Polarizing Thoughts in Writing: Should You Pay for a Beta Reader?

Hey there! I figured this week we might as well dive into yet another polarizing topic. I mean, the last one I posted all about why you may need a sensitivity reader got me my first comment about how I was wasting everyone’s time and was a worthless writer (I consider that a win…and they obviously didn’t read the article). After all, if I get no reaction, am I really making anyone, including myself, think?

Anyhow, this week a question came up in one of my groups about finding beta readers. Common enough question, really. They can be hard to find, especially quality ones. But at the end of the question was a comment that the poster was originally willing to pay $100 for the beta read, except people were quoting her much higher than that.

Let me tell you, there were a lot of “NEVER PAY FOR BETA READERS” knee-jerk reactions, and I’m here to tell you that yes, that’s generally true.

But not always.

When I expressed that, I got those same knee-jerk reactions.

But I will remind you: just because one person wants to hire a beta reader doesn’t mean they’re wrong. You don’t know what brought them to that decision in the first place. So yes, by all means, tell them it’s not necessary to pay for a beta reader. But if that’s what they want, we should respect those wishes.

What are beta readers?

Let’s back up a second and define beta readers for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term. Beta readers are like your book’s first testers. They generally read a lot in your genre, so they know the tropes and can see when there are problems with a story. They read for fun. Oftentimes, the author can provide specific questions for the betas to respond to so they can find the problems in their story.

Beta readers are looking for any story problems to help the author improve the book before they start sending it out into the world.

Where are beta readers?

Typically, authors find beta readers in reader groups, often online, or they may exchange manuscripts with other authors for feedback (technically, exchanging with another author is considered alpha reading, as authors are professionals in the field rather than the intended audience, but few writers make this distinction).

So…you pay them?

Not really. Very rarely does anyone pay for this service, and it’s pretty standard to assume no payment.

However, there are some people who offer paid beta reading services. From what I’ve seen, the going rate is about $1 per 1000 words ($80 for an 80k word manuscript). And a lot of writers will get pretty mad when they see this.

Now, let’s just mention one elephant in this room. Wouldn’t this just be like content editing? I mean, yes, it could be considered content editing. Or at least a form of it. However, content editing will likely come with more detail, in-depth analysis, and a higher price tag. Editors likely have more experience in the field as well.

Paying for a beta read is like paying for a less intense form of editing.

So when should I charge for beta reading?

Short answer, rarely or never.

Long answer, it depends. And it’s up to you.

The idea behind charging for beta reading comes from the idea that our time is valuable. And I get that. Usually, this matter is resolved by offering an exchange or, if you’re a reader and not a writer, just getting a chance to be part of the book creation process.

But when there is a professional offering various editing services, beta reading may be part of them. These people may not want to do an exchange of services for a number of reasons, such as if they don’t have anything ready for exchange, already have all the help they need, they are solely editors and live off the money they make on their freelancing time, or don’t have the time available if it’s not paid work (freelancing can be tight).

Another option is that an author may want to pay for this service. And at that point, it’s about understanding their needs and meeting them as best you can as an editor. It’s part of that professional relationship.

Ok, then when do I pay for beta reading?

Honestly, ultimately, this decision is up to you. But here are a few examples of why some authors prefer to pay for beta readers:

  1. They’ve been burned by free readers in the past (such as getting many readers who take the book and become unresponsive).
  2. They’re looking for unbiased opinions and feel that paying for the service would offer that.
  3. They do not have time to find free betas or do a service exchange.
  4. They’re on a tight timeline or are struggling to find the right beta readers online.
  5. They want a more professional opinion (again, this would be considered more alpha reading than beta reading).

Concluding thoughts

I hope you can see how this might be polarizing. Many authors are adamant that you never, ever pay for beta reading, but in my experience, that’s not always fair. Just like it’s not fair to judge people who have their reasons for paying or for charging.

Should you charge? That’s up to you. You might get a lot of hate for it. But that’s still your decision and your time.

For me, I never charged until I had a client come to me and insist she pay me for beta reading. I don’t know her reasons, and it wasn’t my place to ask. I offered a service exchange. I told her I don’t typically charge for that. I offered anything I could to avoid charging her.

And guess what? She still insisted on paying me.

Again, whether or not to pay or charge for betas is a question to be answered by each person, and each situation, individually. So while we can offer all the advice in the world, we need to respect other people even when we don’t agree with their decisions and understand that there’s probably more to it than we can see from the outside.

Just like pretty much everything else in life, right?

Write on, my friends. ❤


Do you have polarizing thoughts on this polarizing topic? That’s ok! This is a conversation, and my only intent is to remind us to be considerate of the needs of others and remember we don’t have all the details of this decision.

But if you share your thoughts below, I’d be happy to chat!

Do I Need a Sensitivity Reader?

(The answer is yes)

There has been more and more discussion lately about the utility and necessity of sensitivity readers. And, friends, not all of it encourages me.

Recently, I saw a poll on Facebook asking fellow authors if they would let a sensitivity reader edit their work. And the answers (as well as the phrasing of the poll question) kind of concern me. Many of the responses were along the lines of “absolutely not!” and “I would never want to filter my writing for these sensitive snowflakes!”

Writer friends, that mentality and lack of understanding is a problem.

There seems to be a lot of confusion about what a sensitivity reader is and what role they play in the editing process, as well as the benefit that having sensitivity readers can offer authors. So today, I want to discuss and get into when you should consider finding a sensitivity reader for your own work.

Sensitivity reader (n): a beta reader with topic-relevant experience and/or expertise who reads a manuscript in order to evaluate sensitive content for misinformation, stereotypes, and harmful portrayals.

Sensitivity readers DO NOT edit an author’s work. They are simply targeted beta readers (which is actual a term that is coming into popularity for this type of reader).

And they can be very important to your work. Just in the last year, several books have been pulled from expected publication because of issues related to lack of sensitivity readers. Check out this article, and this one.

Remember all those times I mentioned that we, as authors, want to give our books every chance for success? Well, that’s one role of a sensitivity reader! Do you want to write something so offensive or ignorant that you alienate an entire demographic? Are you so convinced in the “rightness” of how you decide to write, that your work will somehow be corrupted if you take these “special snowflake” feelings into consideration, that you refuse to care about the feelings of your readers?

Guys. That’s not acceptable. Without readers, there can be no stories. Their experience and what they bring to a story is half of it. And these people are people. They deserve their stories to be told with respect and consideration, not for hype or effect or to play to tropes and stereotypes.

So let’s talk about some flags that mean you should find sensitivity readers.

  1. You write about a character with a mental illness or disability, physical illness or disability, or other similar conditions.
  2. You write about any marginalized group of people.
  3. You write a story containing abuse of any kind.
  4. You write about a sensitive topic with which you have NO personal experience.
  5. You write about a sensitive topic with which you HAVE personal experience.
  6. You write about a real topic or place where you are not part of the culture.
  7. You write Young Adult.

Let’s break that down a little more.

I think the first four are pretty self-explanatory. You want people to read your work who have direct experience with the topics in your story. It is important to have these opinions and checks and balances to tell you if the way you are portraying them and their situation is inaccurate or harmful in any way. If you ignore this, you risk, as I said, angering and alienating an entire group of readers who may (and will, depending on the context) drag you, your career, and your book through the mud. And besides that, by having these readers look at your work and provide feedback, you will add a layer of realism and relatability to the work. Having these readers will only strengthen the material you release.

And then there’s #5. Even if you are writing #ownvoices, I would still suggest finding another reader or two to contribute their experience. It doesn’t hurt to know how other people with this same experience view what you said. Example: I once wrote something in a book I had experienced myself. But when I had someone read it, they told me that what I said, even though it was a true thing for me, would actually be a harmful thing to keep in the book for my (teenage) audience. Without realizing it, I could have been causing harm, even though I wrote from personal experience.

Sensitivity readers can also be especially important if you’re writing YA. Because when you’re writing YA, you have to remember that you’re writing for young adults. They are still kids. Even if it’s a tough topic, even if they need to think about it, we need to write books that are fit for younger audiences. And that means avoiding the spread of misinformation, avoiding writing things that will directly harm a teenage reader (particularly if they are in a marginalized group or fit into my categories above). It also means sharing information that teens will find important. Just take a look at this article about what teens can learn from books, and why discussing these things is important!

It’s also important that we, if we are adult authors (like me), accurately showcase what teenage life is like. I don’t know about you, but my own teenage days were a decade ago, and things have changed! Flip phones are out, for one. And internet culture is much bigger than it was when I was in high school.

The things we say, and the way we say them, can make or break our books. Words have so much power, my friends.

Beta readers are critical to your work. Sensitivity readers are critical for your work. Please consider the value in utilizing them as important resources while you edit. Take their comments seriously, and do everything you can to make your book shine in a truly positive way.

And, as always, keep writing!


Writers, readers, gather ’round! Do you have experience with sensitivity readers? Are you a sensitivity reader? Tell me about your experiences and thoughts below!