Beta readers (also known as alpha readers depending on the stage in the writing process) are one of the best ways that a writer can improve their work. I’m assuming most know what a beta reader is, but just in case, a beta reader is anyone who is willing to read your work, give feedback, but is not an editor. That last part is really important. Using a beta reader does not replace an editor, if anything it is in addition to an editor. Beta readers are also different from alpha readers, though they could be the same person. The primary difference is that an alpha reader gives feedback on individual sections, and not the entire story, and a beta reader primarily gives feedback on an entire story, though they could also point out particular sections that need work. I can’t speak for everyone, but generally I am looking for a few different traits when I am searching for beta readers.
- I want someone who reads in the same genre as my WIP. It doesn’t make sense to give a science-fiction novel to a romance reader. They will not know what is considered cliche or original, and they might have dislikes with the genre rather than just your story. They might like the story better if you added a love-triangle to your story, but that doesn’t mean it truly needs one.
- Generally, I try not to use other writers for beta reading. It is not that a writer couldn’t give fantastic feedback, but writers understand mechanics of the craft that the average person would not. A writer might focus on the use of passive voice, and become oblivious to a huge plot-hole. The average reader will have a stronger focus on the story, because they are not being distracted by all of the small scale problems. Also, writers generally will try to shift the writing into a style that they use, without realizing that the areas they are critiquing are not wrong, they are just different from how they write.
- Someone who doesn’t mind doing it for free. This is important because you do not want to influence a beta reader’s feedback due to a payment. They might be afraid to be completely honest if they are afraid that their paycheck is at stake. Also, most of my pieces use 5-10 beta readers. There is no way I could afford to pay them all. Ultimately, you want your story to be entertaining, and if the only reason why your beta readers are finishing it is so they can get paid, then you are skewing your feedback. If they never would have read past the first chapter without being paid, you really need that information.
Beta readers are essential to the revision stage of my writing process. Without revision, my writing would be even worse than it is right now. (Can you even imagine? I still think your Constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment should protect you from reading this blog.) I hope everyone’s writing is going well, and I can’t wait to talk to you in the comments.