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Writing

What is a Beta Reader?

If you’re a writer, chances are you’re familiar with the term ‘beta reader’. But just because you’ve heard it before, doesn’t mean you know exactly what a beta reader is, or when/why you might need one. So, let’s start at the beginning.

First, a little background. I decided to write this series because I recently finished the third version of my first novel, and I think this version may be the one that makes it! But, I can’t stop thinking about all the agent rejections I’ve received, especially from the agents kind (and interested) enough to provide feedback.

Which got me thinking — what if I could get this kind of feedback before reaching out to agents, so that once I do, the issues could already be addressed? That’s when I realized, I need beta readers! I’m writing this series as much for me as for you, so that we can all find good beta readers, and make our writing shine.

What is a beta reader?

A beta reader is just like any other reader, except instead of a published book, they read a finished manuscript. And instead of simply reading for enjoyment, they read and then provide feedback. This allows you, as a writer, the opportunity to make any necessary adjustments to your manuscript before publishing.

Beta readers are people who want to read your work, and want to provide valuable feedback on your work. And they do this (usually) for the sole enjoyment of reading!

In other words, they are unicorns.

When do I need a beta reader?

There is a common misconception that using a beta reader is only a valuable step if you plan to self-publish, but beta readers can also help you polish your work for an agent or publisher if you are seeking traditional publishing.

The thing that makes a beta reader so helpful is the ability to be objective. We care so deeply about our own writing, and have poured so much time/love/tears into that writing, which makes it nearly impossible for us to see its flaws clearly. Even our best attempt at self-editing can overlook these common missteps:

  • We create an expectation early in the book, but forget to deliver on it.
  • We describe events in a way that is clear to us, but not clear to a reader.
  • We leave out vital steps in an explanation, because we know what we mean.
  • The characters in our books are not convincing, because even though we know them so well, we haven’t developed them thoroughly on paper.

Beta reader vs. Critique group

Some people (like me!) are in critique groups of writers who give each other feedback in a group setting. If you’re in a critique group and find it useful: YAY! But it’s not quite the same as a beta reader, largely because of the group vs individual dynamic.

The danger of a critique group happens when everybody feels they should respond to a piece in the same way. So, if the first person that responds loves it, everyone loves it. This can make it difficult to identify helpful comments from the few individual voices.

How is a beta reader different?

A beta reader will read your entire manuscript, on their own, and develop a personal response to it, uninfluenced by the opinions of others. As this is typically how your reader(s) will experience the book, it creates an authentic experience/response.

What happens next is up to you. In a later post, we’ll discuss an ‘ideal beta reader’, and how they might respond to your work, i.e. via written report, notes in the text, answering pre-determined questions, etc.

A great way to ensure that any feedback received is accurate, you may want to enlist multiple beta readers at once, so you can compare. Their responses may be similar, or extremely different. Either way, it will be helpful to have the different perspectives! In another later post, we’ll discuss what you should do with all this good feedback.

But why do I need beta readers?

You need a beta reader for the same reason your favorite authors needed a beta reader. We all depend on our readers. Without them, our work is nothing.

Getting another opinion is one of the foundations of the book industry. It shows that you care about your work, and that you want to make it the best it can be.

Seeking a beta reader does not mean you are clueless as a writer. In fact, it means the opposite. Seeking a beta reader shows that you are a professional with a plan!

In the next installment of this 3-part series, we will discuss how you can find quality beta readers. Be sure you don’t miss it by signing up at the link below!

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