Beloved Beta Readers

Another important aspect of a writer’s life is having beta readers. There are many definitions to what a beta reader is, sometimes the lines blur and a beta reader becomes a critique partner, too. From my understanding, beta readers are your target demographic. If you’re a YA author, you may want to have a selection of teens to read a section of your work. In this way, you can get a sense of how they will respond. Think of it as product testing. Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to just teens. Give yourself a nice cross-section if you can. We should take a cue from Twilight’s and Harry Potter’s popularity. Not just teens. Parents even bogart the books before they let their kids read it. *Grins and shakes head*

Anyway, we’re discussing beta readers. Anyone can be a beta reader, actually. If you let your mom read your work, she’s a beta reader. Your best friend. Your boyfriend/girlfriend. Your next door neighbor. Anyone who gets a sneak peek of your work before it heads off to the publishing world is a beta reader. These are the people that give you feedback. They can tell you if your characters are relatable, if your story flows, and gosh darn it, if your story is good. Sometimes, they can even give you grammar advice and typo searching assistance—but this is already stepping into the magical realm that is for critique partners.

Choosing beta readers is very important. We all want to be praised. We all want that gold star at the end of the day. But is that what’s best for our work? Will having someone say your work is awesome help you grow as a writer? It definitely doesn’t hurt to get positive feedback. In fact, our sanity depends on it. But—and this is a big one—we also need beta readers that aren’t afraid to tell us that our work is crap. Well, maybe not that harsh, but at least someone impartial who can tell you if your character needs a little more developing or if your story is relatable. Someone who can say: I think the beginning is okay, the middle lags a bit, and the ending is too abrupt. These can be painful words to hear at times, but we do need to hear them for the betterment of our writing.

Having mom and dad read your work is okay. Their job is to support us in this whirlwind endeavor that is writing. What I like about parents as beta readers is that they can give you a kiss along with the kick. They can praise you and still critically look at how you can improve your work. Of course, like many things, there are downsides to parents as beta readers. If they keep complementing you in an effort to keep you going then you might not be necessarily getting the kind of feedback that could bite you in the ass when you start querying. So, be proactive, ask them questions that I’m sure are at the back of your mind when it comes to your writing. The things that bug you about your work and see if they respond to it. If they don’t, that’s okay, too. Give them a hug and continue on to your other beta readers.

The best friend as a beta reader is similar to parents as beta readers. The girlfriend/boyfriend beta reader falls under this category, too. What I like about the best friends, if they really are worth their salt, is that they’d tell you what’s wrong with your work. They’ll give you balanced feedback—again with the kiss and kick method. Remember, we’re not just fishing for complements here. Ultimately, your beta readers need to help you see if your book will sell, assuming publication is the road you’re on.

Finding strangers to be beta readers can be tricky. Doubts can set in like what if they copy my work? What if they leak my stuff before it’s ready? (Insert your personal doubts and fears here). But when you do find a beta reader that you can trust who isn’t necessarily a friend, maybe someone’s son or daughter (if you’re a YA writer), you get the most honest feedback then. Kids can be tough when it comes to what they read. You don’t necessarily have to let them read the whole book, if you’re still edgy about your story getting stolen. A friend of mine gives her beta readers the first fifty pages. That’s a partial, in terms of what agents usually ask for. If after the first fifty your beta readers want more, you might have something.

Some writers post an excerpt of their work on writing sites and get feedback that way. But this is a slippery slope, dear readers. Tread carefully and with a thick skin. Be sure you’re ready to have your work seen before you post it on writing websites. Sometimes you get awesome results, and sometimes you might just want to commit illegal acts of the bloody-murder kind. So, you have to be really sure, if you decide to go this route.

Having beta readers isn’t necessarily a requirement. It doesn’t mean you won’t get published if you don’t go out and find beta readers. Just keep in mind that agents and editors are beta readers of sorts, too. They ask for a manuscript that they respond to, that they think is marketable. So, why not find a beta reader? A test run, if you will? There’s no harm in getting your story as polished as possible, right?


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  2. Excellent advice. You have to choose your beta readers for their objectivity and honesty, hard though it might be to hear their verdict. Whenever I'm asked to read something, I always preface my acceptance by telling them that I will be honest because that shows I am taking them seriously. Anything else is just not helpful in the long run.

  3. I find this very true and very helpful. At age 53 with a lot of years writing (not all that much published), even many years airing television news and documentaries I have produced, I still find my emotions sometimes hard to maintain as I get feedback that may be helpful but hard to hear. Yes, it is important to have a few trusted souls who are honest and open and secure with you, who can read, measure, and report. Thanks for hitting on this important subject. REALLY important for beta readers and new writers.

  4. I'm working now on gaining beta and alpha readers for my upcoming novel. Good info.! Thanks!!

  5. Kate: I found your post by chasing that painting of NYTimes readers on the train. Do you know the artist?

    Nice blog—I'm in favor of reading!

    Ted Pease, Today's WORD on Journalism:


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