Monday, August 5, 2013

What is a Beta Reader, and why do we need them?

(This article first appeared here:)
Your manuscript is finished!
You've edited it. Had it critiqued by writers you respect. Possibly even had it edited by a freelance editor. It’s time to shoot it off to your agent or publisher.
Not so fast!
Your grammar may be immaculate. Every i is dotted, every t is crossed, and you are sure you watched your ps and qs. But don’t forget the most important part of the writing, publishing process. The beta reader.

Dear Reader of my novel …,
What does an author expect/hope for from a beta reader? The story resides in our mind for so long that we reach a point that we need readers to tell us if we’ve said what we think we have. You are a very important part of the editing process for any author. If you feel your suggestion can make the book better, easier to read, and more understandable Please elaborate.
1.     Did the prologue and/or first chapter make you want to read more?
2.     At the end of each chapter, were there unanswered questions that made you want to flip the page and keep reading?
3.     Did you relate to any of the characters? Did you see character development in the major characters? Which character needs more work?
4.     Did you stay interested until the end? Where did your interest lag?
5.     Did you find a place where you were confused? Help me find and fix that.
6.     Did the ending give closure? Do you feel it satisfied the needs of the story?
7.     Is this a book you could recommend to your reading friends?
8.     Did you recognize a spiritual thread running through the book? Too much? Not enough? Explain.
9.      Did you find any plot holes that need to be fixed? A scene that doesn’t fit with this version of the story. (This happens in editing when we delete a subplot but don’t catch all the loose threads of the no longer needed part of the story.)
One of the problems an author has is that we need to know more of the story than we put on the page. What we know helps us know the characters and why they act as they do. But it might not belong in this story.
As a beta reader, try to look the big picture. If you see typos, feel free to note them, but don’t worry if you miss them at this stage of the game. Thank you. You are valuable and I appreciate you.
What type of person makes the best beta reader? The answer to that question is … “It depends.” Common wisdom says not relatives. Common wisdom says a reader of the genre you write. Each author will learn by trial and error.
Who was the first beta reader I asked to read my latest manuscript? My brother-in-love. A man who doesn't read fiction. 
Why did I choose him? Because he read my first book, read every word. pointed out important plot holes, and recommends my book to others.
By the way, he still doesn't read fiction. He prefers "real" books. But he offers to read mine because he has so much fun finding the plot holes.

Q4U: What is your experience with beta readers?

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