The term "Beta Reader" originated in computer software. "Beta Testers" and "Beta Readers" were those individuals who reviewed software before its release, to check for bugs, critique ease of use, and basically test it to make sure it's something that should be loosed upon the world. Online fan fiction adopted the term several years ago to refer to volunteer copy and content editors who preview a story and provide critical and constructive feedback to help the author whip a story into shape before it is loosed upon the world.

A beta reader should be someone with a strong grasp of the mechanics of writing, but need not be a writer. However, a certain level of knowledge regarding spelling, grammar, pacing, plotting, and copy and content editing is required in order to truly help a writer edit his or her work before he or she publishes it to a mailing list, newsgroup, fanzine, archive, or website.

Line and content editing are vital, but at the very least, a beta reader should be able to:

  • Tell you what's working, and why
  • Tell you what's not working, why, and give suggestions on how to fix it
Beta readers who simply volunteer because they wish to be the first to receive new fiction, without providing critical and editorial feedback, are frankly a waste of time and should be avoided. Beta reading takes an enormous amount of time and effort, and a skilled beta reader is the author's greatest asset.

For more information about Beta reading, check out:

  • The Mannerly Art of Critique
  • The Writer's Corner: Beta Reader Index
  • Beta Reader HQ
  • Bedlam: About Writing
  • FFSupport Mailing List
  • Beta Unlimited Mailing List