Do You Need A Beta Reader? No. You Need a Team of Beta Readers!
Games have testers, books have readers. The idea behind them is the same: find a problem before it’s sent out for the masses.
Beta-readers are the heart and soul of any good book. Editors have their purpose, agents have theirs, but no one is as important to a writer as a beta reader.
What exactly is a beta reader, though? Obviously, it is someone who reads a manuscript prior to publication with the sole intent of providing non-technical feedback to the writer so he may make changes to supply a better product to the end consumer.
Duties of Beta Readers
It is much more than that though. Beta readers don’t just read a finished product to find faults. They usually follow the writer along, a few chapters at a time, during the writing process.
A writer has a vision and direction he needs the book to go. Beta readers alert the writer when he strays from that course.
Beta readers are essential for character development as well. Suppose a writer needs the reader to feel compassion for a certain character, but their dialogue or actions make a reader hate them.
This would be bad. A beta reader’s feedback will alert the writer that this might be an issue so he can fix it in subsequent drafts.
They are NOT Editors
Beta readers are not editors. They aren’t used for grammar and spelling mistakes. There are paid professionals to do that.
Instead, beta readers point out confusing paragraphs, sentences they had to read more than once to make sense of them, even to pinpoint timeline jumps that aren’t supposed to be there.
A beta reader has the task of providing the writer with the feedback needed along the journey to ensure the story in his head ends up the story on the paper.
Not everyone can be a beta reader though. Family and friends should be crossed off that list. Unless of course, those friends can be brutally honest.
It is difficult for someone to say negative things about something they know someone worked hard on. We, as humans, hate to disappoint. You need someone who won’t give you “grandmother feedback”.
You need the problems found so you can fix them, not the “oh, it’s so good dear!”
Beta Readers Must Be Honest, Brutal
Find people you can trust to be brutal in their feedback. Find a few. Then introduce them at various stages.
One to follow you from beginning to end, one to introduce at the end of each completed draft, and one or more to introduce after the “final” draft. Fresh eyes on a project that is very near completion are important.
Beta readers will save your book. Invest in them wholly as you would an agent or editor. The rewards are worth it.