Beta readers are essential for any novel, book, screenplay, or fanfiction writer. For new authors, it may be helpful to know exactly how many beta readers are considered “ideal”.
How many beta readers should I have?
You do not need beta readers to write, get published, or launch a full-time writing career. Most authors benefit from at least one beta reader. Two beta readers provide balanced feedback. 3-5 diverse beta readers offer comprehensive feedback. More than five beta readers are complicated to manage.
In this article, I’ll answer the most common questions other writers ask me about the perfect number of beta readers.
How Many Beta Readers Should I Have? (The Ideal Number)
Most authors should probably get three to five beta readers. The more diverse, the better (within specific boundaries).
If you have one beta reader, they will provide basic feedback on your work.
This feedback includes their emotional response to your story, along with typos and word choice suggestions.
Even though one-on-one discussions between you and a beta reader are time-consuming, a single beta reader can help you resolve many of your story or book problems.
The biggest drawback with one beta reader is receiving feedback from a narrow point of view.
If you have two beta readers, they should be very diverse in terms of their backgrounds, personalities, and life experiences.
This way, your book’s content has the best chance of reflecting a true range of perspectives.
Diversity is especially important if the target audience includes children, teens, or people of color. Having at least two beta readers allows you to receive more balanced feedback.
Three to Five Readers
I consider 3-5 beta readers optimal for most authors.
Having three to five beta readers will give you more detailed feedback on your book’s content and structure.
Your ideal beta readers can provide suggestions for improving characters, dialogue, and the overall pacing of your story.
The most balanced beta readers provide both strengths and weaknesses. They might point out where your writing is unclear or overly dramatic, emotional, action-packed, etc.
These readers also offer ideas for how to improve the parts they like (such as a character’s backstory).
I suggest that you get beta readers who read in your genre or niche.
Another thing you might want to do is recruit a mix of beta readers—some who are also writers and some who only read.
Finding a subject-matter expert to read your early draft can really help you nail down accurate details. For example, I asked a licensed and professional hypnotherapist to review my novel series that heavily involves hypnosis.
Six to Ten Readers
I would consider six to ten beta readers the most almost any author might need.
I don’t suggest going beyond this number unless:
- Your book covers a very specific niche market
- Your book is very long
- You have a system in place for managing a large team of beta readers
If you have more than ten beta readers, as some authors do, then developing a streamlined system for communication, organization, and distillation of feedback is crucial.
Here is a good video about how to organize feedback from up to 30 beta readers:
The Magic Formula for How Many Beta Readers You Need
If there is a “magic” formula for how many beta readers you should have, then this could be it.
This is my personal formula that you can borrow if you like it.
Here is the formula: # of beta readers = .01% percent of your total goal/words
For example, if you’re targeting a 50,000-word book, then you should have:
5 beta readers = .01% x 50,000 words.
This formula is a bit of a rule-of-thumb recommendation to help you get started.
Keep in mind that this is not a hard-and-fast rule that applies to every situation. If you have more time, money, and resources, you can always increase the number of beta readers.
Once you have reached your ideal number of beta readers, stop recruiting.
How Many Beta Readers Should I Have for a First Novel?
As a first-time author, you’re probably going to get more advantages from beta readers than authors who have written books for decades.
With that said, all authors can benefit from beta readers.
With your first novel, you’re still developing your voice. You’re still mastering your craft.
Therefore, I recommend that you get 3-5 diverse beta readers.
You’ll get a range of insight into what potential readers care about and how they respond to your book’s content and structure.
As you get more experienced, you might want to expand or shrink your beta reader pool.
How Many Beta Readers Should I Have for Fanfiction?
The number of beta readers you might need for fanfiction depends on a few factors.
The first factor is the type of fanfiction you’re writing.
Some genres, such as alternate universe and crossovers require a lot more research. They also have a higher chance of being inaccurate due to differences between how your chosen universe typically works and how it works in your story.
A police procedural might not have wizards, for example.
Another factor that affects the number of beta readers you might need is the length of your fanfiction.
Long fanfiction can be harder to read and give feedback on, especially if it’s non-linear or more character-driven.
I recommend at least three beta readers for long fanfics (30,000 words or longer).
For shorter fanfiction, 1-3 is probably enough.
How Many Beta Readers Should I Have for a Screenplay?
The number of beta readers for a screenplay depends on what stage your script is in and how much feedback you want.
Many writers start out by sharing their scripts with friends and family who offer their opinions.
This is a fine way to get started, but it’s important that you also find people who understand the process of writing a script.
You can’t expect your mom or roommate to catch all of your dialogue inflection errors and formatting mistakes.
I suggest that you get at least two other people to read your screenplay before sending it out.
Three to five is probably even better.
If you can afford it, I strongly suggest you get a screenwriting professional to go over your script. One of my favorite places to get professional coverage is on WeScreenplay.
Are Beta Readers Necessary? (Answered)
Beta readers are not an absolute necessity. You can write and publish a successful novel or nonfiction book without any beta readers.
But I don’t recommend this approach.
While beta readers might not be needed, they will almost certainly strengthen your story or book.
They’ll help you with clarity and character development, ensure that your book fits into genre conventions, and improve the pacing of your novel.
Beta readers will also bring more insight into what types of stories sell better than others.
You can even construct an A/B test to compare sales between books with beta readers and those without them.
My guess is that your books with solid beta readers will do better in the market.
Is One Beta Reader Enough?
When people ask me, “How many beta readers should I have?”, they often follow up with, “Is one beta reader good enough?”
One beta reader can be enough in certain rare circumstances.
For example, if the beta reader is a professional author in the same genre. One really good beta reader is better than 10 mediocre beta readers.
However, if your beta reader isn’t familiar with genre conventions and your writing style, then one beta reader probably won’t cut it.
This is especially true if you’re a beginning author.
The more feedback you get from different readers, usually the better.
If you feel like two or three beta readers aren’t enough and there aren’t any other options, then you might go ahead and publish your book.
After release, readers will review and leave feedback on how they feel about the story and what they want to see more of in your future work.
If you get a lot of these reviews or requests for clarification from readers, perhaps it means that you need more beta readers.
How Many Beta Readers Read the Average Book Before Publication?
There is no way to know this for sure with currently available data.
However, I would bet that the majority of traditionally published or successfully self-published books involve at least one beta reader.
Stephen King says that his first reader (and beta reader) is his wife Tabitha.
I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that 3-5 (or more) is typical.
And, to make matters even more convoluted, the number of beta readers an author brings on might change over the course of their career.
A new author might find 2-5 beta readers for their first work.
After publishing a series of bestsellers, a more experienced author usually surrounds him or herself with a team of editors, proofreaders, and subject matter experts.
Therefore, they might use fewer (non-professional and non-paid) beta readers.
How Many Beta Readers Is Too Many?
There is no magic number for how many beta readers it too many.
Personally, I think it depends on each author. If you can handle 10 or more beta readers without losing your mind, then go for it.
In that case, 10 is not too many for you.
On the flip side, if life gets really complicated with five beta readers, then five is too many for you (at least for now).
Here is how you know you have too many beta readers:
- You can’t keep track of them
- You feel overwhelmed with communication and feedback
Beta readers should enhance your writing life not burn it down in emotional flames.
3 Times To Limit Your Number of Beta Readers
That brings us to three specific times you probably want to limit your number of beta readers.
Here are those three times:
- You are a new or beginner author
- Your beta reading pool is too similar
- You use a paid and professional editor
Why You Should Limit Beta Readers as a New Author
New authors need to stick with 3-5 readers.
A new author needs to focus on learning the craft and improving their story arc, character development, setting details, word choice, and all of the other essentials involved in writing a solid novel.
Additionally, you should ideally limit your pool to beta readers that will give you honest and constructive feedback.
Remember, you want to push your boundaries and become a better writer with each book.
You aren’t going to grow if all of your beta readers love everything about your work and say nothing but positive things.
So, start small and save the advanced beta reader teams for future projects once you’ve mastered the basics.
Why You Should Limit Beta Readers If Your Pool of Readers Is Too Similiar
Diverse feedback is what will boost your story or book the most.
There is a hidden danger in too many similar perspectives. It’s easy to unintentionally insulate yourself in an echo chamber of similar expectations and feedback.
The bottom line is this: diverse readers will provide diverse perspectives and feedback. You want that as much as possible.
The more diverse your beta readers, the better you will learn to accommodate a variety of perspectives and styles.
Why You Should Limit Beta Readers If You Use a Paid and Professional Author
Professional editors are worth every penny.
If you can swing it financially, then I highly recommend using a professional editor (at least for your first book).
A professional editor is typically going to offer a more objective perspective on your work. They are also going to represent a number of different disciplines and subject areas if they have been in the business long enough.
One good editor is worth at least three beta readers.
Your beta readers should be diverse but you also want your editor’s input to be diverse as well.
The last thing you want is for the same beta reader or editor to say the same things over and over again. Then it becomes a question of whether or not they are seeing something you’re missing.
Final Thoughts: How Many Beta Readers Should I Have?
The bottom line is that there is no “perfect” number of beta readers.
If you have more readers than the range I gave, then I’m not going to tell you that you have too many.
In fact, if you feel like you need more, then you probably do.
But, I am going to ask: “Are your beta readers providing diverse and actionable feedback?”
If they are, then you’re probably in good shape.
If your beta readers aren’t bringing any new perspectives to the table, then it might be time to cycle out those readers and replace them with new ones.
The key is to make sure you’re growing as a writer and not standing still.