You have written your novel and been through it many times tweaking and perfecting the plot and scenes. You just know it will be well received. But if you think it is ready for publication now, you are missing a valuable step in the self-publishing process. As a writer you have been too close to your work. You may have not caught plot inconsistencies or realized the characters aren’t staying true to themselves. One of the best ways to catch these errors before submitting your work to an editor is to have your manuscript read by a – or better yet several – beta readers.
What is a beta reader?
A beta reader is someone who reads a work of fiction with a critical eye before it is released to the public. They may catch spelling, grammar, characterization, and continuity errors. Unlike editors, these people are usually unpaid and often see your work in a rough state.
The term beta reader comes from the software industry where “beta” testers try out software before a major release to the public in order to identify problems.
Why use a beta reader?
Many authors like to use beta readers to improve the quality of their work before submitting it for professional editing and critique. Beta readers may question why a character does or does not do something. They may catch errors such as a change of location (the fight takes place in a bar but is later told to have taken place at the school), the way a character is dressed (a blue shirt all of a sudden is red) or which characters are in the room at the time (Charles may have left for work but then appear in a scene at home).
The fact is that as authors, we are so close to our own manuscripts that we cannot see them objectively. Things that are clear in our mind, may not come across the same way in our book. We may leave out vital steps in an explanation and not realize it since we know what we mean. Beta readers allow you to fine tune and polish your work before presenting it to the world. It is a professional way to make your writing better.
When to use a beta reader?
Beta readers should be used after you have self-edited and polished your manuscript, but BEFORE it has professional editing done. Since beta readers will be catching mistakes and making suggestions, you will need to correct these before you want to pay someone to proof or edit your novel.
How to find a beta reader?
There are websites that provide directories of beta readers broken down by genre. Or you can post on places like World Literary Café or other writing forums that you are looking for a beta reader or even post on your own blog.
Of course, you can also find a beta reader in your family or from your fan base – but be warned their comments may not totally be objective. I have found using family (my mom or mother-in-law) or my best friend did not help as much as using my husband. He is the best at pointing out what doesn’t work, questioning character motivation and checking story continuity. If you do use family, make sure they are not your only beta readers.
Finding a good beta reader – one who reads your genre and is of your target market in terms of age, gender and interest – can be a lot of work but worth it. You need someone who will tell you the truth without worrying about hurting your feelings. Writers typically make good beta readers as they understand the writing/creative process.
To use a beta reader, you need a “thick skin” to be able to hear negative feedback, absorb it, learn from it and apply changes derived from it.
If you are interested in beta readers and want to read more, check out this website, which has a good three-part series on beta readers. It links to the last article in the series but in the second paragraph is links to the first two articles.