Every novelist needs half a dozen beta readers. Good beta readers are worth their weight in chocolate and should be pampered and looked after.
What is a Beta Reader?
A beta reader is someone who reads your book cover to cover, in as close to one sitting as possible, and gives you her impression of it. In particular, she tells you the things that don’t work.
That includes all the things that bore her, confuse her, language that trips her up, plot holes, characters that annoy her, and anything she just doesn’t like. It could be anything from long paragraphs of exposition, to words you over-use, to the lack of steps at the GPO.
Something that is vital to know if she enjoyed reading the book. If she could not finish it, or found it a chore, that’s a huge red flag that you need to do a lot more work.
Why do you need a Beta reader?
Because you are too close to your novel. You know everything that happens in the world of your novel. There are no surprises for you. You can see a vivid image of everything in your story playing in your mental cinema.
Your reader, on the other hand, can only see the words you have put on the page. If you leave something out, you still know what happens but your reader has no clue what is going on. Your beta reader should not be a critique partner or anyone who has heard about the story or read any bits of it as you worked on it. She’s coming to it fresh and can tell you what is on the page.
What is a Beta reader not?
A beta reader is not an editor. She is not a proof-reader or a copy editor. Her job is to read like a reader. If she sees a problem, she makes a quick note and keep reading. She doesn’t tell you how to fix, that’s your job.
Who makes a good Beta reader?
Anyone who loves to read. Ideally, you want a combination of different readers. For The Pleasures of Winter and the other Pleasures books, we used different readers. Some focused on plot, some on character, some on weapons and military details, some on sex and romance. The things they caught varied from the type of ammo a particular hand gun uses, to the mechanism of opening an iPhone to a romance scene which was too short and left the reader feeling short changed.
When do you get a Beta Reader?
After you’ve done all your editing. Do your first draft, edit, rewrite, edit, polish. Your beta reader is standing in for the reader who has spent a tenner to buy your book. You do not want her distracted by typos, bad spelling, clunky grammar or anything else you can fix. If she is busy marking up mis-used words, she could miss the gaping hole in your plot.
Where do you get a Beta Reader?
Anywhere. If you have the sort of friend who comes out of the cinema complaining about plot holes in the film, she’d probably be great. If you have a friend who loves a particular genre, she’ll be a good beta reader. If you are on a website like Wattpad, ask your fans for volunteers.
What is your brief to your Beta Reader?
“Tell me everything you don’t like about this book. If anything bugs you or bores you, no matter how silly it seems, tell me about it. I won’t be offended, I’ll be delighted that you saved me making a fool of myself in public.”
How do you respond to your Beta Reader?
“Thank you, you’ve done me a huge service. I’m delighted you found so many things that need work, this could be the difference between being published and not.”
What you do not do is complain or argue. Your beta reader has done you a huge service. She has ploughed through a book that might not be in her genre or that she doesn’t particularly enjoy, as a favour for you. If she took the trouble to notice something, pay attention. It’s possible that the detail which niggled her may not be signficicant enough to require rewriting. But if two bera readers marked up the same thing, it’s almost certain that it needs fixing.
How do you reward your Bata Reader?
Chocolate. Lots of chocolate. And a grateful acknowledgement when the book is published.