Pantsing a Novel: Beta Readers

Betas. They truly make the world go ’round, don’t they?

Yesterday, I talked about some of the real, honest, people-don’t-tell-you-this side of beta reading and today, I want to focus on the more practical side of it; the actual process.

By the time you’ve gotten to your beta readers, your manuscript should be on its third or fourth iteration. Think rough draft, edit, alpha, edit (at the minimum). It may seem like a lot of work before you get to the beta reader, but trust me on this, if you skip an editing phase, you’re doing your readers a disservice and honestly, you’re making more work for yourself.

For example, I have my fantasy novel and I’ve had a couple people read parts of it because they want to (that emphasis is important). I am not even considering them alpha readers because I haven’t edited anything yet.

I wanted to get just a little bit of feedback from a couple people to see what they thought of the basic premise. Others who are reading it have been warned that it’s a hot mess. I’m fully aware that it’s a hot mess. I’ve had a few people give me some really specific line feedback (like ‘this doesn’t read well’), which I appreciate their willingness to give me feedback, but I know that I haven’t touched it with the proverbial red pen, therefore, that feedback is really meaningless to me at this point in time.

When I do edit it (which will happen after I finish the two stories I’m supposed to be reading), I know it’s going to be a major overhaul because, again, hot mess. Once it’s been edited, then I’ll look for actual alpha readers, edit again based on their feedback (using the google docs process I talked about in my beta video). THEN I will look for betas.

We’ve arrived at the meat of this article. The actual process.


I’m not entirely sure how I’ll recruit betas, but at this point, I’m considering some kind of application-type process through all my social media channels and this website. With any luck (and a lot of good old hard work), I’ll have a large enough “fan base” that it will work.


Being the spreadsheet girl that I am, I will most definitely have a spreadsheet of betas – names and dates and all that good stuff.

Reader base

This is a tricky one to be honest because it’s easier to manage a smaller group, but attrition is a real problem. I stand by what I said in my video of having between 5 and 10, but I think I need to aim for 5-10 FINISHERS. For my Bible study, I started with 35 beta readers. I just wrapped up on Monday and I have three sets of feedback in my hands and of the 24 I sent wrap up messages to, that’s 21 still out in the ether. I know for a fact that not all of them are completed (only 2 of the 3 I’ve already received had finished and only 1 completely filled out all the questions on the questionnaires).

So, reader base. I’ll probably have to have an initial reader base of probably 30 to get 10 finishers.

Reading material sharing

Google docs. I talk more specifically in the video, so you’ll have to check that out.


I shared an alpha questionnaire on last week’s post and in order for it to become a beta questionnaire, I add a few selection specific questions. This could be asking about major events in the section, the reader’s reaction, the reader’s emotional attachment to the characters and story, etc. I won’t do it for every chapter, but probably every 3-4 chapters.


This is my new process based on what I’ve learned over the past few months. I wouldn’t be surprised if  I revisit this topic again with even more refined information sometime in the future.

Have you gone through the beta reader process? What are some big things you learned?



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3 thoughts on “Pantsing a Novel: Beta Readers

  1. You said it all when you mentioned “finishers.” It’s a delicate balance to try to ask for a time limit, but it’s definitely necessary. Otherwise, your novel is out there in beta-land possibly forever! It’s understandable seeing it from the beta reader perspective too. Life gets busy, they get distracted, and, let’s face it, the first beta copy is NOT the best and may not hold their attention or have too many holes for them to be patient enough to finish it. But they are a necessary part of the process. Good luck finding your betas. I’m still looking.


    1. It really is so hard! I sent out copies of my novel to my betas in July and only one has finished. One is close, but needs more reminders and the other 6 are still on chapter 3 or something. It can be such a frustrating process, but it’s definitely worth all the hard and frustrating work. I’ve seen enough rougher drafts of other readers to know that it’s an essential part of the process!

      Thanks for stopping by!

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