What (or who) is a Beta Reader?

A beta reader is someone who has agreed to read an unpublished manuscript and give their feedback. Isn’t that what a critique partner/group does, you ask? Not exactly. A critique partner/group has specific requirements when they read and evaluate a manuscript. Then you ask, isn’t it the role of an editor, to give feedback? Again, not exactly. An editor, among other things, will give advice how to fix weaknesses in the manuscript.

A beta reader is someone known to the writer, whether it be a friend, someone introduced through a friend, a family member or someone in the writing community, perhaps an author. A beta reader is trusted to give their objective, unbiased thoughts on the manuscript. There’s no room here for trepidation on the reader’s part nor to be thin skinned on the writer’s part. Friendships and family relationships aside, the goal here to let the writer know what is good in the writing and what is not good. The writer must listen to what is being relayed and not become hurt or offended by the remarks.

A beta reader is not just someone who’s an avid reader. Writers like beta readers who have a sharp mind, pay attention to detail, perhaps even closely familiar with the genre. Most writers prefer beta readers that include both writers and non-writers. Even though there are pitfalls in using either or both, the variety of feedback can only help the writer improve the story. Using them at different times has its benefits. For example, a fellow writer, as a beta reader, can be most helpful in the early draft stages of writing and for ongoing feedback. On the other hand, a non-writer beta reader can be most helpful when the manuscript has been completed as a means of testing the target audience.

Ultimately, the writer must decide what to do with the feedback. If it’s from the non-writer beta reader, the suggestions may not be actionable since the reader may not have knowledge of the writing craft. A fellow-writer’s feedback may be equally not actionable because the feedback may reflect how the fellow writer would write the story.

It can be a challenge to find good beta readers. There’s a significant commitment on their part. Timeliness, for example. A writer can’t wait six months for a reader to read the manuscript, collect the feedback and share it with the writer. Also, remember that the reader does not charge anything for taking on the task.

A writer truly appreciates the commitment and work that goes into being a beta reader. With this appreciation many writers volunteer to be a beta reader as a means of giving back. Whether you volunteered or accepted the invitation to provide feedback, remember the feedback or constructive criticism is often seen as having negative connotations and overshadow the comments of strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript. Keep this in mind, as a beat reader, your feedback should always include encouraging comments because writers build on their strengths and adds to a beta reader’s value.

I have been fortunate to find good beta readers both in the early stages of my manuscript for The Final Crossing, as well as upon its completion. My beta readers have been a huge part of my writing process, helping me with those “blind spots”.  I always welcome anyone who wants to be a beta reader because, to me, they are worth their weight in gold.

Until next time!

Vince

Interested in being a beta reader? Drop me a line.

Leave me a comment. I’m always interested in what others have to say.