Writers: What Beta Readers Can Do for You

Many writers have heard the term beta reader before, but do you really know what a beta reader is and what he’s supposed to do for you? What’s the difference between a beta reader and a critique partner? Can anyone beta read for you? What should you expect?

First of all, a beta reader is someone who reads your manuscript before you:
a) send it in to an agent
b) send it in to your publisher
c) self-publish

A beta reader is different from a critique partner because he won’t see the work until it’s polished. Or what the author considers to be polished. A critique partner will often read sections of the manuscript and critique it to help the writer see where she can revise to improve the work. A beta reader will read the story as a reader not an editor. He’s looking mainly at the story and the characters, but he’ll also pick up on a slow pace, stilted dialogue, or something that just doesn’t work.

There are different theories on who writers should use as beta readers. Some like to use their family and friends. While this might seem like a good idea, it probably won’t help you further your career as a writer. Family and friends mean well, but they might not be 100% honest. They could tell you what you want to hear instead of what you need to hear. I prefer to have other writers beta read for me. Experienced writers will nitpick the manuscript to death because they know the craft and what readers/agents/editors expect. That doesn’t mean you need to change every little thing they flag. Instead, focus on the parts that more than one beta reader has pointed out, and only revise if you agree with their suggestion.

Technically, a beta reader will read your work looking for things you have told him to identify. So it’s a good idea to have a list of questions ready for him to work with. You might want to ask:

-Did I start at the right place?

– Are the first few chapters set up correctly or bogged down with backstory? Do they hook you? If not, what would you change?

-Are my characters likeable?

– Are the characters’ motivations clear? Are there times when someone does something out of character? Are there times when a character should’ve done something but didn’t?

-Did you notice any plot holes?

-How is the pacing?

-Is the dialogue realistic or stilted?

– How’s the sexual tension? Do the sex/intimate scenes work?

-Does the middle sag?

– Is everything resolved in the end to your satisfaction? If not, what would you like to see?

-Is the ending rushed or too slow?

-Is there anything else that needs to be addressed?

What are other questions you can ask your beta reader?

Editing availability update: I’m currently booked until August and won’t book slots for another month or so. I don’t want to book too far in advance. However, I am putting names on a waiting list. As soon as I start booking slots again, I’ll contact those on the list first to see if they’d like the August slots. If you want to be placed on this list, let me know.

Lynnette Labelle

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