“What is a beta reader?” As a writer and editor, I am a member of many writing groups, both online and off, and I hear this question with surprising frequency.
For simplicity, you can head over to Wikipedia and get this definition:
“[A] beta reader…is a non-professional reader who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling…[and give] suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting.”
Beta readers usually, but not always, provide this service free of charge.
Why Do I Need a Beta Reader?
In most cases, a novel will require several drafts before it is ready for publishing. You don’t want to pay for a professional editor at every stage. Optimally, your novel should be read and critiqued by a small group of people in addition to yourself. A small pool of beta readers will give you a variety of opinions on what can be done to improve your novel, from small details, such as spelling and punctuation mistakes, to big issues, such as flaws in plot and characterization.
What Should I Look for in a Beta Reader?
Having beta readers is like having a small focus group for your novel. Look at them like a small sample of your potential audience. With that in mind, look for beta readers that like to read in the genre or niche where your novel falls. Asking a person who reads only business texts to read your suspense novel will probably not get you feedback that will be relevant to your audience. In addition, dependability and attention to detail are also important.
Where Can I Find Beta Readers?
A few resources include:
1. Writers Groups: Your fellow writers may be more than willing to read your work and give you feedback, especially in exchange for the same favor from you. These groups can be in-person or online. For example, there are many fiction writing groups on Facebook, some of which provide a forum for critiques.
2. Friends and Family: The people that you are close to may be chomping at the bit to get a first look at your story, and even if they are not, they will often be willing to do you the favor of giving you a bit of advice on it. Don’t forget to ask your Facebook friends! This is a time when those overly critical relatives might come in handy, as you don’t want your beta readers to ignore flaws in the manuscript in order to save your feelings.
If you have patience and an open mind to accept their feedback, beta readers can be a great boon to your writing process and can help you improve your novel and perhaps even your future writing.