The Trusty Beta Reader

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I would think writers of all levels of experience and success would have had some kind of interaction with beta readers. If not, their book is likely terrible and has never seen the light of day. Yikes. I’m already off to a rant-y start to this post.

I think most writers would agree that beta readers are an important part of the book writing process that should be taken seriously. But are beta readers necessarily as important as one might think? For example, let’s say you have a group of ten readers. Let’s say that six of those ten volunteered to read your work. Let’s say that two of those ten never read your genre. And the last two of the ten are your close friends. See what I mean? The first six are very likely to give you positive feedback because they either know your writing or know you or like reading your blog. That isn’t to say they aren’t being honest, but people have a tough time being objective when they like or have a relationship with the person. Your two close friends have heard nothing but stuff about your writing for the last year, they’re not going to shoot down your dreams. And the final two likely won’t like your book much because they don’t like any other books like it.

There are a million different scenarios I could play out, but I think I’ve made my point. The feedback given by beta readers is not always because of the book. There is always something that will sway their judgment operating in the background. Even it it’s unintentional.

My experience with beta readers may or may not have been like that of other writers. First off, I knew all of mine because at the time my blog wasn’t nearly as successful as it is now and I wouldn’t have felt comfortable sending my work out to some stranger. I sent my book to nine people, but only four actually read it. Shows how great the people I know are. And the feedback was all over the place. From just four people. Just goes to show that readers are always different.

The only thing I can say about using betas is that you should know exactly what you want from them from the start. I had a list of questions about the plot and characters and just about everything that I had them answer when they finished their reading. I have no idea how other writers do this, but I thought it worked well for me.

My current plan is use all bloggers for my current WIP, but even then the bloggers I have in mind all interact with me regularly. They’re really no different from friends, but at least they’re fellow writers and perhaps this will push their bias aside.

Tell me about your experience with beta readers or about your philosophy when using them.

 

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27 thoughts on “The Trusty Beta Reader

  1. The questions are a good idea. As I start to think more about this I can understand the issues. A few of my close friends have volunteered to read my work when I am ready, and of course I’ll let them, but I am also skeptical as to how sincere their critiques would be. My friends aren’t as ruthless as I am, I’ve already been banned from proof reading some of their grad school papers because I am too mean!

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  2. I better be at the top of your list!

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  3. Although I love my beta readers, they haven’t been helpful. My sister is the only one that gives any reliable or useful information and feedback. The other people, including the kids I had read it, simply said, “I loved it.” While flattering… Not helpful. Not sure what I’ll do in the future. Mostly been a bust with beta readers. Even when I gave specific guidelines.

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  4. I think you did good by having prepared questions. That’s what I did as well. My current philosophy is “round one: critical friends and family, round two: strangers, round three: copyeditors”. But this is still a work in progress process, so what do I know!

    Personally, I have friends who aren’t afraid to get harsh on me, so that worked out well…and round one is just to gauge if I’m on the right track anyway. I deff think a beta round of strangers is a MUST before you’re ready to query though.

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  5. Beta readers are definitely important. Even outside of his or her genre, the reader will still be able to point out things like unrealistic premises, character inconsistency, deus ex machina moments, and where the flow of the writing slows them down. Don’t get defensive and toss out feedback too carelessly.

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  6. I’ve never been a beta reader. I think authors should choose carefully who becomes a beta reader of their work. I’d hate to think of how many good books I decided before too much reading were not for me. There are many books that do not appeal to me, far more than those that do. I don’t think my disinterest in those books proves that they were not a good read for someone else.

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    • I think once an author gets picky about reads their work, then that’s when you open the door to get nothing but biased feedback.

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      • I see merit in what you say, also. I had only one beta reader who nearly caused me to quit my manuscript. Yet, the first publisher to read it, offered me a contract. The beta reader helped me deal correctly with back story, so your theory might be proven true by that. Her advice was valuable.

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  7. I think it’s important to find beta readers who enjoy your genre, but apart from that, the less they know you, the better. I have one friend I trust to be brutal with me. I eventually stopped asking family and friends, because I discovered that if they found a problem with the book, they’d simply not say anything. The others loved whatever I wrote, no matter how badly it was written.

    I’m amazed you have nine beta-readers. I have two, and struggled to find them. It is a big favour to ask of someone. I belong to a genre group on Authonomy who give varying levels of feedback, and that’s invaluable.

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  8. So true. I’m currently editing at the mo and wondering who to aske to ‘beta’ or where I can find them. Not sure whether to ask friends… would you reccomend it?

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  9. My first beta reader actually would just read every chapter as I finished it. I feel so bad for her lol

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    • Hm. I don’t know if I’d let anyone do that unless they’re just reading it to read it. Cause the feedback might be a little lacking when they’re just gets bits and pieces instead of the whole thing.

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  10. You bring up a good point about having a list of questions for your beta readers. I think that it is important to give them an idea of what you are most concerned about. They can always give general feedback, but if you are interested in knowing if, for example, character dialogue was authentic or believable, it is good to give them a head’s up on that, so they will keep that in mind as they review your story.

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  11. Pingback: Guess who has a new job!? | Write me a book, John!

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