Updated: Aug 25, 2020
I was fortunate enough to have a large and diverse enough group of friends, family and colleagues to build a decent beta reading pool for my own historical fiction manuscript, but when I became involved in Twitter’s #WritingCommunity, I saw so many cries for help for beta readers. My blog about Finding and Using Beta Readers outlines my personal journey.
Then I discovered BetaReader.io and now they are one of the beta reading options I share with my followers. I have not personally used this platform but I have been impressed with their professionalism on social media as well as having seen them reviewed by publishing guru, Jane Friedman, in her newsletter, The Hot Sheet.
So, I reached out to founder, Jonas Frid, to find out a little bit more about his initiative.
What is BetaReader.io and where did you get the idea to start this platform?
BetaReader.io makes it easy to share your manuscript with beta readers and collect and make sense of their feedback. I got the idea for the platform when I was working on my second novel. Coming from a tech background, where we always beta test our products (such as Facebook, Instagram, etc) with the intended target audience before we launch them, testing my novel in a similar way made a lot of sense. However, there were no good tools around to help me do it.
Sure, I could share a Google Doc, but then all readers would see and get influenced by each other’s feedback. I also wouldn’t be able to see who had read how far, and there was no good way to ask questions to my readers along the way. So I drafted my brother, Axel, who has a similar background to myself, and started building the tool I needed. Soon enough, others caught wind of our project, and we even got a little funding.
For the sake of new authors reading this interview, can you explain what the difference is between critique partners and beta readers?
A critique partner, or alpha reader, is someone who typically also writes, preferably in the same genre, and is well-versed with the tropes and pitfalls of storytelling. They will toss ideas with you and give you feedback on the early stages of a story, but, while invaluable when good, are not necessarily the same people who will eventually buy your book.
A beta reader is someone from your target audience. Typically an avid reader (book-buyer) of your genre. They get to read your near-finished work for free in exchange for their feedback from a pure reader’s perspective. If they like it, you know you’ve got a potential best-seller on your hands.
I recommend using one or two critique partners and as many beta readers as you can possibly gather.
How do you suggest writers go about finding beta readers?
Many writers look for beta readers in online writing groups, which is perfectly fine, because writers are usually avid readers as well. But a common challenge with having writers as beta readers is that they are busy with their own projects. They might even want you to read their book to return the favor. If you are anything like me, you want many opinions on your work, which means your return-reading can quickly grow out of control.
Better places to find beta readers are where your potential buyers hang out. Put up a poster in your local library or bookshop, for example. Or if your book has a specific theme (e.g. spirituality, economics, or self-help), advertise in Facebook groups with those topics. People there are more curious than you’d think, and you might even find your first buyers among them. But do make sure to proof-read and self-edit your text at least once before sharing it with anyone, especially when going outside the writing community for help.
Your average reader off the street will toss your book away like rubbish if you give them a half-written, typo-ridden mess. They want something that’s as near completion as possible.
In your opinion, it is enough to simply use critique partners and beta readers, or should writers use professionals like editors too?
While critique partners and beta readers can help a story rise in quality, I do believe that, nine times out of ten, an experienced, professional editor who knows your genre can make it really shine. Traditionally published authors get this as part of the package, and it can be what differentiates good sales from best-seller sales. However, as a self-publisher, you need to be cautious about where you spend your money. If you send it to the editor straight from 1st draft, you’re bound to have to bounce it back and forth several, costly times before you’re done.
So start with critique partners and beta readers who will read for free, and once you’ve been through a few iterations and feel that you have something good going, send it to an experienced editor to help find the true edge of your story.
How do beta readers and writers connect with one another through the BetaReader.io platform?
A lot of writers come with their own readers, and simply want a platform to simplify the whole beta process. They simply upload their manuscript and invite their readers in private, and no one who hasn’t received an invitation will ever know that the manuscript was there.
Others want help finding critique partners or readers. They list their manuscript in our Discovery section, which lets interested readers and writers browse the blurbs and request to read if they’re interested. Once a reader has requested to read, the author can vet their profile and approve or decline the request.
The author is always in charge of who can read and when, and they can disable access for specific readers with the click of a button.
What is the ideal number of beta readers that new authors should have?
As many as you can! Seriously, a new, unknown author’s problem is rarely that they have given away too many free reads to potential buyers. No, a new, unknown author’s challenge is to be heard through that massive noise of 2.2 million new titles published each year! The more positive reviews and fans you have when you eventually publish your book, the stronger your signal will be through that noise. Our first user (and one of our investors) Alfred Ruth used 500 beta readers for his debut novel Fermi’s Filter, many of whom eventually bought not one, but several, copies of the published book.
I am currently testing a middle-grade novel with 100 children, and have 50 more in the pipe eager to start reading. If your novel is good, your beta readers will be proud to be your early readers, and they will want the book not just for themselves, but for their friends, as well. Make use of that potential early boost in sales!
How important are beta readers to a new author’s career? Do you have examples from your platform where beta readers have turned into fans of writers and gone on to support their future books?
Extremely important. Take Fermi’s Filter (mentioned before): while it has yet to be translated to English, is already performing much better than your average debut with several thousand copies sold to date. The more beta readers you can find, the better. But make sure not to waste them all in one go - if you send your first (sorry, but probably crappy) draft to 500 beta readers, you might lose them all. Start small with 1-3 critique partners. Scale up when you feel you have something going. Test different versions of the story and see which one renders the reactions you’re after.
Beta readers are not usually professional readers, so how do authors get the best feedback from them?
I typically find that having them leave comments or reactions in the text as they go provides good enough feedback, but I like to add a survey every now and then to gauge their interest (“How interesting do you find the book right now, 1-5?”). Try not to ask too many repetitive questions, though, as that will drain their energy and increase the drop-off. Simple yes or no questions or rating questions throughout the text are fine, and then a post-read survey to sum it up.
What are the top ten questions writers should ask beta readers to extract quality feedback?
We asked ourselves this very question a while ago, and did some research among the community and the authors using our platform. In the end, we came up with this list of the 11 most popular beta questions to use as inspiration.
Is BetaReader.io purely for fictional works? And is it only for writers who plan to self-publish?
BetaReader.io works best for works that have a storyline, but we do have self-help and other nonfiction books on the platform as well. As for who it’s for, while most of our users are self-published authors, we also count traditional authors and publishers among our customers. One of our first customers was Ehrlin Publishing, an International publisher based in Sweden who is behind the global success saga, The Rabbit who Wants to Fall Asleep : A New Way of Getting Children to Sleep, among other books. New Forest Film Co, a progressive British film production company, uses the platform to test and polish novel-versions of their film manuscripts before going into production.
Traditional publishers tend not to touch any work that has been published online—doesn’t using BetaReader.io count as being published?
No, it doesn’t. Everything on BetaReader.io is private, so only the readers you invite can see it. It’s basically like using Google Docs or email, only better suited for beta reading. And as I said before, we do have some traditional publishers using the platform :)
How can writers be sure their work won’t be stolen if they submit it on BetaReader.io?
While having your work stolen in the beta stage is very rare – most stories you hear about stolen works relate to books that had already been published and proven to sell on for example Amazon.com – we do take serious measures to make it difficult for people to steal others’ works on BetaReader.io. Authors are in complete control over who reads and when.
Additionally, while it’s impossible to prevent screenshotting, we don’t allow readers to download the books; they can only read them via the website or the smartphone apps. We also let the writer put the desired copyright notice on their text, and log every interaction the reader has with the text, so if it would come to the unfortunate event that someone actually had their work stolen, the author would have reader logs as proof of who read the work and when.
How much does it cost for writers and beta readers to use BetaReader.io?
We currently offer three tiers:
Free ($0, forever)
Max 3 active readers
Test 1 manuscript
Max 20 active readers per manuscript
Max 5 manuscripts in testing
Max 50 active readers per manuscript
Max 20 manuscripts in testing
Unlimited readers per manuscript
Unlimited manuscripts in testing
Want to know more?
If you want to hear more from Jonas about BetaReader.io, check out his comprehensive conversation with Frank McKinley and Lisa Frederickson on the When Authors Fly Podcast.
Jonas is a Swedish writer and entrepreneur. He has a background as a product manager in the tech industry, where he built large scale web platforms for a living while writing fiction at nights and evenings before he co-founded BetaReader.io together with his brother Axel Frid. Jonas lives and breathes literature, and was part of the volunteer crowd behind The New Prize in Literature that was awarded to Maryse Condé in 2018. He is a frequent user of his own platform, and is currently testing a middle-grade novel, due to be released in October 2020, on 100 children.
Axel Frid, co-founder of betareader.io.
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