Hiring Beta Readers

A detailed account of my experience using Fiver to hire beta readers

I tried to make this post as informative and helpful as I could. Just be forewarned that it’s long. If you want the TL;DR, skip to the high-level lists. The rest is background that might be helpful if you’re like me – a relatively new (and perhaps anxious) author seeking outside feedback for the first time.

If anyone wants the names of the beta readers I hired, email me. I won’t write them in the post or in the comments. If you have any other questions, ask! I want to help others as much as I can. And if I got anything wrong, please point it out. I don’t want to accidentally mislead anyone.

*I should also note that I read that authors shouldn’t pay for beta readers, and that the service you’re getting on Fiver is actually classified as a “critique.” I’ve seen people call Fiver contractors “beta readers” despite this, and that’s how they marketed their services, so I’m going to refer to them as such throughout this write-up.

Why I Paid

My novel is … different. It’s a fantasy novel, but it’s a similar style to Kings of the Wyld (pointed out by one of my beta readers, best compliment I got, thank you!) in that there’s comedy, character development, and action/politics. I would classify it broadly as fantasy, but it doesn’t fit in with the classic genre novels, done so intentionally.

Suffice to say takes some risks, and yeah, I know I’m stepping into a genre that has readers with set expectations in mind when they pick up a fantasy novel. I also have no formal creative writing training. I’ve never participated in writing circles and this is the first I’ve shared anything outside my friends and family.

I saw Fiver as an opportunity to hire beta readers that were committed to the cause, had some expertise, and could give me constructive, critical, unbiased feedback. I did worry that the fear of getting a negative review could influence them. I wondered, “will they say nice things because they’re afraid to say otherwise, even if my novel sucks?” But I learned that a good beta reader won’t do this, they’ll tell you the truth, even if it stings, but they will do so constructively, and you will thank them for it.

Fiver: What I Wish I’d Known

Maybe this is common knowledge, and I will admit that I technology is not my forte, in addition to the app-based gig economy eluding me at times. Whatever you may think of it, here’s my list of lessons learned:

1. Sellers set the delivery deadline, but they can extend it as many times as they like.

You can choose to accept or deny an extension. Accepting gives the seller more time. Denying awards you a refund, except…

2. You don’t actually get a refund.

You get a Fiver credit. Wish I’d known this, you’ll find out why below. I didn’t try to argue this with Fiver but maybe I could have. If anyone has any advice on that, let me know.

3. You get asked if you want to tip.

Where I live, it is expected that you tip at restaurants, coffee shops, when you get your hair done, etc. I was a waitress for three years and let me tell you, the only thing that made that back-breaking job bearable was the tips.

So in no way am I resentful for tipping my beta readers. I would encourage you to include it in your budget, because really, they don’t charge that much for the work they do and I’m sure they appreciate it. I will acknowledge that I can afford to tip, and I know this isn’t the case for everyone. Just be aware of it when you’re calculating your costs.

4. If a seller offers you a refund/requests to cancel, and you accept it, you can’t publicly review their services.

If anyone knows a way around this, please tell me and I’ll update the post. I will also note I don’t know what happens if you don’t accept their offer to cancel. Maybe you can rip them a new one for all to see?

5. You have three days to accept the order when it’s finished, otherwise it will automatically be accepted. After you accept it, you’ll be asked to provide a review immediately.

I didn’t realize I’d be asked to immediately review the services. So when I saw the option to give them a review, I said, “I’ll do it later after I read what their report.” I didn’t get the chance to do it again. Maybe there’s a way around this (again, open to feedback here). I wanted to give the person 5 stars and feel bad that I didn’t get the chance.

Lessons Learned

I tried to pick people from varied backgrounds that I could picture reading (but not necessarily liking) my book. Of the four people I chose, three were superb. One was not. More on that throughout this section.

1. Follow-up questions should be welcomed and free.

You should be able to ask follow-up questions after you receive your report. All the decent beta readers I worked with were all open to these, and when I did ask questions, they went out of their way to give me extended advice. They also didn’t charge me for this.

One person had it set as an option when I ordered initially, charging extra for “follow up questions.” He ended up being the most problematic of the four. I don’t know enough to say whether this was a red flag, but maybe someone else can speak to that.

2. Expect live comments in your manuscript.

Again, maybe this isn’t normal and I just got super lucky with the three amazing beta readers I hired, but they all provided these as part of their service and I loved reading them.

3. Go for sellers who are established with lots of buyer reviews, especially if you’re on a budget.

Might be obvious, but I didn’t do this for one of my choices and suffered the consequences. Not only do a lot of positive buyer reviews mean sellers are good at what they do, it also means they finished their orders.

I took a risk and picked someone with only a few reviews, because a) I wanted some gender balance; b) he came across as a fantasy snob, the exact type of person I wanted to read my manuscript because I wanted to know what their reaction would be to it; and c) he was cheap. I came to regret this choice.

4. Yeah, you get what you pay for, but sometimes you get a little more.

I hired two expensive beta readers and two inexpensive ones. One lower-cost beta reader I hired turned out to be professional, quick, and super nice. But the cheapest option? He had very few reviews and he was less money on average than the established sellers.

5. It can take time, so plan ahead if you’re on a schedule.

The fastest timeline I got was two weeks. The longest was four, but she finished ahead of schedule. All in all, I waited close to a month to get everything back.

6. Prepare a list of areas you want them to focus on.

They should ask you what you want specific feedback on and provide it to you in the report. I asked for plot, characters, dialogue, etc. If you want a full list of what I asked, DM me.

Overall Thoughts

The Good

I loved reading the critiques and the live comments. Seeing people laugh at things I tried to make funny and talk about how shook they were by the ending was rewarding. Hearing things like “I want to read more,” and “I couldn’t stop thinking about it, even when I was doing other things,” or even “I was so angry at [insert character name] I slammed my laptop closed” was worth every agonizing moment I spent on this novel.

Reading their analysis of my characters, saying they love them and feel connected to them (or that they hated them for the reasons I wanted them to hate them), has probably been the best thing to happen to me in a long time. I don’t really have words to describe the feeling it gave me. But I would say that it felt exactly like I imagined it would, and then some.

I want to make it clear: there was constructive criticism, as there should be, because no novel is perfect and that’s the point of beta readers. One report went into an in-depth analysis of the problems. It was a bit overwhelming, but damn, it was helpful and well thought-out, and I appreciated it as much as I treasured the compliments. I think it will help me make my novel better, but also show me how to be a stronger writer overall.

The Bad

The cheapest reader I hired was the most unprofessional of the four. He sent a plethora of excuses (the details of which I won’t get into) and numerous requests to extend his deadline, only to cancel abruptly. This, coupled with the fact that I didn’t get a cash refund and couldn’t leave a review to warn others, was a bit frustrating. Oh well, the Fiver credit turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because I used it to tip the others.

Moving Forward

What now? I’m going to polish this sucker up and make it better, maybe do a rewrite. Keep working, that’s what I’ll do, because that’s what I do best.

For anyone else out there like me, anxious to share your work out of fear of an anticipated accosting, don’t let haters influence you! Do what you want and take risks. Seek feedback and learn from it, but don’t let the fear of shitheads stop you from putting your work out there. Like me, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised by what people have to say.

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