe for disaster. Diffused thinking is when you’re not actively thinking about a project, but still turning it over in the back of your head as you focus on other tasks. Your brain needs diffused time to properly process and internalize such feedback, and I didn’t give myself that space. I don’t have a set timeline to return to Runaways, but when I’m ready to start the next draft, I know the ideas that have been percolating will be much easier to execute.

I hope you found this guide helpful! Do you have any other questions about the editing process that I can answer? Next week, I’ll be talking about line edits, but in the meantime, I’m collecting feedback on merch options! Let me know if there’s anything you’d like to see me add to a potential shop! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip on my Kofi or donating using the secure box below. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!


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