Field Guide to the North American Beta Reader

We’re all hunters here, searching for the elusive, nearly mythical creature known only as the Good Beta Reader.

The feeling of finding a good beta reader is a lot like what Japanese marine researchers felt when they caught the first image of the giant squid in 2013. Read about it here because it’s just so cool. It’s a whiff of the miraculous and literally inspiring.

beta reader squid

Image courtesy of The Malaysian Times, January 7, 2013

Yet, it took a three-man crew more than 100 missions and 400 hours crammed into a tiny submersible to capture that image. We can totally, relate, right? I mean, we writers patiently paddle through the depths of the interwebs and wade through endless writing group cafe meet-ups in order to find our very own giant squid…er…beta reader.

It would be so easy to just settle for smaller squid, a couple of octopus, or even a cuttlefish. Anyone here immediately think of the South Park ‘Human CentiPad’ episode when I said that? There are lots of people out there who seem willing to be our sounding board.

What we want with a good beta reader is a squid who will become delicious pan-seared calamari with a side of chipotle aioli—enjoyable with a bit of bite. All too often, though, we end up tangled in tentacles, with suction cups stuck to our words, and hooks buried deep in our psychological soft spots.

Well, today, I’m going to teach you how to navigate treacherous waters and avoid getting mauled by predators. How? With the Reynolds & Lamb Field Guide to the North American Beta Reader.

The Beta Critic

It is easy to identify Beta Critic tracks by the copious amounts of red ink. The Critic often camouflages itself by wearing sophisticated scarves and dark nail polish. These creatures subsist mostly on coffee, white wine, and the tears of writers.

The Critic’s mating call tends to attract newer, more idealistic writers. Mates are drawn in by warbled promises of help in improving their writing. During the gestation of the draft, the Critic stays by its mate’s side, crooning a melodic mix of condescending encouragement and passive-aggressive critique.

beta reader

Critics are extremely protective of their mates during the gestation process. They will snap in warning and attack to fend off any other beta reader who wants to offer a different opinion. The Critic considers itself a solitary apex predator and expects all other writers and beta readers to agree with it.

Mates must often try several times to leave the Critic, needing to recover from the failed escape’s emotional mauling. Permanent and debilitating scarring is often prominently visible on survivors.

As writers, we need criticism, and not just the ‘constructive’ kind. Hard criticism forces us to face and work on major flaws. It re-energizes us with a little healthy anger or challenge. Tough love is tough, but it’s the love that makes it so powerful and transformative.

The Beta Critic takes a good thing like tough love and strips it of the ‘love.’ They turn blunt honesty into blunt-force trauma in order bolster their own insecure egos by breaking down someone else’s. Even if they promise us to be better, to be kinder, we need to remember that a Beta Critic can never really change their spots.

The Beta Gusher

This friendly little fuzzy creature is easily lured out into the open with promises of being able to read stuff for free. They are known for their distinctive chirping noises and an unnatural perkiness.

One theory posits that the Beta Gusher evolved from the primordial camaraderie of the book club, developing in a petri dish of chardonnay and bad chick lit. Another school of thought believes the Gusher is a result of Amazon KDP’s tinkering with literary quality DNA.

The Gusher is highly adaptable to any genre, as well as to both in-person and online critique groups. They lure writers by emitting pheromones designed to trigger feelings of being empowered and encouraged.

Gushers are not without their defenses, should they receive actual criticism. It only takes an astounding .006 seconds for them to go from bubbly to blubbering. The Gusher’s guilt trip can induce temporary paralysis in the author. Prolonged exposure to Gusher guilt can result in extreme fatigue, depression, and social anxiety.

All fun aside, I get why we fall for Gushers. They deal praise like crack. Nothing is as addictive as validation of our dreams. And, we DO need our cheerleaders for those moments when the world gets rough with our dreams.

But, when it comes to being a critique partner, what we need most is honest feedback, kindly given. Support and critique are not mutually exclusive concepts. In the long run, a Gusher becomes a serious drain on our time, emotions, and energy.

Speaking of creatures who drain time and energy…

The Over-Committer Beta

The Beta Over-Committer is a multi-habitat creature found in all climate zones…all at the same time. Tracking the Over-Committer requires a specialized set of skills, such as the ability to smell broken promises a mile away and having the patience of a saint.

Of all the beta reader species we have examined today, it’s the Over-Committer that can actually do the most damage to authors. They are unique in their near-viral ability to take over its host critique partner.

Like insects flashing their eyespots to deceive predators, the Over-Committer flashes moments of thoughtful feedback and productivity to attract their prey. Authors are lured by the promise of useful critique and a partner with enough energy to power a small café of aspiring writers.

However, once the writer has taken the bait of a partnership, the Over-Committer attacks. Armed with incisors of sincerity, they go for the jugular, injecting their victim with multiple manuscripts to review. Afterwards, they administer small doses of gratitude as boosters to keep the prey docile and compliant.

beta reader

Personally, I’ve been a victim of the Over-Committer many times in my life. I’ve also over-promised and under-delivered before, but the difference is that I didn’t defend myself by creating a cult of personality to justify or excuse my failures. Over-Committers combine the worst of the Critic and the Gusher, leaving us diminished, depressed, disenfranchised.

And the hardest part is that we never see it coming.

Good beta readers both give and take in equal measure. They put aside their ego and needs to invest in our work, and they expect the same from us. That kind of balance requires trust, compassion, commitment, and expertise…

Which means that good beta readers are basically unicorns.

The Unicorn Beta

So…does that mean we give up trying to find a good beta reader?


They are out there, and together, we can not only find them, but we can become better beta readers ourselves. To that end, I’m teaching a class this Friday where I’ll be handing out maps, equipment checklists, and freeze-dried wisdom to help you be successful in your hunt for the ever elusive Good Beta Reader.

Go Fish: Finding the Right Beta Readers

beta readerInstructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, August 24, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m.


Whoever said that writing a book is a solitary job is an idiot.

It takes a village (or at the very least a Facebook group, some friends, and possibly a bottle of wine) to write a book. As writers, we need other writers…and non-writers. But, how do we find the right mix of people to support us? What do we do when they don’t? How do we communicate what we need effectively to beta readers and crit partners? And what the heck is an alpha reader?

What’s more, how do we take the feedback from beta readers and use it correctly? It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of spinning our wheels on endless edits of the draft of the first draft, to react big and badly to criticism, or to drown in the obligations of reciprocating beta reading for our seventeen new best friends and their manuscripts.

Fear not! This class is going to show you how to hunt down beta readers like big game, befriend them in a way that puts Dale Carnegie to shame, and create long-lasting, mutually-beneficial beta and crit partnerships that are so Hufflepuff/Gryffindor, it makes my Slytherin soul cringe.

This class will cover:

  • Wherefore art thou?: Where to find beta readers;
  • Alpha betas, beta betas, omega betas: The different types of beta readers, and why we need them;
  • Fish or cut beta: What to do when a beta reader relationship isn’t working – fix, fight, or flight?
  • I’m looking at the beta reader in the mirror: Are you the best beta reader you can be, and why improving your own skills will make you a better writer;
  • Gospel vs. grain of salt: How to balance thoughtful consideration of critique with Pavlovian instant tweaking, and why beta readers should never be the one holding the map on the hike.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


(Check out our page of current classes!)

Also, a small house-keeping note: if you’d like to see more of our shenanigans, check out our video page

When Your Name Alone Can Sell

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: General Admission $55.00 USD/ GOLD Level $175
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Thursday, SEPTEMBER 13th, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST



All authors need a brand, so this class teaches how to locate and cultivate your audience into passionate fans who BUY YOUR BOOKS!

How can you grow your platform and turn your name alone into a bankable asset? Not as hard as you might have been led to believe.

You DO NOT need to be a tech guru/mega-high-pressure-sales person to excel at this. In fact, best you aren’t.

Yet, the reality is that in the digital age of commerce, consumers rely on brands more than ever in human history. They’re overwhelmed and we can help them out….by finding US.

Consumers (which is code for readers) buy from who they know, like and trust. In a sea of infinite choices a powerful NAME is a tremendous asset.

Can you say “James Patterson”?

The single largest challenge all writers face in the digital age is discoverability and connecting with our audience is a challenge but nothing we can’t handle.

This class will address:

  • What is a brand? How to make one uniquely your own.
  • How to BE YOU! You’re a writer, not an insurance salesman!
  • Harness your imagination & creativity for better results (No one likes SPAM, so don’t serve it!).
  • How to use this information to locate, engage and cultivate an audience.
  • Myths about exposure.
  • Common scams that will wreck your brand and earning ability.
  • Why most promotion is a waste of money.
  • A list of expensive and not-so-bright ideas for reaching readers.
  • Knowing when and HOW to promote.

Overall this class is about working smarter not harder. This class is to teach you to think strategically so all energy is focused. Sure, we have to hustle, but why not hustle and there be an AUTHENTIC PAYDAY for all that hard work?

GOLD LEVEL AVAILABLE: This is you working with me (Kristen Lamb) for 90 minutes building, defining, refining your brand and putting together a PLAN! Time is money and professional consulting saves BOTH.

****A FREE recording is included with purchase of this class.

More Than Gore: How to Write Horror

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $40.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: THURSDAY, August 30th, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST


Humans have always been fascinated with what scares them which is why horror fiction is a staple genre. It is also, quite possibly, the most challenging genre to write. Giant bugs and chainsaws just don’t get the screams they used to.

Blood, guts, gore and shock factor are low-hanging fruit (and always have been) and worse than that? They simply don’t have the impact they used to.

Audiences are too desensitized. This means we need to work harder to dig in and poke at what REALLY frightens/disturbs people.

Though this genre is extremely challenging to write well, there is an upside. The horror genre lends itself well to the short form (novellas and short stories).

Believe it or not, some of our staple horror movies–and the BEST horror movies—were actually adaptations of short stories and novellas (1408 by Stephen King and Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker being two examples).

Meaning, if you want to go Hollywood? Hollywood loooooves horror.

In this class we will cover:

  • The science behind fear and why people crave it. Why fear is even healthy!
  • Psychology of fear, thus how to locate the pain points.
  • Why audiences are craving MORE horror (Yes, this actually does go in cycles).
  • The different types of horror fiction.
  • The importance of character in horror.
  • How horror can actually resonate much like literary fiction.
  • How to generate page-turning tension that will leave readers with a story they can’t stop thinking about…and that might even give them nightmares.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

Keywordpalooza: Tune in, mellow out, and learn to love keywords for Amazon

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, September 7, 2018. 7:00—9:00 p.m. EST


It’s one of the universe’s great mysteries… the same word can both boost and drown your book in a category (mind BLOWN, man!).

Keywords also seem to evolve every five minutes…or are we the one evolving, like a butterfly having a dream of SEO (trippy, dude!)? Like gravity and Jane Fonda’s hair in ‘Barbarella,’ the popular rules for using keywords value over-inflation and the slavish following of fads.

But, like Talbot’s tweed and mother’s pearls, certain marketing strategies and techniques are enduring classics that stand the test of time. They’re not flashy like bellbottoms, nor do they yield dramatic overnight results like ironing your hair. Yet, ignore trends, and we risk getting left behind…kind of like buying electric typewriter ribbon because that whole ‘computer word processing’ thing will never take off.

This class won’t just help you turn on, tune in, and drop out of the keyword rat race. We’ll also cover:

  • Fully body contact SEO: when and where to use keywords, and what publishers know that you don’t;
  • Fantastic keywords and where to find them: which websites, lists, search engines, and Magic 8 Balls yield the best keyword research results;
  • Mix and match like a Parisienne: no, seriously, how to mix consistent ‘classic’ keywords with the latest trends like a Frenchwoman wears a crisp white shirt with this season’s Hermes scarf;
  • Same bat genre, same bat book, different bat keywords?: learn the differences between keywords for ebooks, print, and audio;
  • And so much more!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

Building Planet X: Out-of-This-World-Building for Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. EST


Speculative fiction may be a way of seeing the world ‘through a glass darkly,’ but it can also be one of the clearest, most pointed, and even most disturbing ways of seeing the truth about ourselves and our society.

It’s not just the weird stuff that makes the settings of speculative fiction so unnerving. It’s the way ‘Normal’ casually hangs out at the corner of ‘Weird’ and ‘Familiar.’

But it’s trickier than it seems to get readers to this intersection without letting them get bogged down in the ‘Swamp of Useless Detail’ or running them into the patch of ‘Here be Hippogriffs’ (when the story is clearly about zombies). How do we create a world that is easy to slip into, absorbingly immersive, yet not distracting from the character arcs and plots?

This class will cover:

  • Through the looking glass darkly: How to take a theme/issue/message and create a world that drives it home to the reader.
  • Ray guns and data chips: The art of showing vs. telling in world-building.
  • Fat mirror vs. skinny mirror: What is scarce in the world? Valuable? Forbidden? Illegal? What do people want vs. what they have vs. what they need?
  • Drawing a line in the sand: What are the laws, taboos, limits of this world? What is unacceptable to you/the reader/the character? How are they the same or different, and why it matters.
  • Is Soylent Green gluten-free and other vital questions: All the questions you need to ask about your world, but didn’t know…and how to keep track of all the answers.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

Populating Planet X: Creating Realistic, Relatable Characters in Speculative Fiction

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 1:00—3:00 p.m. EST


It’s a time-honored tradition in literature to take an ordinary person out of his or her normal life and throw them into a whirlwind of extraordinary circumstances (zombies/tyrants/elves/mean girls optional). After all, upsetting the Corellian apple cart is what great storytellers do best.

It’s also that very same ordinariness and normalcy that first gets the reader to identify then empathize with the characters and stick with them (and the book) through to the end.

But, what do we do when our ‘ordinary’ protagonist lives with a chip implant and barcode tattoo, and our antagonist happens to be a horde of flesh-eating aliens…or a quasi-fascist regime bent on enforcing social order, scientific progress above ethics, and strict backyard composting regulations (those MONSTERS!)?

How the heck is the reader supposed to identify with that? I mean, seriously. Regulating backyard composting? It would never happen in a free society.

This leaves us with two challenges in creating characters for speculative fiction: 1. How to use the speculative world-building to shape the backgrounds, histories, and personalities of characters, and 2. How to balance the speculative and the relatable to create powerful, complex character arcs.

This class will cover:

  • Resistance is futile: What does normal look like for the characters? What’s different or strange, and how to get readers to accept that retinal scans and Soylent Green are just par for the course.
  • These aren’t the droids you’re looking for: What are the discordant elements around the characters? What are their opinions about it? What are the accepted consequences or outcomes?
  • You gonna eat that?: Whether it’s running from brain-eating zombies or fighting over dehydrated space rations, what is important both physically and emotionally to the character? What is in short supply or forbidden?
  • We’re all human here (even the ones over there with tentacles): The basic principles and techniques of creating psychological touchpoints readers can identify with.
  • Digging out the implant with a grapefruit spoon: In a speculative world, what are the stakes for the character? The breaking point? The turning point?
  • And so much more!!!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

Beyond Planet X: Mastering Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 4:00—6:00 p.m. EST


Speculative fiction is an umbrella term used to describe narrative fiction with supernatural or futuristic elements. This includes but it not necessarily limited to fantasy, science fiction, horror, utopian, dystopian, alternate history, apocalyptic fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction.

Basically, all the weird stuff.

Gizmos, gadgets, magic, chainsaws, demons, fantastical worlds and creatures are not enough and never have been. Whether our story is set on Planet X, in the sixth dimension of hell, on a parallel world, or on Earth after Amazon Prime gained sentience and enslaved us all, we still must have a core human story that is compelling and relatable.

In this class we will cover:

  • Discovering the core human story problem.
  • How to plot these unique genres.
  • Ways to create dimensional and compelling characters.
  • How to harness the power of fear and use psychology to add depth and layers to our story.
  • How to use world-building to enhance the story, not distract from it.

***A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

The XXX Files: The Planet X Speculative Fiction 3-Class Bundle

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $110.00 USD (It’s LITERALLY one class FREE!)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—6:00 p.m. EST.


Recordings of all three classes is also included with purchase.

About the Instructor:

Kristen Lamb is the author of the definitive guide to social media and branding for authors, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World. She’s also the author of #1 best-selling books We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer. She’s just released her debut thriller The Devil’s Dance.

Kristen has written over twelve hundred blogs and her site was recognized by Writer’s Digest Magazine as one of the Top 101 Websites for Writers. Her branding methods are responsible for selling millions of books and used by authors of every level, from emerging writers to mega authors.

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. She likes history, science, Jack Daniels, jewelry, pasta, and solitude. Not all at the same time. When she isn’t enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.




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    • excessivelyperky on August 21, 2018 at 5:42 pm
    • Reply

    That reminds me, I have a manuscript to read from a friend who is my golden line critic. I need to buy her chocolate, too.

    Flirting with being Over Committed, but trying really hard not to be…

  1. I was fortunate enough to encounter a fantastic beta-reader with my first novel. She told me what was working, what wasn’t working, and gave me an idea of why – which left me full of enthusiasm and raring to go on the rewrite.
    But she’s not North American, which may be why the rest of you are having so much trouble locating her :-). Her name is Sara Litchfield of Right Ink on the Wall, and she’s available for hire as a developmental editor (as well as content-editing & proofreading).

    • Helia Rethmann on August 21, 2018 at 10:24 pm
    • Reply

    Kristen and Cait,
    I always enjoy your informative posts but this one had me weep with laughter and recognition. I hope that commending your superior acting skills doesn’t automatically qualify me as a ‘gusher’.
    Anyway, I’d love to take the “Field guide” class but will be working during the time it’s on and would rather attend ‘in person’ than just having access to the recording. Will there be a repeat?

    1. Hi Helia! Thank you so much. I don’t have immediate plans to repeat the class right now, but if there is enough demand, I may offer it again before winter. I’ll make sure to let you know if I do repeat it, and in the meantime, I would definitely consider the recording at least. Thanks again – I love hearing that we made you laugh!

      1. I was in a class that Cait crashed, and if she’s half that enthusiastic as a teacher it’s bound to be a blast.

  2. I’m getting to the point that I need a beta reader. I’m wondering what kind of beta reader I would be. I fancy myself the unicorn, but I’ve known me for a long time and I doubt that’s true.

  1. […] is where we polish our story to the highest degree. Cait Reynolds gives us a field guide to the North American beta reader, James Scott Bell explains how to put some snap in your style, and Andrea Merrell reminds us […]

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