Drawing on his own experience, US author Michael La Ronn, writing in Des Moines, Iowa, explains how to use Goodreads to find beta readers to help you fine-tune your self-published books.
Every author needs a beta reader, but it's surprising how few authors use them. When I learned about beta reader groups on Goodreads, I jumped at the opportunity—I was already a regular user, so it sounded like a perfect solution.
Beta reader groups on Goodreads are simple: authors pitch their manuscripts to prospective betas in hopes of finding a match. Betas can also pitch their services to authors.
I’ve used these groups three times to find beta readers, and I’ve had both positive and negative experiences.
Three Times, Three Different Experiences
When I posted my first novel, I didn't get any responses at first. After several weeks, I finally found a beta reader who agreed to read the book. Then, when I followed up with him to see how he was progressing, he didn't respond to my emails. I never heard from him again. To call this an inconvenience is an understatement.
- For my second book, I had low expectations. I considered eschewing Goodreads altogether, actually. But I found a beta reader immediately this time, and the experience was great.
- When I posted my third book, I didn’t know what to expect, but I kept my expectations low. No one responded, and I eventually found beta readers through other avenues.
I’m grateful for the one reader I found on Goodreads, but I had hoped for more.
A Few Observations
YA, epic fantasy, romance, and sci-fi authors tend to have a much easier time finding a beta reader on the site. I write contemporary and dark fantasy, so it was harder for me.
It could have been that my manuscript got lost in the sea of other indies posting their books. It could have been that there weren't any fantasy beta readers on the forums when I posted. Or, it could have been that no one was interested. It's hard to say.
While Goodreads can be a great place to find beta readers, I also recommend pursuing betas in places such as Absolute Write, The Alliance of Independent Author’s Facebook group (a private group open to ALLi members only) or your city’s local writing groups. If you don’t, you could run the risk of not finding anyone at all.
If you do decide to post your book on Goodreads, here's what I suggest:
- Follow the rules. Each group is different. Read the rules and follow them exactly.
- Be upfront. In the title of your post, include your genre, word count, and whether the novel is completed.
- Be specific. State your deadline (at least 4-6 weeks is ideal) and what exactly you’re looking for. Some authors want betas to comment on plot and character. Others need help with grammar. Some authors need both.
- Include an excerpt. If you can, host a PDF of the first chapter on your website and link to it in your request. This way, prospective betas can get a sense of the book and whether it would be a good fit. Or, you can upload an excerpt directly to Goodreads so that they can read it there (you can always take it down later).
- Be patient. My average response time was 2-3 weeks, but I’ve heard of other authors waiting longer. Keep this in mind, and plan accordingly.
If you do these things, your chances are just as good as anyone else's. So much depends on circumstances that are out of your control. After all, beta readers are regular people, and they beta read in their spare time. If you can’t find someone right away, keep trying, and be patient! But don't forget to look elsewhere, too.
- Here's our suggested tweet to make this post easier to share with your self-published author friends:
“How to find a beta reader for your #selfpublished book: https://selfpublishingadvice.org/writing-how-to-find-beta-readers by @MichaelLaRonn via @IndieAuthorAlli”
Don’t be afraid to use paid sites, it worked for me when I ran out of free favours as the groups I found had far more writers than readers.
I used https://www.reread.ai/product/beta-reading would highly recommend
I tried reread the other day they now have an automated thing that gives you feedback instead, it’s great!
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Can you send me ad rates for your site please? I have a new beta reading service that I’m interested in promoting.
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Hi Will, thanks for your comment. I agree that beta readers are a good stop-gap for indies. Combined with an editor, you’re dangerous! Nice to meet another indie author from the Midwest (I’m in Iowa).
Michael, beta readers for me proved to be very valuable.
And I was lucky enough to find them close by in the early editing of my novel. One was that friend who was an English major in college and then someone who had edited and published technical manuals. This last person even supplied me with a well-written ‘review’ of my book that had helped tremendously.
Beta readers can be hard to find, as you point out, but for self-publishing authors they can serve as a stop-gap measure until we indie writers can afford to pay for the professional editing services that will lead to better quality books coming out of self-publishers. Beta readers for indies are our editors.
Thanks for the informative article, from a guy from Nebraska.
Thanks, David. I couldn’t agree more. It’s better to reach out than regret not having done it. It all goes back to indies being committed to quality, and making sure that they’re doing everything possible to give readers the best possible reading experience.
A good honest post, Michael. I’d never heard of beta readers before, but it seems a possible source of reaching readers. The whole reaching out exercise is of course in the lap of the gods, but it you don’t reach out you’ll never be read at all.
What you describe sounds pretty standard of what you can expect from sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing, both of which offer communities for reviews and other similar things. Dont get your hopes up and you might find one or two or in the case of a review for a free book, four (after giving out a hundred or more.)
Thanks, Andy. You’re exactly right. It’s all about expectations. I prefer to be cautiously optimistic, myself!
Thanks for sharing your tips as well as your experiences in finding beta readers Michael, much appreciated. With my first book I relied on people I knew but didn’t really get the feedback I wanted and needed to get and felt awkward asking for more so this sounds like a much better route to take.
Thanks, Georgia! Yes, finding a beta reader can be intimidating sometimes, and awkward. But it’s totally worth it. I hope that Goodreads works out for you!