Friday, January 09, 2015

Beta, Beta, Boom!

What makes a good beta reader? Whether you are self-published or seeking to query an agent or publishing house, a beta reader is rather like a 'last chance' reader.

A beta reader is that mythical, trusted soul, typically another writer who writes in your genre, and who, perhaps, has never read any of your drafts.

She or he will read your nearly final out-the-door draft to find . . . 

--egregious errors
--minor or major plot holes 
--misnamed characters (yes, that happened to me!)
--glaring typos or proofreading errors

Your beta reader will then send you comments that affirm the value of your story and motivate you to undertake a final pass of revision and editing. Sometimes your beta reader will talk about strategies for the blurb or query letter or suggest how to reach your target audience. 

I've had a few wonderful beta readers as final readers. Each time I was so pleased at the helpfulness of their comments. I did find it VERY difficult to ask someone to be a beta reader, but since I did not hire a developmental editor or a copy editor, two or three beta readers were essential for each of my books. 

How did I find my beta readers? I usually try to have someone well-versed in the history of the period I'm writing in, someone who reads in my genre, and a writer I know rather well -- even virtually. I must confess that I'm paranoid about giving an entire rough draft to someone who is a stranger.

When those comments come in from my beta reader, though, the real work begins. For we really have to evaluate whether each comment advances our story in a way that fits our vision. We may not act on all the suggestions our beta readers give us. That takes a different level of insight into the story, and sometimes, courage.

How is it possible to say thank you? You might consider a review of their work, a 'thank you' in your Author Note, or perhaps a blog interview. And you just might volunteer to be a beta reader for another writer.

"Readers" by Hartwig HDK (Flickr)

Here are some useful posts on beta readers: 

Belinda Pollard has written a series defining beta readers and how to find them.

Corina Koch MacLeod and Carla Douglas wrote "5 Things You Should Know about Working with Beta Readers," posted on Joel Friedlander's blog.

Jami Gold's article, "Introducing the Beta Reader Worksheet," which includes a downloadable worksheet which could be helpful for face-to-face or online critique groups as well.

May your own writing go well.