What is a beta reader?
A beta reader is not an editor or a proofreader. They are simply people who read over your novel before it is available publicly.
They provide general feedback on plot, characterization, descriptions, sentence structure, consistency, etc. For example, they could point out a story thread that is left unfinished; dialogue that seems out of character; a blue hat suddenly becoming a red hat; and, point out awkward sentences (like this one).
There are also ‘alpha readers’. This term is used for people who will read a rougher, less polished version of your work. Alpha readers give feedback on your overall story and plot as the novel gets written. Since the work is in progress, they also can act as the author’s cheerleader, encouraging them to finish the work. This is usually someone you know.
If you want more detail, the following post explains the differences very well: Dawn Embers – Alpha or Beta Readers.
My post will focus on beta readers or betas.
Status of My Beta Read
I consider myself very lucky for having found a beta reader that reads my genre. I trust her and her opinions.
Writers need someone they trust because we can be very insecure about our work. We can even swing to the other extreme, where we think everyone else is just too stupid to understand the philosophical depths of our anguished protagonist. The beta reader is there to tell you where the problems are in your novel.
My beta reader has some strict submission guidelines which I try to follow very closely. She needs each writer to follow these rules since she is beta reading for about 10 other writers. You want make her job easier, not harder.
Note: Always respect your beta reader!
You are very lucky to have one. Most betas have a very long wait list, even the ones that charge for their services.
She only wants 3 chapters at a time and she provides feedback on those chapters every Monday. Although, I want to send her the whole novel and have her only beta read for me, that won’t happen. I must practice patience… *sitting cross-legged with my middle fingers and thumbs creating a circle and humming*
I expect to get feedback tomorrow, January 4, on Chapters 11 to 13. After I receive her feedback, I send her my next 3 chapters. This process actually works well if there are changes that I need to make. I have all week to get those done before I receive my next feedback pages.
At this rate, she will be done beta reading my novel sometime in March of 2016.
Not that I am complaining. *still humming*
Where to find your beta reader
All of my initial beta readers were friends who appreciate the fantasy genre. But friends tend not to want to hurt your feelings. So when I found a beta reader that didn’t know me. I was ecstatic.
I got very lucky when I found mine. We just so happened to be starting our blogs on wordpress.com at the same time. I think she found me first because I hadn’t heard the term ‘Beta Reader’ before and wouldn’t have know to look for her blog — Which is AWESOME by the way! The quality of her feedback is just as good as her blog.
If you want to learn everything there is about Beta Reading, check it out here: The.Beta.Reader.Blog
Anyways, when I checked out her blog — because when someone ‘likes’ or comments on your post, that is what you do. I saw that she likes fantasy and has a soft spot for young adult. How much more perfect could she be? I took a chance and asked her if she’d beta read my YA fantasy.
It is very important to find a beta reader who enjoys the genre of your novel. It wouldn’t do to have someone who reads nothing but militaristic war novels to read my epic fantasy for YA. You would most likely get advice to add more explosions or to change one character’s name to ‘Sarge’.
A list of places where you can find a beta can be found here: Connecting Betas and Writers
My beta reader has also started a forum. Check it out: The Beta Reader Log Forum
Work with Your Beta Reader
Before you send your work to a beta reader, make sure it is as perfect as you can get it. You want the beta to get immersed in your story so that when something jars them out of it, it isn’t a simple grammatical error.
If they are so busy shaking off your spelling of ‘castle’ as ‘cassel’, they might miss the bigger problems, like plot holes or a protagonist acting out of character.
I also appreciate it when my beta reader finds inconsistencies. Sometimes one of your characters could lose their dialect. This can easily happen in a novel when the author goes back and reworks initial chapters and forgets to carry all the changes through to the end.
My beta reader also appreciates feedback on her feedback. It is always important to let them know if the feedback you are receiving is helpful. It is also a good idea to ask your beta to look out for specific things in the book that might need some work. It is very important to work together.
So far my beta has improved my manuscript by asking some questions I hadn’t even considered. Without giving anything away, the questions and comments that have had the most impact on my story are as follows (I am paraphrasing):
- Why doesn’t she believe in magic? (I incorporated some explanation for this early in the book since the reader does not know all the ‘rules’ of your world).
- Why are the authorities linking these ‘incidents’ to your main character? It seems implausible. (I added some more incidents to make it more obvious the main character was involved.)
- When you re-introduce a character in chapter 9, I’d forgotten about him because he was only mentioned way back in chapter 1 in a backstory. Maybe you should mention him between chapter 1 and 10. (I did).
I cannot wait to see what her comments will be tomorrow.
By the way, she likes it. So maybe my friends weren’t just trying to spare my feelings! This is me celebrating below.
What experiences have you had with beta readers? Have you ever considered beta reading?