Authors Answer 37 – Beta Readers

I nearly managed to catch up last week! Just one extra post this week and I’m good. I should be able to do that, surely?

The next question is pretty straightforward, anyway: Do you use beta readers? How many?

The simple, short answer is yes, I use three. In my opinion, there are three things absolutely essential to any author: an editor, a proofreader and beta readers. The editor will pick apart any plot holes, overly waffly or overly terse prose and any other errors you as the author simply won’t pick up because you’ve been staring at it for too long. The proofreader will find most of the spelling mistakes you missed (or, if your own spelling is sketchy, will just find the spelling mistakes, period). The beta readers will tell you in general terms whether they liked your book and if not, what bits they had problems with.

I am lucky in that I have a good friend who is not just an amazing author but an excellent editor and proofreader as well. She is also my alpha reader, which helps to iron out those early plot niggles.

My first beta reader is my husband – slightly reluctantly, since he’s not much on romance. Despite that he has a good eye and isn’t afraid to tell me what he thinks doesn’t work.

My second beta reader is a good friend of mine, who has a lot of experience in many very diverse areas, so he is great for nitpicking the feasibility of certain things. Most of the juggling stuff that ended up in book three is stuff I picked up from him. Aside from that he is also not afraid to tell me what he thinks doesn’t work.

My third beta reader is also my only female beta reader – a good friend who I mainly use as a kind of ‘target audience’ reader.

The most important thing about beta readers, especially if they’re friends of the author, is that they need to be honest, even if honesty means telling the author ‘this bit sucks’ or ‘this plot bit didn’t work for me’. If an author friend asks you to beta read for them, make sure you establish beforehand that what they want from you is actual honesty (not just mindless praise to shore up their self-esteem), and then give it to them. This can be very difficult for both the author and the beta reader, so really hash out those ground rules first. I know from experience that it can be very difficult to hear someone trash-talk your baby that you’ve slaved over for months on end. If this happens, don’t lash out at your beta reader (if anything, lash out at your editor for not picking up on it before it went to your beta readers). Let it settle for at least three days, then go back to what they said. You may find that what they’re telling you is quite reasonable.

Writing a book is something you mainly do on your own. Bringing a book up to scratch for publishing is something you need others for, and beta readers are integral to that.

Read other authors’ answers in the original post on Jay Dee’s blog.

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