Beta Readers – What Are They & Why Use One?

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What Is A Beta Reader?

Let’s start by answering this simple question. In simple terms, a beta reader is someone who reads your completed manuscript. During the process of reading, a beta reader will assess the manuscript and let you know how well it reads and if they discover any flaws.

Who To Use As A Beta Reader?

This is something I had to research for myself as I was not familiar with the term when I first started writing. The advice said not to use your mum as a beta reader because they wouldn’t accurately provide constructive criticism. I think this is a fair remark, but it didn’t stop me providing my manuscript to let my mum read it, on the chance she would spot something amiss.

Friends are a good place to start, as long as they know they need to provide useful remarks about problems they spot, or comment on something they thought worked really well. When you use a friend, you have the added benefit of knowing you can trust them not to copy your work.

There are writing groups out there, I’ve mentioned being a member of various groups on Facebook. These groups can help you find beta reader too, unfortunately the thing about these groups is the fact of interacting with something you don’t really know. It’s true you can build a brilliant rapport with fellow group members, but how well do you really know them and can you trust them not to plagiarise your work? The answer to this may be in the form of a legal document such as a non-disclosure agreement. I’m not legally trained so I cannot advise on this. If you want to go down this route with someone you don’t really know, I would suggest seeking legal advice on how to protect yourself and your work. Don’t think I’m advising against this option, I’m simply saying, do your background research and proceed with caution.

Why Use A Beta Reader?

Beta readers are there to help proof read your work. You may be overly critical of your work and constantly thinking of improvements that may not be necessary. On the contrary, you may think your work is finished but have overlooked an obvious flaw. Your beta reader may find anything from major timeline flaws, character issues or even spot out grammar problems. Having a fresh pair of eyes to read your work is advantageous to you as a writer, as the beta reader is reading your work as a reader, not as a writer.

Difference In Opinion

When researching beta readers for myself, I discovered the advice out there was to use more than one and to use people who read the same genre, and someone who reads a different genre. This comes down to having more than one pair of fresh eyes read your work, but how do you cope with a difference in opinion? Where one beta reader points out something as a flaw, and another sees no issue, how as a writer do you work with the feedback? This is something I have had to overcome recently. My advice, trust your gut instinct. Assess the experience of the beta readers, have they any experience in writing? How much do they read themselves? What genres do they read? Think about those questions when considering their feedback.

Conclusion Based On My Experience

Apart from my mum, I had two beta readers read my work, both have an interest in creative writing, and are avid readers. One beta reads similar to the genre I write in, and the other not so much. The two provided different feedback after reading my completed manuscript, and I have assessed where I think I need to develop my characters and plot by following some advice, but not all of it. As a result, I am also considering writing a sequel where I previously thought this manuscript would be a standalone novel. My advice to you, nobody knows your story as much as you do. You’ve built the characters and developed the plot, so keep in mind the feedback your beta readers provide and trust your instinct in the decisions you make.

Pop a comment to let me know your experience with beta readers. Maybe you are a beta reader and help provide some insight to providing feedback.