Saturday, February 27, 2021

Beta Readers by L. A. Kelley

Beta Readers

A beta reader is person who reads a manuscript for the good, bad, and the ugly, confusing or clever plot points, terrific or terrible scenes, or poorly or exceptionally written characters. It’s the way everyone reads a book, only now you’re asking someone to keep notes. A beta reader isn’t paid, but a token thanks such as a copy of the book is common. If you have cash for advice, don’t use a beta reader. Hire a professional.

 Beta readers are often family or friends, but can be fans, too. However, using someone close can be iffy. They’re afraid to hurt your feelings and may not be totally honest. If you have no one in mind, writing groups are good places to start, either online or face-to-face. They’re generally quid pro quo; someone reads your manuscript and you read theirs. This may not be something you’re comfortable with or have time for.

 If you decide on a beta reader here are a few tips for a positive working relationship.

 Agree on a time frame up front. You don’t want someone who takes six months to return comments. Once agreement is reached, give the beta reader a prompt sheet with a few questions. Are the characters actions realistic? Was there any part you didn’t understand? Any scenes drag or hold too much information? What were your favorite parts or characters and why? Your least favorite and why? Don’t give them twenty pages asking for detailed insight and a complete psychological profile of each character. Do that and they’ll head for the hills.

 Do you need a beta reader subject matter expert? You might if you’re writing a police or medical procedural or a book where the lead character is a different ethnicity. Try to find someone with specialized knowledge. The last thing you want to be accused of is stereotyping.

Accept all comments with a polite thank you, but don’t jump on the re-edit bandwagon too soon. Just because a beta reader didn’t click with a character or a scene, doesn’t mean it should be deleted or rewritten. Think carefully about the comments. Can you see their point of view? Is it valid? Any notes from the beta reader should be taken as suggestions, not gospel. The most important thing to remember is don’t take a critique personally. Comments can be ignored. After all, this is your manuscript and changes are always your discretions.

L. A. Kelley writes science fiction and fantasy adventures with humor, romance and a little sass. Her life is in constant edit mode.


Diane Burton said...

Very helpful advice. I like your tip sheet for the reader. It gives them things to focus on.

Maureen said...

Great post! A good beta reader or two is priceless.

Mary Morgan said...

Wonderful tip, L.A.! I treasure my beta readers.