B is for Beta Readers: Purveyors of Critical Feedback

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If you stumbled upon me through the A to Z Blog Challenge, welcome.  If not, check out the challenge and all those participating at their site.

B

For those who aren’t familiar with beta reading, it’s basically the same as beta testing for software or anything else.  You give a select number of people early access, they give you feedback, and you make the product better.

Beta readers are quality control for writers.

Why do I think they’re a strange thing?

Partially because I am one.  Partially because I’ve had quite a few now.  Partially because they tend to be writers themselves.  Partially because they are individuals, and as such, have their quirks.

Strange as they are, beta readers are amazing people.

Beta readers will review your book chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, and sometimes even word by word, to tell you exactly what you’re doing well and exactly what you’re doing wrong.  Granted, that’s what an ideal beta reader does and they are far more rare than the beta reader more generally.  That’s the way of any role or profession.  Most a good, some are great, and a few are truly amazing.

Beta readers are also amazing because they don’t generally get paid to do the work.  For the chance to read your story, they commit to giving you feedback, both good and bad, so you can improve the work.  This can be a commitment that takes hours and hours over the course of a month or even longer.  This is something I find truly amazing and strange in this day and age when there is so much focus on money and materialism.

I know that I may be a little strange as a writer in that I much prefer to have a large number of beta readers who look at the whole novel rather than belonging to a critique group that meets regularly and looks at chapter length pieces on a more set schedule.  Critique groups seem to be the norm.  Or at least it appears to be more popular in my local area with the writers I know.  I, on the other hand, don’t want to have to wait over the course of a year to get feedback on 12-24 chapters when most of my books have more like 32 or 48 in total.  I may have to wait for a month, two, or something three to get my feedback from beta readers, but at least I have all the feedback on the whole project.  Right now I’m eagerly awaiting responses from beta readers critiquing the second book in my series.  I can’t wait to hear what they have to tell me.

As a beta reader, I may also be a little strange.  Most people expect beta readers to comment on things they liked, things they think need improvement, and what the author specifically asked for.  Many writers don’t expect or want any more than that.  I like to comment much more generally, giving the author an idea of what I’m thinking as I’m reading.  What does the scene remind me of?  What books or movies come to mind in comparison?  What random memory does it stir in me?  Yes, this is all objective information that might be seen as useless by many authors, but I find it very helpful to receive such feedback from my own beta readers, so I tend to include it when I beta read for others.

I also find that being a beta reader for a variety of genres, both those I write and those I don’t, is exceptionally helpful to me.  In fact, some of the most helpful feedback I received on my first book was from a reader who was completely unfamiliar with my genre.

I learn from every mistake I find in someone else’s work.  Or I at least try to.  I learn from my beta readers too.  One of them actually broke me of my perpetual misspelling of lose as loose.  I’d probably been doing that since I learned the word but now I can finally notice when I do it and fix it right away.

I miss it when I’m not beta reading for someone occasionally.  Getting to read and help improve someone else’s work is an amazing opportunity and I am grateful for each and every chance I have to experience it from either side of the equation.

So for all you beta readers out there, you may be strange, but I love you even more for it.

Have you ever beta read for someone?  Or had someone beta read for you?  What was your favorite thing about that experience?  What was the strangest thing?

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14 thoughts on “B is for Beta Readers: Purveyors of Critical Feedback

  1. I just had a former student beta read for me and she did a fabulous job. I felt her comments were spot on… gently identifying spots that needed work (often offering suggestions), and kindly praising those few areas that resonated with her.

    I’m not sure I could beta read… at least not yet. A decade of grading English papers for students who could care less about my comments completely drained me.

    • That’s awesome that you had a former student who could help you out like that. And I have so much respect for anyone who teaches for any length of time, but decades of service is amazing. I can totally understand why you might be a bit drained and need some time off from critiquing after that.

    • Thanks! I love being a beta reader, but you’re right, it takes a lot of time and effort. Hopefully I’ll find space to do more beta reading in the future without losing my writing time.
      Can I say how much I love this challenge? It’s one of my favorite things about April now.

  2. I haven’t gotten a Beta Reader for my novel length works yet but…someday when it’s worth there time I will. It’s possible that I might be afraid of them…thus, afraid of you. Strange?

    • Having your work read can be really scary. Especially when it’s in it’s early stages. (My secret is lots of revision before the first beta reader, who is usually also a close friend so I know they’ll be gentle with me and my manuscript). I don’t blame you for being a little afraid of beta readers. Good luck with your novel.

  3. Fascinating concept. While I can see where it would be helpful to have a beta reader, I feel like I would never get around to writing if I spent my time critiquing. I’ll need to stick with my writing group for now but will keep this in mind.

    • Writing is always prioritized over critiquing, at least for me, so I completely understand why you’d want to stick to writing for a while. I never promise to read for more than one person at a time, and I try not to overlap my beta reading work with major WIP plans. Good luck with your writing. I hope you get to the point where you need beta readers at the very least and maybe you’ll have time to be one some day too.

  4. heatherjacksonwrites

    You sound like you’re a great beta reader! I have done this for someone once, but I wouldn’t do it again without handing in a sample critique of one chapter first, because what I had to say the writer didn’t want to hear. I’ve also tried critique groups, but writing and handing in chapters is not the most useful process for me either. So, when I’m finished my latest WIP, I’ll be on the hunt for some beta readers too.

    • I hope I’m a good beta reader. I think it depends on who I read for really. It’s more about being a good match for the writer. As you said, sometimes they don’t want to hear what you have to say. Good luck with your WIP and finding beta readers for it when you’re done.

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