A beta reader can offer valuable insight and perspective on your work in progress. However, who should you ask to be a beta reader and, equally important, when should they review your work? Let’s break down the what, whos and whens of this important critique tool.
What is a Beta Reader?
A beta reader is someone who reviews a work of writing as an average reader. They typically give feedback in terms of pacing, character development, and consistency. When you’ve been working on something for a long period of time, or conversely, very intensely for a short period of time, it’s vital to get a fresh set of eyes on your work.
A beta reader should never take the place of an editor or a proofreader. They’re merely there to offer a fresh perspective on your writing. They might point out glaring inconsistencies or areas that seem boring or need a bit more work. They’ll also give you the positive boost you need when you’re most likely exhausted–and possibly want to set your manuscript on fire.
Who Should be Your Beta Readers?
There are two kinds of beta readers. The first kind has a writing background and may or may not be an active writer. This person is perfect for spotting issues with writing craft. They’ll typically have more insight into the mechanics of writing simply because they’ve been in your shoes.
The second kind doesn’t have a writing background. They’re avid readers who enjoy reading and have a solid understanding of what makes a good read. Typically, you’d want to find a reader in this category who is familiar with your genre. However, if they’re not a fan of your genre but are interested in reading your work, they bring with them a unique point of view.
In either case, you want someone to read for you who has a genuine interest in bettering your work. You don’t need a scalding tongue-lashing when you’ve just invested time, thought, and heart into a project.
When Should You use Beta Readers?
With the two categories in mind, it’s best to consider when you want someone to review your project. I’ve narrowed it down to two phases.
The Early Draft/Revision Phase
During this phase, your work is still in its infancy. It’s probably messy and a bit unorganized–as it should be. You’re working things out. Plotting, rearranging, trying different courses of action. At this stage of the game, a beta reader with a writing background can step over your dirty socks and see what’s happening. They don’t mind the mess, they’ve made their own in the past. They can be useful in helping you make decisions, getting you unstuck, and give you fresh insights. For example, in terms of character development, you can ask something like, is this character too wishy-washy? How do I fix that?
The Final Pass Phase
A non-writer can be better utilized when given a more polished piece. They don’t need to see the mess you’ve made. They want the experience of reading something as if it were out in the real world without the distraction of missing chapters, glaring errors, and undeveloped characters.
Their insight, in terms of emotional response, is helpful. Did they feel empathy when they were supposed to? Did they enjoy the plot twist in the middle? Their response might be more organic and a better representation of the big wide world of readers.
Finding a Beta Reader
Are you ready to find beta readers but not sure where to start? Might I suggest you head on over to Inkitt’s own Beta Reader Group and share your work? I’d also suggest that you include target questions so that you get the most out of someone’s time.
Best of luck out there!