Do you use beta readers? If not, you might want to consider using one in the future. Beta readers offer incredible insight in ways that editors and other publishing professionals may not. When arriving at the finish line of any major writing project, it’s helpful to have as many eyes on a project as possible before you send it out to the public.
What is a Beta Reader?
In the software industry, a beta tester performs a valuable task for the programmers. The beta tester may or may not have an intricate understanding of the behind-the-scenes coding, but they do represent the end-user of the product. Therefore, when a beta-tester interacts with the software, they have a fresh perspective that the programmer does not.
This same concept applies to your relationship, as a writer, to a beta reader. After reading the same prose over and over again for an extended period of time, details are bound to slip through the cracks. That’s where a helpful beta reader can step in and make all the difference. They can point out flaws and pose questions that might save you time, money, and embarrassment.
Who are they and what can they do for you?
When looking for beta readers, you want to find individuals who are avid (and fast!) readers. It would be an added bonus if they have experience in the publishing industry, but it isn’t a requirement. Also, look for someone who can be unbiased and deliver criticism in a kind and constructive manner. After all, you’re looking for help, not a whiplashing.
Once you identify these kind and helpful individuals, they can aid in sussing out issues with your plot, character development, continuity, and pacing, among any number of items you need a second opinion identifying.
Also, these individuals are usually volunteers, but you can pay someone to do this for you. Goodreads has a page dedicated to connecting beta readers with authors. Scroll through this message board for ideas.
What Beta Readers are Not.
A beta reader should not replace any of the following, important individuals on your way to a final, finished writing project:
- A Regular Critique Group Member – In many cases, these individuals have traveled along with you on your writing journey and have preconceived notions of the project. They may also be privy to any rewrites or new directions that you’ve undertaken. This prevents them from having fresh eyes on the final piece.
- A Developmental Editor – This person is professionally trained to do a much deeper dive into your manuscript. They’ll cover theme, plot, characters, dialogue, pacing, tension, and setting. Their editing goals are to improve the content and structure of a manuscript.
- A Copy Editor/Proofreader – Other than the Book Formatter, the copy editor/proofreader is one of the last persons to look through a project. Their sole purpose is to wipe out typos, inconsistencies, and grammar errors, among other sweep-and-clean items.
The Rules of Engagement
Before you send your work off to a beta reader, you should come to a few amicable terms regarding expectations. For example:
- Have a clear focus outlined in advance. For example: Please be aware of my pacing, point out any glaring errors, and let me know what you think as far as character X’s story arc is concerned. Is it too wishy-washy?
- Set a deadline that is mutually agreeable for you both.
- Also, decide on what type of format is best for your reader–printed or digital. Printing out a manuscript is preferable to some, but it can be a costly and environmentally unfriendly choice.
Final thoughts based on my own experience …
When I needed beta readers for my first novel, many of my book club friends were willing to read through my manuscript. I didn’t give them a focus and the results were mixed.
Before I finished my third book, I reached out to my newsletter subscribers and asked if anyone was interested in being a beta reader. I offered a free, signed finished copy of the last book in my trilogy and a gift card to Amazon if they both read my manuscript by a certain date and filled out a questionnaire regarding areas I thought needed work. The incentive worked well and I found the feedback extremely helpful!