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What kinds of readers do writers need to work with?

Have you written a book? Great. What next? Well, give it to readers, of course! But not just ANY readers... Inez breaks down some jargon to help you find the right readers.

Hi everyone, Inez again! This time, I'm just popping in to explain some of the words you've probably seen floating around. Most people throw these terms around in the writing community and assume everyone knows what they mean, but it can be overwhelming for new writers (I know because I was once there myself!).

After you've written the book, you need to get feedback. Yes, you NEED to get feedback. No, friends and family, even as lovely and insightful as they are, can't be your only readers (if you're pursuing publishing and profiting from your work, that is).

What are the types of readers and what kind of feedback do they give?

Alpha reader: Your first reader. Some writers like to test the water and build confidence by sharing their work in progress (WIP) with friends or family. Personally, I skip this step and go straight to beta readers.

Beta readers: Readers who take a critical look at a more developed draft of your WIP. That means you've done at least one, but possibly multiple passes, of editing. They will give you developmental feedback about the plot, character development, world-building, etc. Some beta readers will note grammatical errors, but they aren't editors.

Critique partners (CPs): CPs are similar to beta readers in many respects, but beta readers are supposed to only be readers. CPs are more like a writer friend with whom you build a long-term relationship. The line between a beta reader and CP can often become blurred if you're working with a beta reader for an extended period, especially if you're doing a beta reading swap.

Sensitivity readers: Someone from a marginalised demographic who will read your work from the perspective of that particular community. For example, suppose your character is deaf. In that case, a sensitivity reader might have a hearing impairment herself and will analyse the accuracy of your portrayal and will help you avoid harmful stereotypes. It should be noted there are many layers to this, and marginalised groups are not a monolith, so getting a "pass" from a sensitivity reader is not a "pass" from the whole group. Some sensitivity readers are happy to swap WIPs or read for pleasure, but others offer paid services.

Editors: These are the people who will do line edits and assess your grammar and syntax. There is also a difference between editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders… which is a topic for another day! These are usually paid services. For those pursuing traditional publishing, these services should be provided by your publishers. For self-publishing, authors are expected to pay for this themselves.

Do you need ALL these readers?

Over time, yes, but it's best to start with beta readers, CPs and hiring or working with sensitivity readers. Once you've done those bigger developmental edits, then you should consider finding someone to do the line edits and proofread your work. For self-publishing, and I can't emphasise this enough, you need an editor!!!

As I mentioned above, traditional publishers should provide the editing work for you, so I don't recommend breaking the bank on this one. If you're really struggling with grammar and typos, try using software like Grammarly or ProWriting Aid. You can also ask beta readers or CPs to keep an eye out for errors. Of course, it's not their job, but if you ask nicely, they might be willing to help you out!

Where can you find these elusive readers?

I asked for suggestions on Twitter, and this is what other writers suggested for places to find beta readers* and CPs:

  • #CPMatch on Twitter, hosted by Megan Lally - LINK

  • Goodreads Beta Reader forum – LINK

  • Critique CircleLINK

  • Various Facebook groups, including the The Writing Gals Critique Group - LINK

  • Reddit - r/betareaders

  • Various Discord groups

*I haven’t tested all these methods myself and even for the ones I have tried, I had highly variable results. Therefore, I can’t vouch for the quality of readers on these sites! Make sure you do your research before committing to anything!

You should be prepared to do a beta reading swap. Why? First of all, more people are looking to swap, so you’ll have more options, and secondly, you can get a sense of the beta reader’s skill level, interest, and style by reading their book. Finally, critiquing other writers’ work is a great way to improve your own writing skills.

Sorry, this wasn't a very thrilling article, but I thought it was necessary to cover. If you want to read more about beta readers and the feedback process, check out my other articles!

My blog articles:

If you're struggling to find a good beta reader who will provide constructive criticism and is sure to help you improve your writing, you're not alone! Why not enter the Slushpile Monster's writing contest to win a free critique from an experienced beta reader?

Also, don’t forget to join our mailing list so you never miss any of the games or competitions! We also share resources for writers. It's much more reliable than getting updated on Twitter, and we also have special mailing list-only content!

Inez Rodk (@inezrodk) is obsessed with all things fantasy and sci fi, both as a writer and reader. When she's not lost in a book, you can find her getting rowdy at a pub or tiling her house. She is an official beta reader for the Slushpile Monster's writing contest.

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