What’s a “beta reader”?
Writers need feedback of many kinds. Professional editors, of course, are essential. But another very important kind of feedback comes from “beta readers.” A beta reader is a person who’s willing to read a manuscript and offer suggestions and feedback from the perspective of an average or non-professional reader. Usually, the manuscript will have had a developmental critique by a professional editor, and will have been revised based on that critique before the beta reader receives it.
Like beta testers in software development, the beta reader looks for issues in the manuscript that distract or detract from the pleasure of the read. Glitches in the plot, inconsistencies in the narrative, confusing passages, breaks in the smooth emotional arc of the characters’ development: These are the issues the beta reader will comment on.
Beta readers generally volunteer and aren’t paid, as professional editors are, but they offer a enormously valuable service to the writer: providing the perspective of the reader, who after all is the key arbiter of any book’s success.
What do beta readers look for?
Here are some of the questions that a beta reader might be asked to consider, borrowed from Black Rose Writing, my publisher’s, blog:
- Did the story hold your interest from the very beginning? If not, why not?
- Did you get oriented fairly quickly at the beginning as to whose story it is, and where and when it’s taking place? If not, why not?
- Could you relate to the main character? Did you feel his/her pain or excitement?
- Did the setting interest you, and did the descriptions seem vivid and real to you?
- Was there a point at which you felt the story started to lag or that you became less than excited finding out what was going to happen next? Where, exactly?
- Were there any parts that confused you? Or even frustrated or annoyed you? Which parts, and why?
- Did you notice any discrepancies or inconsistencies in time sequences, places, character details, or other details?
- Were the characters believable? Are there any characters you think could be made more interesting or more likable?
- Did you get confused about who was who among the characters? Were there too many characters to keep track of? Too few? Were any of the names of characters too similar?
- Did the dialogue keep your interest and sound natural to you? If not, whose dialogue did you think sounded artificial or not like that person would speak?
I am currently revising my fourth novel, titled A Patriot’s Campaign, following the critique by my developmental editor, Lorna Lynch. Patriot is the fourth book in the Monastery Valley series. In the coming fall, I’ll be asking folks to volunteer to be my beta readers. Usually, I look for five experienced readers, and this book will get the same treatment.
The manuscript, when it’s ready, goes to the beta readers electronically, as a PDF document. There is no hard and fast deadline for the feedback to come back–beta readers are generous volunteers, after all!–but the normal turnaround time is a couple of months. When the book–incorporating the beta readers’ suggestions–is finally published, each beta reader will receive a complementary copy.
I worried about that word, complementary–should it be complimentary? So I looked it up, and am no surer now than before! (This could start a heated discussion in a pub.) The book-gift could be complEmentary, as in “completing” the beta reading transaction; or it could be complImentary, as in praising the reader for a job well done.
If you’d be interested in being a beta reader for Patriot, please feel welcome to comment on this post and let me know, and I will get back to you.