Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What Are the Benefits to a Beta Reader? What is a Beta Reader

Face it, we all have gaps in our writing training where we could use a few tips, sometimes a definition. I don't like admitting when I don't know something, but the truth is there are aspects in the writing field I haven't learned yet or simply haven't perfected. My solution? Learn everything I can--then share.

Today's topic is Beta Readers. What is a Beta Reader and what are the benefits to having a beta reader?

Definition: A Beta Reader is a non professional reader who reads your manuscript after the work is done and before the story is sent to an agent/editor/or is self-published.

The Beta Reader is expected to:

1. Read the entire work as he/she would any other book.
2. Jot down overall components enjoyed in the story.
3. Note overall plot holes, character flaws, and theme discrepancies.
4. Return their comments in a "timely" manner. It is okay to let the person know what you expect. I would think two to four weeks is very reasonable.

The Beta Reader is NOT expected to (although he or she may choose to do these):

1. Note grammar errors.
2. Note time/setting/and other descriptive flaws
3. Provide a chapter by chapter, line by line, or other detailed critique.
4. Other critique services.

The Beta Reader SHOULD NOT be a friend/family member (many FB "friends" can be Beta readers):

1. Our critique partners whether group or individual often know what we intend. They also know our voice and have learned to overlook certain components of our writing. Maybe they have mentioned the issue before and figure this is just your writing. These fantastic individuals are not able to perform this duty objectively.
2. Our family members, even the grammar nazies have a heart for us and therefore will not/can not give a complete unbiased evaluation of the story.
3. John Q Public does not know us. We want John Q Public and Jane Doe to buy our books. John and Jane are great Beta Readers.

How Can We Find Beta Readers?

I must admit, I struggled with this question for my own work. My stories are for teens. I preferred to have beta readers in the age range of a teen and was willing to include individuals who were older, but not younger. Here is what I did:

1. I went through my FB friends for ideas. Like you, I have many who are not close friends or family. I found an old college classmate I hadn't seen in years. He had a daughter who fit the description. To make the connection, I asked him to connect us together. One week later she emailed me. I gave her the details, explained what I needed and sent her the manuscript. I was so happy to get this FB message yesterday. (see pic)

2. I thought about the teens in my church and the school I taught in years ago. I found a few on FB and waited for them to accept my friend request. For those who did, I asked them if they would be willing to read my story. I also included the information I needed in terms of time and feedback. One of them responded. Yeah!

3. I considered past co-workers, friends of relatives, teens of writing friends. So yes, I am using the family and friends I know to connect to teens who are not family or friends at this time. One of them responded. Yeah! 

4. In all, eight said they were willing to read the manuscript. I figure, if two or three give me feedback, I have succeeded.

One HUGE advantage to searching for Beta readers who will help you best is you are also building a tribe. You're getting your name out there. So that even if some of the people say no to being a Beta Reader, they have heard your name, know you are a writer, what genre you write and will recognize your book on a shelf or online. Once they see the book has been published, they just might take a chance and read it after all :)

1. What questions do you have about Beta Readers?
2. Have you used a Beta Reader before? Did you find the comments beneficial?
3. How did you find your Beta Reader?

I can't wait to read your comment(s)!

photo courtesy of and modified for this purpose.

If you found any typos in today's post...sorry about that. 

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes young adult mystery/adventure Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter


Jeanne Takenaka said...

Great post and suggestions, Mary! I like your lists of what a beta reader should/should not be focusing on!

I have a friend who has read almost everything I've written—blog-wise and book-wise. I've "trained" her not to go easy on me, and her feedback has been absolutely invaluable. I'm hoping to have some beta readers read my manuscript when I finally finish polishing it. I'm going to use your suggestions here.

kaybee said...

Hi Mary,
I was just a beta reader for an acquaintance, NOT a crit partner, and found it beneficial. I have another one waiting in the (metaphorical) wings until she publishes later this summer. I think it's great -- it sharpens our own critical skills and gets us "out there" in the writing community, which is Never A Bad Thing.
Kathy Bailey

Mary Vee Writer said...

You are so wise to remind your friend to not go easy. Our friends care about our feelings, but once they realize we value their honest opinion, they become so important as a Beta reader.
Thanks so much for stopping by!

Mary Vee Writer said...

What an awesome perspective. Usually we hear about the writer's POV. But you have just showed the great benefits from the BETA reader's pov. Wow! Thanks! And yes, I can see how being a Beta reader would sharpen a writer's skill.
Thanks so much for sharing!!