If you are an author you need beta readers. I dare say you cannot do without them. So what the heck is a Beta Reader? For any author that should not be a question popping to mind. If you don’t know what one is you gots some splainin’ to do. But in case you are a new author, beta is simply short for beta test. You gamers out there should get that. So think beta test reader. That should give you an idea where I am going with this. Yes, you are going to have people test read your novel.
For the first time novelist the idea of handing over your work to someone that may be a person you only know online is a frightening thing to do. Don’t hand it over to just anyone. I do beta reading and I do it for some scary people. Friends. Online friends. (Looks around at the walls to see what blog friends are reading this. Not naming names.)
Who can be a beta reader for you? Friends, former teachers, a neighbor, a critique group or someone you know online. But here is something to keep in mind; you can have people beta read for different reasons.
A beta reader can read for the pure enjoyment factor, plot holes, continuity problems, grammar issues, tense issues, and more. And the interesting thing is many of these people do it for free. Not all, but many. A lot of people that have heard of beta readers simply think “Oh cool, I can do that. I get a free book and just tell them if I like it or not.” Nuh uh. You take on a huge responsibility. You are a key part of an author’s success or I dare say failure. NooOOOOOOoooooo!
What you need in order to be a beta reader:
- Full Body Armor–I beta read for friends a great deal of the time. Sometimes I do it for other people and for those times it’s an easy go. I can simply provide my feedback and be done with it. But when it comes to a friend? What if the writing is just that bad? This is what I tell people, “I care about my friends, I care about them so much that I am going to tell them the truth and work as hard as I possibly can in order to help them put out the best book possible.” It helps that I see that Amazon money show up as a gift in my account. Cha Ching. Is that how you spell that? So why does this require armor? Friends aren’t always happy with what you have to say. I have learned to say it and leave it after a couple of attempts. They can take it or leave it. But authors remember, if you choose the right people to beta read for you don’t get mad if they do actually find things that need improvement. If they don’t find anything, you have a bad beta reader. I’m not saying you will not have a good novel, I am saying that we all have room to improve at the beta stage.
- Determination–You agree to read the book. Read the book. The book is bad. Read the book. Finish the book. And regardless of if you liked it or not, tell the truth to the Author. They need the truth. “But they can’t handle the truth!” Who saw that one coming?
- Ethics–You are being trusted with someone’s child. Take care of it, don’t share it, and after all is said and done, give it back to them. And destroy any pictures you took of the child.
- Backbone–Don’t give in to friendship or being overly sympathetic. Authors need to know now what needs work before their book gets in the hands of the reader or even an agent.
- Sensitivity–With backbone you need sensitivity in how to relay areas of concern to the author.
- Diplomacy–This goes along with sensitivity. Sometimes you have to know when enough is enough. I’ll give an example. Recently I beta read a dark fantasy novel and there was a scene in it where I interpreted it one way but the author didn’t. My concern was how a reader, not being inside the author’s mind would see the scene. I was concerned there might be some backlash. After a few exchanges, I let it go. There was no point in continuing the point because the author would only see it from their point of view.
- Be ready to research–Unless you know the elements of every genre and know every grammar rule ever in both US and UK English you will need to do research. Research can be fun. Also if there is something in the story that just nags at you as being wrong, research it. There are no little things when it comes to an Author’s work. So do it. And if you don’t know it, don’t fake it.
As a writer you need to know a few things. Beta Readers are not your personal spellcheckers and garbage readers. You send your Beta Reader what you think is your final product. If I were you I would send the book out to Beta Readers in a certain order. If you are concerned about a certain aspect of the book, send it to a Beta reader for that purpose. Once the fix is done, move on, ending with your Beta Reader for Enjoyment. If they like it, then you are good to go. If they don’t like it, then you need to check what it is they don’t like and see if you want to change it.
Here is something to keep in mind. Have more than one Beta Reader for Enjoyment. You want different genders and different everything reading your book. This way you can get a different view from each person. Sure, you may have a target audience in mind so perhaps you could stick with that target audience Beta Reader, but I would still have someone outside that norm to read it too. They may spot something people accustomed to the genre don’t see. I would guarantee you an agent would see that problem.
How can you become a good Beta Reader? I have my own opinions and perhaps will go in to that deeper one day, but for now if you have .99, there is a book for you. Sorry it’s not free this time. The Beta Reader by Elizabeth Eyles. You can get it at Amazon. Sorry, but it’s not at B&N or Smashwords. B&N does have a $6 book by Eyles about preparing your book for a beta reader.
I’ve read this book and it has some very good advice in it. I’ve even recommended it to a friend of mine, Colleen Chesebro who is a Team Member of mine on LitWorldInterviews and she bought it because she beta reads as well. We take what we do seriously. Yes, this is for authors as well as those wanting to be Beta Readers. Why? Because it gives you the author’s opinions as to why the Beta Reader is needed.
Here is a link at Writer’s Digest that will give you the elements of genres. Yes, you need to know. I read that dark fantasy book and there are elements that I just wasn’t comfortable with, but that’s part of the genre. So I read for the writing and overall enjoyment.
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