What’s a Beta Reader and Do I Need One?
This post originally appeared at Almost an Author here.
All writers need feedback. Should you use a beta reader?
What is a Beta Reader?
The majority of people define a beta reader as a test reader, a person who reads your manuscript after it has been critiqued, polished, and edited. Most writers will provide a list of questions for their beta readers. These questions ask for general feedback about character development, plot, setting, and so forth. Some writers feel it is best not to ask leading questions, while others ask readers to evaluate certain areas that they think need attention. Beta readers are generally intended to catch big picture story problems or plot holes.
Some people use beta readers as editors and proofreaders, but betas are not a substitute for editing. Betas can stray into critique as well.
There are many paid beta reading services. These might be considered a budget version of a content edit, or a first pass content edit, and seem to stick to test reading only. I had one individual offer to read my manuscript for free and she did a fair job. I provide a list of questions for my betas, but she had her own, which were similar to mine.
If you plan on using a paid beta reader, shop around. Ask for recommendations and referrals.
Ready for a Beta?
Free beta readers can be found in online groups. If you decide to take the plunge and use a beta reader, save time and aggravation. Submit the first chapter and see if they respond with appropriate and timely feedback.
It pays to be leery of beta reading offers from people who don’t read in your genre. There’s nothing like having a beta offer to read and then confess they do not like this genre right before they suggest rewriting the manuscript to please them. On the other hand, a good beta will be able to read across genres and offer constructive feedback.
I’ve gotten everything from single word answers to a full blown expository review. I always read all comments. One reader gave strange answers to the response questions, repeatedly citing an incident that wasn’t in my book. I wanted to ask if she’d been watching Netflix while beta reading. BUT, she did comment in track changes on my MS, catching several typos and a couple of crucial loose ends. Go figure.
I’ve met some amazing writers through beta reading groups. The community is generous and most try to do their best. A few people have reached out to me and helped me without asking for anything in return. I’ve met some wonderful writers who I consider to be some of my most valued critique partners and beta readers. They help me see things I wouldn’t have otherwise because I’m too close to the project. A good beta reader’s value cannot be overestimated.
My all-time favorite betas are two wonderful ladies in the UK. For some reason, the criticisms are easier to take and the encouragement makes me smile. “This part is a bit muddled” and “Brill!” just tickles my ear.
Do you use beta readers? Tell me about your experience.