Since I’ve had good results with finding beta readers on betareader.io, I’ve decided to write a review of this webtool – maybe someone will find it as useful as I did.
Note: the UI elements might’ve changed since I wrote this post back in 2019 and thus the screenshots may not be completely accurate.
The site promises an easy-to-grasp tool for beta-reading that acts as feedback manager. And it delivers in several aspects, though there are some small issues to flesh out. If you want a way to share your work with beta readers and have the option of live-updating without needing to send a new file to each of them, it might be the right tool for you.
How it works
If I was to tell it simply: you upload your manuscript, fill out the metadata (blurb, genre, …), set it to ‘visible’, and wait for potential readers to apply. When you approve a reader, they get access to your MS and can read it with the option of in-line comments and after-chapter comments.
You have pretty much two options on how to upload your MS: either write it manually on the site, or upload a *.DOCX file which will (if you use ‘heading1’ for chapter beginning) auto-split your file into chapters – which you can then open in the ‘content’ section and edit in the simple text editor. You can also add a cover. This is useful for tracking your readers and for placing surveys (which can’t be placed into the text, only before/after a chapter) and for some other tools (more on that later). The site adds a chapter count and word count automatically when you finish the upload.
Logging in to the author-part of the site sends you to a simple dashboard listing your manuscripts, from where you can access pretty much everything else.
When you click a manuscript, you’ll get access to several per-MS tabs: the MS’ overview (first screenshot), content (the chapters and surveys), list of readers, list of comments left by readers, and automated reports (graphs).
There’s a tiny book-like symbol for swaps – which are still extremely wonky – the first time, we had to contact support to properly link the swap, the other time I got a swap request, it bugged out the same way and we just did two one-side requests manually.
Update: the swap feature is working quite well as of December 2019 and the icon was replaced from a book to two arrows in opposite direction.
The reader interface is simple, maybe even minimalistic – but the lack of distraction is welcome in case of reading. A reader can select a text with mouse as you normally would, which gets you a comment option and 6 ’emoji options’.
Which then funnel into the author’s feedback interface (and notifications, which are another weak point as they mostly stay marked as unread all the time) – into a per-chapter graph of reader progress, chapter read time, and the
UPDATE: the ’emoji graph’ was since reworked into an ‘engagement graph’ which shows a single curve for a sum of comments and ’emojis’ and displays individual count on mouseover.
Before you ask: the time read on the graph description is in seconds to two decimal places. Yep, hundredth of seconds.
It’s possible to reply to comments (and it’s something I use to tell the reader when I find their feedback useful or inspiring) and you can also mark each comment as either ‘to do’, ‘doing’, and ‘ignored’. Marking it as ‘done’ removes the comment and I presume the same for ‘ignore’. Then, there’s a simple messaging system as well.
You can have several versions of the same MS and even direct a reader to a specific version – and it’s possible to change which version a reader sees. You can also include ‘update notes’ when you update the MS. A survey can be placed in the ‘content’ section by using Add -> Survey, which automatically places it at the end and you can reposition it by drag-and-drop (which was only added to the still-minimalistic help/FAQ section when I sent them an email). There’s no info (or I have found none) on how many surveys per MS can you have – I have three even with the free plan.
As for some other things: the readers can’t download your manuscript, which should help against potential theft, though I know there’s nothing to prevent someone to go on a print-screen spree or using screen capture – but the ability to track the reading activity and time needed to read a chapter would give a scroll-through away (and you can revoke a reader’s access anytime).
By the ToS, you keep hold of your rights and only give the site a license to show user-generated content (read: manuscripts) to readers approved by you.
Free and paid plans
The good part is that all the features are included in the free plan. The paid plans raise the cap on active manuscripts, active readers per manuscript, and the reading history graph.
To be honest, the “pro” plan sounds like enough for a small publishing company and the idea of handling feedback from 50 (let alone 500) readers makes my head hurt. If you’re not wanting to gather feedback on several manuscripts at once, the free plan is probably enough for a simple reason: there’s a way to raise your reader limit from 3 potentially all the way to 15.
First, you get one slot by reading 50k words and another at 100k words of other people’s manuscripts – which is to encourage both giving and taking. It’ll only count when you finish a book, though – probably to discourage leaving a book when you hit the 100k mark. I’ve just found another issue: if you read a book the author uploads over time (or writes on the site) and reach the temporary ‘end’, it won’t refresh the counter when you reach the ‘real’ end so if you see a book on the shorter end that’s not uploaded completely, wait with submitting the final rating or just stay a chapter behind. The reader UI gives you a progress bar or you can look at the ToC to have some idea how long to the end.
The second option is the usual ‘recruit a friend’ bonus: you get another reader slot (two in case of paid plan) for each member who joins via your referral link – and the recruit gets an extra slot as well (so it’s +1 for both of you) – up to 10 recruits per account. Which technically means that if you join this way, the theoretical cap is 16 readers on the free plan. Furthermore, it counts active readers only so anyone you lock/kick out of your MS doesn’t count.
For my very basic needs, the site works really well despite the
buggy beta swap (FIXED since), lack of decent notification management, and the lack of digest email notification (though I was assured this is a planned feature in the works) so, at this moment, you can choose between no mail notification at all or everything (and ‘everything’ WILL flood your email if a reader is active on commenting).
The survey tool is useful (and you can even create an application survey if you want to better target your betas) even though there was no guide when I signed up at the site. And, as I said, the FAQ/help section would deserve an expansion.
If you would want to give the site a try and get an extra reader slot for both yourself and me, here’s my recruit link.
That’s it from me for today. Thanks for reading and good luck with your writing! And, if you want to comment or ask anything, feel free to do so.
Note: the site is still being updated, including parts of the UI, so some parts of the screenshots are not completely accurate anymore. Functionality remains unchanged – and new features are being tried over time.