There are a number terms being bandied around writing camps and unless you are brazen enough to admit you don’t know what one might be, you may be in the same situation I was a few years ago when my Facebook page was full of requests from other writers for a beta reader.
What does a beta reader?
A beta reader is someone who isn’t familiar with your storyline and perhaps unfamiliar with your work as a whole. They are occasionally willing volunteers, but more often than not, a paid professional who are happy to read your flash, excerpt or finished novel and give you honest feedback on specific concerns you have about it. They might be another author or an editor; but most importantly, they are an avid reader of the genre you write in.
Why would you need one?
When a writer creates a character, an event or a scene, they become intimate with every nuance. When an author writes a story, they know what message they are attempting to communicate. However, this doesn’t mean that they have been able to convey it clearly to a reader. Even when it is read back, its quite possible that the real meaning is still not shared in the way the author meant it to be shared. A beta reader will read your work with no preconceptions of character or plot and let you know what is clear and what is not.
Beta readers make your words better
A beta reader is best sourced through social media or networking and should be someone who would be amongst your target audience. After approaching your beta reader, supply them with a list of issues or challenges you may have with plot, character or scene setting. After a read through, they will help identify the problems and work with you with their feedback on ways to solve them
A beta reader is the person who can shine a new light or perspective on an aspect of your story which has troubled you, or an area you found glitchy but you failed to find a solution to it. They can assist with questions to deepen possibilities or opportunities for a character or event to demonstrate the point you are trying to make.
Get the best out of your beta reader
In order to get the most out of your beta reader, you must be clear in what feedback you need from them. Vague instructions will only garner vague suggestions or commentary. A beta reader is able to assist you in developing a character through pointed questions, so that it comes across to the reader in the way you had meant it.
The most valued beta readers will look at your work critically and be specific with their feedback. They will provide notes on your story with quotes or passages which need further exploration and tightening to give clearer meanings.
Most beta readers will provide a short feedback note, but the best will be one who is willing to work with you further and assist in improving the story.
However, once this type of back and forth feedback, improvement and honing comes into it, you wander into the realms of manuscript appraisals. The intention is exactly the same; but the feedback and work invoked with this professional is at a deeper level.
They pull no punches and not only are well connected with agents and publishing houses, but will give you a lot to think about and work on to improve your work. Professional manuscript assessors can be sourced through accredited writer and author societies.
What they are and what they are not
A beta reader does not take the place of an editor and is not expected to correct structural, grammatical or spelling errors. Very often a beta reader is sourced before your work is completed or is sent the rawest of first drafts for their initial feedback. This is in direct contrast to the use of an editor who assists with completed drafts, or manuscript assessors who look at a finished and edited piece. One of the most important things about a beta reader, especially if they are a volunteer, is to treat them with kindness and gratitude; never take their feedback personally and offer to assist them in a similar way in the future.
Beta readers play an extremely important part in the revision and expansion stage of your writing. Once it passes the beta test, and you’ve completed it to the best of your ability, its now time to find an editor; and start the revision process again.