Beta readers have been on my mind a lot lately.
Over the past month, I’ve been polishing up my manuscript, reviewing critique comments and suggestions, and fixing plot holes or inconsistencies. My goal is to send it to beta readers in the next few months before I begin the querying process. I’ve also been a beta reader this month and plan on committing to a few more beta reads over the summer. So when my turn for a blog post came around, choosing a topic was easy.
What is a Beta reader?
A beta reader is an individual who reads a finished story (poem, novel) before the work is queried or self-published. The Beta provides feedback to the author on elements such as the plot, characters, writing style, and sometimes spelling and grammar.
As an author, why are beta readers necessary?
Beta readers provide objective feedback and can highlight problems with a story that the author may not have noticed. They tell you what works and what doesn’t, and if you’re lucky, the reasons why.
My personal view on beta readers is that they act as a last line of defense before a story is handed to an agent or published for the world to see.
What makes a good beta reader?
You can type this question into a search engine and come up with dozens of answers. Here are my top three traits for good beta readers:
Experience– Either the Beta is an avid reader or a writer (if you’re lucky they’re both!). They have enough knowledge about storytelling and writing to explain their thoughts and give quality feedback.
Honesty– A great beta reader will tell you the truth even if it’s not what you want to hear. Don’t get me wrong, a Beta can still gush over your characters or tell you how much they loved it, but they’ll also tell you that the resolution of the plot was unrealistic or the FMC had too many annoying qualities.
Target Audience– Not all beta readers have to be in your target audience, but some of them should because they are your readers. If the story doesn’t work for them, it may not work for a larger audience. While your target audience is important, I also like to have some beta readers from outside my target audience. Some of my best feedback has come from people who don’t typically read the genre because they see things in a different way.
What do beta readers need from the author?
A Copy of the WIP– Obvious, but important.
Guidance– A good beta reader wants to ensure that the author is getting the right kind of feedback. So if you want the Beta to focus on plot and character development instead of spelling and grammar, let them know.
Deadlines– A deadline not only helps the Beta know when the author needs the feedback, but it’s good for the author’s nerves too.
Ability to Take Criticism– Writing can be a personal endeavour. As an author, it’s important that you don’t take the feedback personally. Remember, Beta readers volunteer their time to help and their goal is the same as yours- making your book the best it can be.
How does an author find beta readers?
A quick online search can turn up lots of places to find beta readers. However, finding great beta reads can be a challenge. My experience is that networking is best. If you belong to a writing group, ask for beta readers.
I also suggest becoming a beta reader yourself. As a writer, I’ve found beta reading to be educational and I’m able to improve my own work by helping others improve theirs. In addition, by acting as a beta reader for other authors, they may be willing to reciprocate and beta your work as well.
That’s it for BETA 101. Getting a novel to the beta stage is a huge hurdle, but not as intimidating as you might think. Send it to your readers, take a deep breath, and relax.
Polly J. Brown manages money and people, both at work and home. She resides on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore with her husband, three children, and a geriatric beagle. She belongs to the Happy Author’s Guild Blog. When she isn’t dreaming of writing short stories, she is hard at work editing her first novel length work or distracting herself by writing a second. She can be found on: