Beta Readers: Do I Need One?

 

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.

Paid Betas

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.

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#PitMad, NOLASTARS Spring Retreat, and Announcement

This coming Thursday, March 7th, is #PitMad!

PitMad is an opportunity for unagented authors who have complete novels. Writers pitch your novel in a tweet with appropriate hashtags. Agents search tweets for specific genres and if they like a tweet, the submission process begins.

If you’re on Twitter March 7th, please leave a comment or retweet my tweets to show your support at my twitter donnajostone. Likes are reserved for agents interested in my project.

I will be pitching all three of my finished YA novels. Last month I sent out a few queries for the first book in my series, but shifted gears with the intention of pitching all three at the next PitMad.

It’s a bit unusual to have three completed novels at the same time. The drafts were all finished around the same time primarily because I dictated them while I was waiting to recover from my cipro injury before I started editing. Hiring an editor was not an option for me at the time. My typing isn’t as good as it was before I got sick, but it is passable. Currently, I’m doing my best to reduce a 93,000 word manuscript to 80,000. I’m well on my way and hope to complete the edit before the 7th. It’s a pity I can’t take all those discarded words and put them on another project.

Besides editing, I’ve been writing synopses and working on tweets. Condensing an entire novel into a single tweet can be challenging. You only get 280 characters, including spaces and hashtags. It’s an excellent exercise in being concise.

NOLASTARS/RWA is having a Spring Writing Retreat Saturday, March 9th. Check it out. If you are local and are looking for a group, it’s a great organization. See how friendly we are?

 

 

In other news, this month I begin my new position as the YA columnist over at Almost An Author. Woot! My first Almost An Author post is scheduled to go up on March 21st. I’ll share a link on the home blog right here, so come back and visit, or you can subscribe to get posts in your mailbox, or visit Almost An Author.

Do you have any topics you’d like to see me cover in the blog? Leave your comments below.

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