Beta readers can make the difference between a good book and a great one. However, knowing when to get beta readers isn’t always easy or straightforward.
This is when to get beta readers:
Get beta readers as early as possible in your publishing timeline. Recruit them as soon as you start writing. Beta readers help you improve your first draft and your final draft. Get beta readers to read and critique your writing before you submit query letters to literary agents or publishers.
In this article, I’ll answer the most common questions writers ask about when to get beta readers.
When To Get Beta Readers (6 Good Times)
There is no right or wrong time to bring in beta readers.
However, certain points in your writing and publishing timeline seem to work better for lots of writers.
Here are the six good times to get beta readers:
- When you finish each chapter of your first draft.
- When you finish your first draft, get beta readers.
- When you’ve polished your manuscript and finished a few rounds of edits.
- Before you submit query letters to literary agents.
- Before you submit your manuscript to publishers.
- After you get a book deal and before the final revisions.
Get Beta Readers When You Finish Each Chapter
Some writers bring in beta readers as they write each chapter of the first draft of their book or novel.
If you bring in beta readers as you finish each chapter, they can tell you what works and what doesn’t as you go.
Then, when it’s time to polish your manuscript and start the editing process, you’ll already have a list of feedback and suggestions from your beta readers to help guide your edits.
This can save you a lot of time revising future drafts.
Get Beta Readers When You Finish Your First Draft
You can also get beta readers once you complete your first draft.
Your story is fresh in your memory, so it makes sense to get beta readers to read it before making major changes.
Also, once you’ve completed your first draft, you can get beta readers to evaluate the entire narrative arc of your story.
If they’re confused by major events or don’t understand key turning points in your story, it’s a lot easier to fix them at this point than when the draft is only half-complete.
This is the most popular time to get beta readers.
For example, when I finished the first draft of each one of my novels and books, I asked my beta readers to give it a read.
The early feedback they gave me was instrumental in helping me fix a number of major problems that made my story stronger.
Get Beta Readers When You Polish Your Draft
Some writers love to bring in beta readers after a few rounds of deep editing.
By this time, you possess a firm grasp of the major strengths and weaknesses of your own story.
However, you may be too close to it.
Bringing in beta readers after you’ve polished your manuscript can give you a good sense of how other unbiased readers will perceive your narrative arc and characters.
For example, when I finished editing my second novel, I brought in three beta readers to help me identify any problems.
One reader spotted a glaring hole—”Hey, did you ever explain why that character was passed out for half the story?”
I immediately dived into edits and my novel is better for the critique.
Get Beta Readers Before Submitting Query Letters
I strongly suggest that you get beta readers to read and evaluate your manuscript before you submit query letters.
A query letter is a one-page pitch that you send to literary agents.
Query letters usually contain a pitch, a short synopsis, and may include samples from your book.
You only have one chance to make a first impression, so you want your manuscript to be as polished as possible before you start querying literary agents.
Beta readers can help.
It can be nerve-wracking to hand over your precious baby to strangers for the first time, but if you get beta readers to read and critique your query letter, you can bet that it will be in the best shape possible before you submit it.
Get Beta Readers Before Submitting Your Manuscript
Similarly, I recommend getting beta readers to review your manuscript before you submit it for publication.
This applies whether you have an agent or plan to approach publishers directly.
Most writers I know get in touch with beta readers after they’ve finished their manuscript and are ready to polish it.
They then use the feedback to fix plot holes, pacing problems, and character inconsistencies. Not to mention overuse of common words, spelling problems, and grammatical errors.
The last thing you want is for the publisher to reject your manuscript for easily solvable technical problems.
Get Beta Readers Before the Final Version Is Approved
After you get a book deal, it’s a good idea to use beta readers before final revisions.
If you self-publish, consider this your last check before uploading to Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, Apple eBook store, ACX, Smashwords, your website, or other marketplaces.
Yes, you can also edit and re-upload your book again.
I’ve done so several times. However, I always preferred to get it right the first time.
Just remember that there is no perfect book. Even bestselling books include errors (sometimes a surprising amount of them). The goal is not perfection. Simply do the best that you can.
Beta readers can help catch things in your book that you miss.
Here is a video where I talk about when to get beta readers:
This Is When Not To Get Beta Readers
You don’t necessarily need beta readers after you finally upload your novel.
I know several indie authors who uploaded their books to Amazon without beta readers. There is nothing wrong with this approach. Beta readers can still offer valuable advice at any time.
But your book is already out in the public, flaws and all. I know from experience that this can be pretty embarrassing.
It takes time to correct mistakes, review your book, reformat your book, and upload it again.
It’s also important not to wait too long between when you finish your final version and when you ask for feedback.
There are exceptions, but generally speaking, the less time that passes since you last worked on your manuscript, the better.
Wait too long, and you risk forgetting what you’ve written.
If a beta reader tells you that there is a particular scene in your book that doesn’t make sense, you may struggle to remember what motivated it or how it fits into the overall story.
The Best Time To Get Beta Readers
Now let’s talk about the best time to get beta readers for your book.
The best time to bring on beta readers is when you know a specific timeline for completing your story.
Bring in beta readers when you know:
- If you want your beta readers to read each chapter or a finished full draft
- When you plan to finish the first draft
Once you nail down these details, you can plan exact dates with your beta readers.
When Should You Recruit Beta Readers? (Helpful Advice)
It is almost never too early to start recruiting beta readers.
Recruiting means that you ask people to be your beta reader and explain the beta reading process to them.
When I first began writing, my friends and family were very supportive.
They didn’t know much about the publishing industry, but they wanted to help me start a career as an author.
In my experience, the earlier you can find them, the better.
Because some of your beta readers may flake on you, ghost you, never get back to you, or get busy with their own lives.
If you’re just starting out as a new writer, finding early beta readers is either really easy or really hard.
It may be easy because friends and family might want to help.
Or, it may be harder because, as a new writer, you are still relatively unknown.
Once you establish yourself as a published author, you might find it much easier to recruit eager beta readers.
When To Run a Beta Reader
“Running” a beta reader is a term some writing professionals use.
It means to provide a new reader with a copy of your book, give them a deadline for reading and responding, and answer their questions about the best way to communicate with you.
You may want to run one beta reader at a time or several at once.
There is no right or wrong approach here, but there are some factors you’ll need to consider.
- Am I ready to receive honest feedback (good, bad, and ugly) about my book?
- Can I remain non-defensive even when I disagree with the feedback?
- Is my story complete enough? (Is at least one chapter complete, along with a detailed outline or general sense of where the story is going?)
- Have you done enough self-editing that you feel proud of the current draft?
Beta Reader Timelines
I think it’s helpful to plan ahead.
Keep this simple 12-month timeline in mind when deciding when you recruit and activate beta readers:
- Month 1 to 3— Recruit between 1-5 beta readers.
- Month 4—Start a private group for your beta readers (Facebook group, Discord, etc).
- Month 5 to 8—Give regular updates to your beta readers on the progress of your story.
- Month 9 to 11—Check in with your beta readers and seek recommitment to the process.
- Month 12—Deliver your draft manuscript to your beta readers.
If you’re using beta readers at faster intervals (such as after each chapter), adjust this timeline template to match your reality.
It can also be helpful to think of beta reading in two distinct seasons:
- Early Season
- Late Season
In the early season, most writers I know benefit the most from the technical advice of other writers. This is usually before (or right after) the first draft is complete.
The late season is when your book is in the last few rounds of edits and may be almost ready to publish.
During the late season, you might want to get non-writers to read your book.
After all, most of the eventual audience of your novel or book will be non-writers. These late-season beta readers serve as your mock or test audience.
Their reactions to your story won’t be diluted by knowledge of writing techniques or story mechanics.
Instead, they will respond emotionally, in their humanness.
Final Thoughts: When To Get Beta Readers
The when and who of beta readers really matters. My dad is almost always one of my first readers.
Over the years, I’ve connected with many other talented writers generous enough to offer their help. Find your tribe, cultivate your tribe, and celebrate your tribe.