If you’re a part of the writing community, you’ve probably heard the term “beta reader.”
What’s that, you say?
Beta readers are part of the writing process.
Let’s start from the beginning:
When you finish that first rough (and awful!) draft, the rule of thumb is to set it aside for a few weeks, then go back and edit it into a coherent (if not perfect) novel.
After you’re reasonably happy with your manuscript, you may send it to an “alpha reader,” sometimes known as a critique partner. This is generally a fellow writer who gets to see your story in less-than-perfect condition. He/she reads your work-in-progress and gently but firmly tells you where it stinks.
You do the same for him/her.
You may swap chapters or revisions back and forth until you’re satisfied that you’ve done your darndest.
Now it goes to a professional editor for a developmental edit. The editor will look for plot holes, effective character arcs, strong world-building—all the things that make for good story. When it comes back, you make more revisions based on their suggestions.
And then come the beta readers.
Betas can be friends, relatives, fellow authors, co-workers, some crazy guy off the street….you get the idea. You’re mostly looking for avid readers who are willing to read your novel and tell you how much they loved (or hated) it.
Well, actually you need more than a thumbs up or thumbs down. You’ve probably sent along a list of questions or things you want the reader to specifically look for. For example, is the main character believable? Likeable? Are the settings described in enough detail to give you a vivid picture? Or maybe you want to be sure that first chapter really grabs their attention, or that the ending is satisfying.
Betas can be hard to find. Especially if you’re afraid your friends and family will only lavish praise on what might not be the least bit praise-worthy. Facebook has some writer’s groups but it’s not uncommon to find fellow writers who agree to beta read for you and then never deliver. I’ve been lucky there. Most of my betas have come through with lots of helpful (if sometimes ego-bruising) feedback.
You don’t have to take everything a beta says to heart. Is there something several betas take notice of? Is it something that resonates with you? You decide what changes to make: it’s your story.
From there on it’s a cycle of revisions, more betas, more revisions, more betas… until you feel as if you’ve done all you can to make your manuscript the best you can make it.
I didn’t say “good enough.”
Lord knows I didn’t say “perfect.”
But there comes a point where a writer has to let go. Send her finished novel out into the world. For some that means self-publishing, for others that means another round of ego-busting in the form of querying literary agents.
And maybe—just maybe—one day you’ll end up a published author.