Writing Tips: The Pros and Cons of Finding Beta Readers on Fiverr

Developmental edit by a professional editor: $6,000. Beta read and inline critique by Fiverr freelancer: $63.

Let’s face it.

Some of us writers are lonely people.

In a perfect world, a writer—aspiring, professional, or otherwise—never works alone. They have a large support group of other writers with which they interact online and even spend time in person. There’s nothing like meeting a fellow writer or three down at the coffee shop or the pub for a good whinge about writer’s block, noisy kids, boring research, or any of the other gazillion problems writers have.

Ideally, writers also have a large stable of beta readers—not best friends or coworkers or family members, but strangers or distant acquaintances—upon whom they can rely to read their manuscripts and give them honest feedback.

But this ain’t a perfect world, is it? (And thank goodness for that, because we writers would have nothing to write about otherwise.)

Andrew Timothy Post writer science fiction post-apocalyptic Fiverr
“Once upon a time, there was a perfect little world where nothing bad ever happened and everybody lived happily ever after. The end.”

Some writers are ISOLATED. Either by choice or by circumstance, they have very, very few friends, none of whom are writers, and they have no one upon whom they can call for a beta read, not even online.

I know, because I’m one of ’em.

So what’s an honest writer to do? You gotta have feedback. You gotta have a second pair of eyes on your story. You gotta have somebody tell you what’s boring about it, where it plods and preaches and pettifogs. You gotta have beta readers.

Well, thanks to that Internet thingy, you have a third option.

That option is Fiverr.

Don’t feel bad if the name doesn’t ring a bell. I had no idea this website even existed a month ago.

In case you’ve never heard of it, Fiverr is a place where freelancers advertise their services by posting “gigs” with specific terms and prices. The site is called “Fiverr” because all gigs start at $5 and go up from there.

You can find any kind of freelancer on Fiverr. Freelance writers. Freelance editors. Freelance graphic designers. Freelance product spokespeople.

And (you guessed it) freelance beta readers.

Now, as I’ve talked about before, I went to the San Francisco Writers Conference in February. Writers, literary agents, and freelance editors were all in attendance.

You know how much a developmental edit from a professional freelance editor costs?

Well, some of ’em charge by the hour, and some of ’em charge by the word. But it usually winds up being anywhere between $800-$6,000.

Six thousand dollars. Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat.

Andrew Timothy Post writer science fiction Fiverr Slim Jims
Think about how many Slim Jims that is…

Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have $6,000 lying around. I don’t even have $800. No disrespect to any honest editor out there trying to earn a living (power to ’em), but eight hundred dollars is too rich for my blood, especially when I’ve got four or five manuscripts on the trot.

So when I started browsing Fiverr and I saw people advertising a complete beta read of a 100,000-word manuscript for $63, I jumped on it.

Okay, so it was a beta read and not a developmental edit. They’re not the same thing, I get that. But the fact remains that I got some highly constructive feedback on my manuscript for the price of a fancy dinner.

But, as a very wise theoretical physicist once said, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. You get what you pay for, particularly when it comes to Fiverr. You can’t just log on, pay $50-$100, and get the same level of quality and thoroughness you’d get from an $6,000 developmental edit from a professional.

I’ve been using Fiverr for most of 2018 and I’ve discovered a few tips and tricks that are handy to know if you want to find someone to beta read and/or line-edit your nascent manuscript. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Follow the rules.

Many beta readers on Fiverr will customize their standard “gigs” for you, meaning that they’ll accept a job that’s above and beyond their advertised price and word count. Some of them only offer custom jobs, and don’t advertise a specific set of gigs at all. In that case, usually, you must contact the seller first and negotiate with them before hitting the “buy” button.

Also (believe it or not), the top-rated beta readers may be in high demand, with their schedules booked up months in advance—yet another reason to hit the “contact seller” button before you buy anything. I got in trouble for this myself. I bought a beta read for a short story and was contacted via email by the seller a short time later, who told me that she’d read my story this time, but the next time she’d have to insist that I read her terms and conditions first so she didn’t have to shoehorn me into her schedule. I felt rightfully awful after that.

2. Know what you’re paying for.

I’ve been burned by this too. After you visit a dozen beta readers’ profiles on Fiverr, they all start to blur together. You start to think they offer the same services: a beta read with inline comments, for example. I bought a beta read for a 120,000-word sci-fi manuscript and paid $75 for it. When the job was done and I got the edited copy back, I discovered that what I’d bought hadn’t included an inline critique, which is what I really wanted. I got a single-spaced MS Word document telling me in very general terms what the beta reader liked and didn’t like about the story. If I’d taken the trouble to look carefully at the seller’s homepage to see what services he did and didn’t offer, I could have gone to another seller and gotten an inline critique for the same price. Make sure you read the fine print so you won’t be disappointed when the job’s complete.

3. Don’t trust the rating system.

This has happened to everyone. You bought a book because it was one of Amazon’s top sellers, and it sucked. You picked an Uber driver who had a long line of five-star reviews, and he turned out to be a 300-pound, chain-smoking pervert who smelled strongly of Sterno.

Okay, maybe that hasn’t happened to everyone. But still. You can get burned if you take reviews and ratings at face value. I’ve employed the services of a half-dozen beta readers and critiquers on Fiverr, all of whom had five-star reviews, and some of them weren’t worth two.

Here’s how Fiverr’s rating system works: after the work you’ve requested has been submitted and you’ve reviewed it (and clicked the “accept job” button if you have no further revisions to suggest), you are then invited to rate the seller from one to five stars on various aspects of their performance (the speed at which they worked, how well they communicated, the quality of the work, etc.). You can write comments and leave a tip if you so desire.

I don’t know what kind of process Fiverr has for vetting reviews, but some of their freelancers have thousands of them…and they’re all five stars. That seems a little fishy to me. Nobody’s that perfect. Just make sure that you’re choosing your beta reader for their professionalism and services, not because 5,000 strangers have given them a perfect score.

4. Take it with a grain of salt.

For the most part, the people advertising their services on Fiverr aren’t professionals. They’re just people like you and me, exploiting a niche market and trying to make a quick buck. A small percentage of the beta readers advertising their services on Fiverr are writers, and a slightly larger percentage are avid readers.

Some beta readers on Fiverr, however, are neither writers nor readers.

I’ve gotten manuscripts back from Fiverr sellers only to find that they’ve line-edited so zealously that my authorial voice has all but vanished from the text. Others have erroneous grammar rules stuck in their head. One of the beta readers I hired on Fiverr struck out every single instance of the words “that” and “down” in my manuscript. Perhaps she thought they were just filler and needed to be expunged from the text, or perhaps she has a pathological hatred of those words. But it was truly ridiculous, scrolling through my manuscript and seeing how many times she’d attacked it with a red pen. (Mind you, I did wind up taking a lot of the “thats” and “downs” out—I have a tendency to overuse them—but c’mon, every single instance? That’s a bit much. I left a few dozen in, just to reassert my authorial voice.)

My point is, if Gore Vidal or W. Somerset Maugham was editing your text, then maybe you could take their edits as gospel and implement each and every one. But don’t be afraid to second-guess the edits you receive from sellers on Fiverr. Some of them don’t know English as well as we writers do, and that’s just the honest truth.

5. Leave a tip.

Like I said before, the people on Fiverr are people like you and me, trying to make a buck. So if they do a good job for you—if you’re happy with the thoroughness of an edit or the kind words they lavished upon your short story—leave ’em a tip and a great review. This is the best thing you can do to (a) show your appreciation and (b) help that person get noticed by other buyers. You paid only $63 to get your 100,000-word manuscript edited; surely you can afford an extra ten or fifteen dollars’ gratuity. That’s just good etiquette.

Darn, I used the word “that” again.

There, that’s everything you need to know about buying a gig on Fiverr. Now get off the Internet, get writing, and get your stuff edited (with care)!