I just heard from a beta reader with feedback on the first quarter of my new unreleased novel A Mistake Incomplete. She offered exciting comments with detailed critiques; which fires up my inspiration. This is when a writer knows they got a good beta reader.
When I completed my first book The Love Fool, it was suggested to me to have a beta reader go through it. I admit, I had no idea what the heck a beta reader was or its purpose. So, let me start by sharing that with you.
A beta reader is a test reader of an unreleased work of writing who gives feedback as an average reader to the author.
For me, a beta reader offers more than just “I liked it” or “that was a fun story”. Unfortunately, as much as I appreciate the compliment, that does not help me. No.
A good beta reader dives in and highlights any unanswered questions. For example, notes timeline discrepancies, asks “why would this character do that?”, and questions the plot.
I know I ask a lot of my beta readers, so I am particular on whom I choose to take on the task. Of course, many friends are happy to read my unreleased work, but one must be careful in choosing which friend would be up for the task. Sorry friends, but I hope you will understand after reading this. In fact, I’m sure many potential readers that offered their time, would slowly become quiet. And I wouldn’t blame them.
Here are my requirements and qualifications I look for in a beta reader. And I suggest the same for my fellow writers. Keep in mind beta readers, the whole purpose of this process to help improve the work.
COURAGE: Always look for beta readers that are not afraid to critique. You want someone who will not hesitate in noting what they don’t like and what they do like in the story.
HONESTY: As an author, be sure to clarify to anyone reading your work to be honest. If they hold back, then you cannot improve the work. After all, that is the whole point of this process.
DETAILED: An ideal beta reader will detail as they read along. Writing notes in margins as they question something, or even a note sharing their likes and dislikes. All notes help the writer. Positive notes encourage the writer. Negative notes inspire the writer to improve.
EFFICIENT: Of course, time is of the essence. The writer wants to complete the work and get it out of their to do pile. The beta reader should want to take the time to make sure they are getting it all. But a good beta reader also takes time into consideration. Everyone has a busy life, of course, but consider the author waiting for the feedback. If you are a potential beta reader, and you don’t have time to offer helpful notes, then know to politely decline your writer friend.
SEPARATION: If the beta reader knows the author (whether it be a friend, or sibling, etc) they must try to separate the story from the person they know. It is natural to think that what they are reading is a direct reflection of the author’s life or reality, but that is usually wrong. Always remember that the characters in the story are just characters, and the story is just a story. Beta readers must separate their personal connection to the work of writing they have been privileged to read. In other words beta readers, don’t try to guess who a character may be in reality, and which one may be you. This will distract you from the story.
On a final note, authors seeking beta readers must be able to separate themselves from the work. They must not take any critique personally. And remember that if a beta reader (or anyone critiquing work) has questions or doubts any parts of your story, that tells you (the author) where your story needs improvement and clarification. Remember, if the beta reader is questioning, then your average reader will most likely do the same.
To my beta readers out there (past and current): THANK YOU!