Why I Am A Beta Reader (And Why You Need One)
Updated: Aug 1, 2019
Today I want to talk about beta reading and why you should have a beta reader for every single novel that you publish.
A beta reader is a person who will read your unpublished manuscript and point out any issues the story has. Editing and beta reading are similar, but authors usually hire an editor to find grammatical errors, spelling errors, formatting issues, issues with sentence structure, etc. A beta reader's job is to find plot holes, any inconsistencies with names or dates, loose ends not tied up by the end of the story, issues with the plot itself, issues with characters, and any problems you, as the author, didn't catch when you read through your manuscript.
As an avid reader since an early age, I often noticed little issues in published books that would irk me. I started beta reading for friends years ago and soon found a company hiring beta readers. I've become pretty good at it if I do say so myself, and clients have asked for me specifically and returned for me to go over their later books. Why am I tooting my own horn here? Because I want to express not only how seriously I take my job, but how important it is to me to do the best I can. I want to help authors polish up their manuscripts so they can put out the best possible version of their work. As a fellow author, I want you to succeed.
Every author needs at least one serious beta reader to go over their manuscript. Honestly, I recommend having as many as you can get. The more eyes on your work, the better. First-time authors and those of us with a small income may look at this as an extravagance or something not necessary.
This is completely necessary.
Finding beta readers is just as necessary as finding an editor and cover artist. In the book marketing world, it is all about presentation and you want your book at its absolute best before publication.
Putting out a call for beta readers is a good idea, but if you are still pretty new and have no real fan base, you may not have much luck finding readers who will do it for free. If you have a friend or family member who will look over your story for you, great! The question you need to ask yourself about people who offer to read for free is: Will they take this seriously?
A paid beta reader will take their job seriously. They are professionals who will give you detailed notes pointing out exactly where in the manuscript said issues are. (If they don't, you are paying too much!) A volunteer who offers to read for you may not. They may give you vague answers, take little to no notes, or merely give you a one-sentence response. I have had experience with all three of these types of readers before and let me tell you, it isn't helping you in the least. You need real feedback.
Be sure to think of specific questions to give to your beta readers. Are my characters relatable? Were there any areas where you were distracted or taken out of the story? Any specific areas you may be worried about, ask the beta reader to report on it. Keep an open line of communication.
As an author, I love hearing back from my beta readers. I often encourage them to "rip me a new one." I know I miss things. I'm only human. We won't find all the problems in our own manuscripts, especially because it is ours. You have to develop a thick skin in this business and be prepared for someone not liking or understanding your work. Be willing to make some changes. On the other hand, one opinion on something is no reason to change your entire story. That's why having multiple beta readers is so important.
I can't stress how important it is to have beta readers before you publish. It is much harder to make changes to your story once it has been published. If readers pick up on the issues in your published book, they are less likely to take you seriously or read your next book.