YATopia’s blog (well worth checking out) recently posted about the value of beta readers. It was a fantastic write up, available here, and has inspired me to write briefly about the value of peer review. Today on the Fiction Reboot, we will be taking a look at these “beta readers.” Who are they? Why do we need them? How do we get (and keep) them?
If you have not come across this term before, not to worry. Most of us have a “beta reader,” we just call them by other names: peer reviewer, friend, colleague… spouse. However, there is good reason to set up a more formal relationship to your test audience, and even perhaps set down some guidelines.
Why we need them:
I have mentioned this before—we usually write for ourselves first. That is a great place to begin. However, if you intend to have an audience of any kind, even in an unpublished pass-around-to-friends sort of way, then you need a trusted reader to help you identify blind spots. Not everyone (not even all the authors I have interviewed) agrees on their necessity, but beta readers have been incredibly crucial to my growth as an author.
What makes a good beta?
There are different opinions on this one. Here is what YAtopia has to say:
- Above all, honesty. You do not want a beta who has nothing but positive things to say. Find someone who has a nice mix of pointing out what they loved, and what didn’t work for them.
- Figure out what kind of beta-work you’re wanting. Do you need someone to look for plot holes, spelling, grammar, voice, character development, all of the above? Do you want overall notes? Or do you want someone who will give you line-by-line notes, right in the document itself?
- Keep in mind, many betas might ask you to return the favor.
(For more, visit their site: http://yatopia.blogspot.com/2012/07/beta-readers-who-when-where-and-why.html)
Here are a few other things to consider, learned from my own experiences and those of my author-friends:
- Do you trust this person? If you have a reader that you do not trust, you will not listen to them. If you don’t listen to them, they will not want to participate. Like any good relationship, it involves give and take and trust.
- Do they normally read the genre you are writing in? That is enormously helpful. If you are writing YA, you probably don’t want a beta who mostly reads historical non-fiction for adults. If they read in the genre, they will spot trends.
- Referring to YAtopia’s number 2: It is good to have more than one kind of beta reader. Not only for different types of edits, but different types of cheerleaders. Yes, we need honest readers. But we also sometimes need unconditional loving praise. If you are feeling low, a cheerleading beta can sometimes give you the strength to face your more critical readers. BUT NOTE: make sure you know who is who and don’t mistake one for the other!
I have many readers that I trust, and they each do different things for me. My friends, my family, even one of my students (who is a “new adult” so a good reader for YA/New Adult). I hope you will collect your own beta readers—
They are invaluable!
 Note: I have a hard time believing that anyone writes only for him- or herself. Even diaries imagine an audience. Thus, I really think everyone needs beta readers