The Reliability of Beta Readers vs Length of Book

Ah, beta readers. An essential tool for most writers, and yet, sometimes, one of the most infuriating.

A beta reader, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, is a reader to whom you give a draft of your story, with the plan that they will read said story and point out potential issues to you. These can run the gambit from seasoned writers who can point out what is wrong and why, to friends and family who may be able to give you good feedback but also might just tell you they like it and how proud they are that you’ve written a story.

Anyway, I like them, because I like the feedback, and it helps me hone my editing process before I get started, resulting in fewer drafts before I have a viable manuscript.

But, as useful as they are, sometimes they can be a little aggravating, and this mostly stems from deadlines. I like to give my betas at least three months (longer for longer books) to go through my stories. Personally, if I’m beta-ing for someone else, I prefer shorter deadlines (a few weeks to a month) but most people I know just panic in those situations.

(I am talking novel-length stories–three months for a short story is a little ridiculous.)

If you ask someone to read a flash story for you, they will probably do it immediately. Short stories of a couple thousand words can get done in an hour or a day or two. And people stay on top of these sort of stories, no problems. But when you get longer–50,000 words, 100,000 words, or more–your response rate plummets.

(I admit the first time a beta didn’t get back to me I panicked–was she dead? Had she stolen my story? What on Earth was happening?–especially since she also seemed to be avoiding me, but I am old and cynical now.)

Still, with a single book, I’d say you get 80% of your comments eventually, though you’ll probably have to hunt down a few people and poke them with a stick. Some repeatedly.

I recently finished the first draft of the third book of a trilogy, and I offered all three books to some betas who had not read the previous books. Several people accepted. And here is where I have learned a new beta lesson.

Seven people got all three books. This was last April. I asked for comments by the end of October. Number of people who completed all three books within the time frame? One.

Number of people who have read all three books at all? Two.

Now, admittedly, a high fantasy trilogy is a daunting thing to undertake, and I understand that. I’m still hoping I will eventually get comments from the other five, hopefully before the end of February, because I really do value the feedback I get.

But in the future? I think a book at a time will probably be the max.

How about you, Squiders? Love betas, hate them? What sort of deadlines (or do you use deadlines) do you give, and how well does that work? Any tips or tricks to suggest?

2 responses to this post.

  1. I didn’t think to discuss anything like deadlines beforehand but I wish I had, because now I’m stuck wondering how long I should wait before checking to confirm they’re still intending to finish. (It’s a 60,000 word novel.)


    • I made that mistake the first time too, so now I always include a deadline. (I think, since you didn’t talk deadline, you can probably check in once a month–that way it’s on their minds.)


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