How To Be The Best Beta Reader: 20 Essential Dos & Don’ts

I started beta reading for authors in 2021, and to say that I was lost would be an understatement – I did my best to give feedback, but looking back, I cringe at everything that went down with my old clients.

As much as I wanted to be the best beta reader I could be, I now realize that I must have inadvertently stepped on toes and gone beyond the scope of my work in an effort to please the author.

So I have taken the effort to compile this list of certain things you should do as a beta reader and other things you should try your best to avoid doing.

I am a strong believer in everything that concerns the working relationship between two parties boiling down to the contract but there are certain universal principles guiding the type of contractual duties you should fulfil. 

These tips will help you maintain the best relationship with your author-client and help you get even more positive referrals that will no doubt maximise the reach of your business. 

Do’s

1. Provide constructive feedback and make sure it is specific and actionable

This goes without saying but it’s very important that when you take on the role of a beta reader you are certain that you can provide constructive feedback on the story.

That is to say, you must have enough knowledge of storytelling techniques as well as conventions of that particular genre to be able to help you give the author their money’s worth.

So essentially before you start working with an author you need to ask all the important information so that they can be certain you can provide feedback that is detailed, actionable, and as honest as possible.

2. Respect the author-client’s vision and writing style

The very essence of beta reading is that you want to work with an author to tell their story the best way possible and so it wouldn’t make sense if you tell them they have to absolutely scrap it.

That is not to say you need to tiptoe around the author or that you should hold back on giving meaningful advice but remember that this is an author’s work at the end of the day and whatever comes out of the beta reading process should be something that isn’t far off from their vision. 

3. Use the feedback sandwich method when critiquing a story

The sandwich feedback method is a method of giving feedback whereby a negative sentiment is bookended by two positive sentiments.

It is generally recommended that beta readers use this particular method because humans in general are more receptive to critique when it doesn’t feel like all the speaker has to tell them is negative.

Naturally, to be able to use this method you need to find some things you like and appreciate about the book and then use this as the stepping ground to analyse the areas where you feel the execution didn’t come through. 

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4. Be honest but tactful in your critique

No matter the stage you are brought on to critique a story you need to remember that your ultimate goal is to bring the author’s vision to life. 

So even if you feel that several areas of the story still need to be revised and worked on, you must be honest and diplomatic when highlighting these so that it doesn’t come across as an insult. 

Again this doesn’t mean you should avoid telling the author your honest opinion but what matters is how you go about performing this duty. 

5. Provide a turnaround time and stick to it

Whenever I on-board new clients, the turnaround time is one of the very important items we handle in the preliminary stage and that’s because this is a very important aspect of managing expectations between an author and a beta reader.

Some readers are fast and some others are slow and when giving a turnaround time to an author, make sure it is doable, that is it should be enough time for you to give valuable feedback.

I am a very fast reader so it’s possible that I could finish a 150,000-word book in 3 days when I am reading for pleasure but when I am working, I am prone to burnout out so I usually space out my reading over the course of two to three weeks depending on the length of the book. 

6. Have an open mind and leave behind your biases

A big part of reading for me is going into new worlds and discovering different realities that are very much removed from my actual life and I’m very okay with this.

This is the same mentality and belief I bring whenever I work with an author and it really goes a long way when you show that you have an open mind.

For one it puts you in the way of so many different authors who want feedback and secondly, it helps you to read a book and provide critique while appreciating the finer part of the author’s execution. 

7. Put yourself in the shoes of the target reader

The major reason authors hire beta readers is to critique their story from the standpoint of an everyday reader so it goes without saying that you will need to personify the target reader of a book.

This means that you will need to be versed in the art of balancing your subjectivity and objectivity to make sure your author-client gets a detailed opinion from their sample market. 

8. Focus on the big-picture story elements like plot, character development, and pacing

A beta read is like the lite version of a full-on developmental edit which assesses the story in terms of the many big-picture elements that are at play in it. 

So when beta reading, you should remove yourself from the minute details and focus on the larger elements and what you’re going to be critiquing is how all the elements interact in the story. 

9. Direct any questions to the author-client

Whenever you’re not sure of anything make sure that there’s an open line of communication between yourself and the author so that you can direct any questions or concerns to them.

This could be questions about the chapter arrangement or about missing sections but what matters is that you should be able to contact the author when you have questions. 

10. Be as supportive and encouraging as possible

I know that when you are brought on to critique a story you are essentially being hired but please remember that a beta reader will always be the first supporter of a story so please try to be as encouraging as possible.

This way even if you genuinely feel that there’s a lot of work to still be done on the manuscript you need to stand with them so that they are aware that you are on their side and that you are rooting for them. 

Don’ts

1. Don’t be overly critical or harsh

It goes without saying that even though you have been hired to critique the story, you shouldn’t only highlight the parts that are standing on shaky feet.

As I said earlier you can use the sandwich method of providing feedback and trust me when I say neither yourself nor the author will be pleased with harsh feedback.

2. Avoid rewriting the manuscript

Just as every human meaning is different every person has a particular writing style they prefer and as a beta reader who is working with an author, you must not superimpose your preferences on their manuscript.

Remember as I said earlier that at every single point in time, you must remember that this is your author’s work and your primary purpose working with them is to help them bring their vision to life. You can’t do this if you are being intrusive and rewriting sections of their work.

Personally whenever I’m beta reading a manuscript I usually ask the author if I can flag grammatical errors and whatnot or if I can rewrite certain sections to show how I think the sentiment in that particular paragraph or sentence could come across better and it is only when I’m given express permission that I go ahead and do this.

3. Don’t rush through the manuscript without giving thoughtful feedback

Do you remember what I said earlier about providing a durable and workingable turnaround time? This is very important because you must try your best to give an author their money’s worth whenever they hire your services.

Trust me when I say the only thing you get if you rush through the manuscript without leaving any type of helpful feedback is probably going to be a bad review from the dissatisfied author.

4. Don’t leave vague or unhelpful comments on the manuscript

One primary issue a lot of authors have with beta readers is that feedback is oftentimes vague and largely unhelpful. This is more common when an author deals with unpaid beta readers.

But since you have been compensated for the time spent on the manuscript you must make sure that your feedback is as detailed and as helpful as possible.

Even if a particular paragraph or a particular story element is rather confusing you should note that confusion and also talk about what and how that particular element is confusing to you.

Whenever making any kind of comments always have the what, the how, and the when at the back of your mind because this will inform any type of helpful comment you leave to help the author better write their story. 

5. Don’t share the manuscript or its content without the author’s express permission

I usually send over an NDA whenever I am onboarding new author-clients but even without that, it’s implicit in the very arrangement of beta reading that you must not share the unpublished manuscript. 

For one, that manuscript by the very act of its creation is already copyrighted so there is potential for legal issues and secondly, it’s simply not your right to do that and it doesn’t help you for fostering trust between you and potential clients. 

6. Don’t ignore the author’s guidelines or preferences for receiving feedback

Many authors come to beta readers already knowing the exact type of feedback that they are looking for and the format that is more digestible to them so when this happens you want to make sure you follow the guidelines the author has laid down.

It could be something as simple as the manuscript being on a protected software platform or it could be that they already have a questionnaire they use when working with beta readers.

What should be front and centre in your mind is that you are doing all you can to help this person get the most out of the experience and there’s literally no harm in working according to their directions. 

7. Try not to make assumptions about the author’s intentions or background

As I said earlier, keep an open line of communication between yourself and the author so that when there is any point of divergence you can revert to them and you guys can hash it out.

In this way you want to make sure that you avoid making any type of assumptions about the author’s background and any thought processes you feel might have informed whatever you find in the manuscript. 

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8. Don’t focus only on minor grammar or punctuation errors

Again as I said earlier a beta reader takes in the work as a whole so your feedback must be as holistic as possible which will not be possible if you have focused on the minute details.

Remember that in as much as the author sent that manuscript to you it is very much a work in progress and it will eventually be edited perhaps based on your suggestions, so cast your eye away from any grammatical errors and focus on the story the author is trying to tell. 

9. Don’t compare the manuscript to other works unless any such comparison is relevant and helpful

Under no circumstances should you compare an author’s work with an already published work, unless you are comparing it perhaps for determination of genre or perhaps to put forward a title as a comp title.

Or perhaps when you are giving suggestions removed from the story as to the execution of a particular trope to show the author how this can be played with in certain ways.

But when your primary aim in making that comparison is to measure the execution in both stories, I would say that you are better off not doing this at all because it can be very vexing and could even paint you in a bad light.

10. Don’t forget to respect the author’s privacy and confidentiality

At all points in time remember that you must respect your author-clients’ privacy and the fact that you have worked with them as a beta reader should be exposed at their discretion rather than yours.

So, as a beta reader, even if we all pray our client-authors go on to become a best-selling authors it’s not up to you to disclose the previous working relationship between the both of you.

And it also goes without saying that any information you’re author shares with you in the process – perhaps their rationale when creating the story or perhaps their thought process or their career or their educational background — should all be kept in secret and confidence unless you have express permission to divulge these details to the public. 


At the end of the day, working with an author as a beta reader is one of the biggest blessings about being in the pre-publication industry and for an introvert like me it’s literally a heaven-sent job. 

So if you want to be a super good beta reader these are 20 very important do’s and don’ts you want to keep in mind while going about your affairs and I guarantee you that your authors will love you.

This is part of an ongoing series on the many aspects of a beta reading career so make sure you check out the other posts on the blog and I’m sure you find some other helpful bit of information that will keep you busy for a long time.

Preye http://therookiejurist.com

Hi! I'm Preye ("pre" as in "prepare" and "ye" as in "Kanye"), and I am a lifelong book lover who enjoys talking about books and sharing bits and pieces of all the fascinating things I come across. I love books so much that I decided to become a developmental editor, and right now, I work with authors to help them tell their stories better. On this blog, I share everything from book recommendations to book reviews and writing tips, so feel free to stop by anytime you like!

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