Many people think an author writes a book, sends it to an editor, makes changes, then gets the book published. There are, however, many other steps involved.
This Author Insights touches on beta readers – what they are and why writers definitely need them.
What Is A Beta Reader?
A beta reader is someone who reads through your manuscript, often more than once, for errors in spelling, grammar, continuity issues, and more. They give honest feedback knowing that the critiques will better the story, its characters, and plot.
A beta reader needs to give unbiased, honest critique of everything they come across in the story. Often, authors need to have conversations about characters and plot, too, to brainstorm better ideas for both.
Do I Need A Beta Reader?
Yes. Hands down. Without a doubt.
How Do I Select My Beta Readers?
Ideally, you want a handful of beta readers not only because different people will give different kinds of feedback, but also because some will catch what others might miss. In addition, it is a good idea to have people you are not very close with be a beta reader. Friends and family members often tend to give biased feedback and do not want to hurt the author’s feelings which, in turn, can lead to the manuscript not being as strong as it could be
What It’s Like To Be a Beta Reader
I used a good amount of beta readers for everything I’ve written, from short stories to novels. For all of my Grim installments, I needed to use not only the same beta readers from one story to the next – it was a series that has many twists and reveals in later books, and I needed to ensure any continuity errors were caught – but I also needed to find fresh beta readers to see if the story was captivating enough.
I sat down with a small number of my beta readers and interviewed each about what it was like to be a beta reader.
Reinfried: What did you enjoy about being a beta reader?
Matt: I love reading and enjoyed seeing the changes or redirection each draft of the story would take.
Joshua: Being the first to read a story is a great perk. I enjoyed sharing some of my experience with Jennifer that actually made its way into the story. I also loved being able to discuss parts of the story directly with the author to find out why she wanted things to go a certain way (insights other readers wouldn’t have access to).
R: What did you dislike about being a beta reader?
Katey B: It was sometimes hard to remember to not get totally lost in the story and to make sure to pay attention to continuity and flow.
R: Other than reading through the book in progress, what other tasks did you have?
Mandy B: I feel like I got to do a lot! I got to help proof character art, guide decisions in things outside of the book, be involved in upcoming unannounced projects, help design the beginnings of a graphic novel … the list goes on!
R: Why do you think beta readers are important to the progress of a novel?
Samantha Berezowitz: Having beta readers is like a restaurant using taste testers before they open – it’s important to learn people’s opinions before putting everything out there.
Katey B: It gives the author a fresh eye to look at the story. Writers spend so much time looking at the manuscript they get used to how everything looks and might become blind to potential errors or story flow issues.
R: Do you feel you had an impact in the book you were a beta reader for?
AuBrie: Yes. As a beta reader I was asked questions as I read, both individually and in groups, regarding characters and story line. I felt those discussions were definitely taken into consideration when reworking parts of the story.
Joshua: I would like to think I did. Some of my experiences were worked into the book (Russian and firearms). It really connected me to the book and its characters.
R: Would you beta read for another book if given the chance?
Matt: Absolutely. I love beta reading. I enjoy the story progression and seeing something you helped with come to life. My biggest regret is not doing it sooner.
AuBrie: Definitely. I love seeing the evolution of the story, and love being able to help in the development and flow.
A Solid Group of Beta Readers Is Crucial
As you can see, beta readers are very important to the progress of your story. Make sure you have constant discussions with each one, whether in group settings or individually. They will give you crucial feedback that will make your manuscript stronger and help your story flow even better than it did before.
Just remember this: do not take any critique personally! A beta reader is there to help you and to help your story; if they give feedback you don’t like, discuss it with them before you dismiss it or get offended. You need to be able to take criticism in this line of work, and remembering your beta readers want to see you succeed is something you need to always keep in mind.