Are you a writer? And do you let others read your work? The word beta reader has probably touched your ears. In short, it is someone who tells you what they like about your story and what they don’t. But the writing world is, as everything else, evolving and the whole beta reader thing is more complicated now. People are no longer satisfied with the simple beta label and you can find various other expressions in the writing discussions. Each type of reader is expected to do something different and there are separate groups to find them.
Usually, it is a person who reads your very first, immature, and unfinished attempts. Pieces of writing that are still very far from graceful style, rich plot, and consistent characters. These babies often suffer from symptoms such as poor grammar, unfinished sentences, or general vagueness.
Good alpha readers are heroes and their work is hard. It takes determination and patience to dig through the first chapters of a new manuscript. But also talent. Properly identifying healthy grains of potential in a pile of straw and mud is the most important thing an alpha reader can do for a writer. These first-time readers of yours should mainly help you identify the biggest inconsistencies in the story, the illogical actions of the characters, simply, point out the worst and best.
The alpha reader is very important, but you don’t have to panic if you can’t find anyone willing. However, it will take many lonely hours of studying and refining your craft on your own. You have to read your work again and again and try to catch the biggest flaws before you try to find a new reading victim again. An alternative is to create a short summary your readers can go through. Attracting readers to this may be easier. Going through three pages is easier than two hundred.
After building your rough book foundations, it is time for finer work. Now you have your manuscript ready. You have read and edited it yourself several times. You consulted it with someone. Time for the next level. Of course, you can also reuse the readers who went through the previous version of your story. If they want to. But it won’t hurt to find also new readers and get a whole new perspective. A beta’s life is a bit easier with the complete and more or less comprehensive manuscript. At the same time, it may mean much more reading for them. They can still find inconsistencies, but they can also focus on the little things. Minor fluctuations in the dialogue, pointing out the dead ends and small plot holes. The need to emphasize the character’s reaction somewhere, shorten it somewhere else… For example, they may also come up with an idea for a favorite coffee brand for the character. If you’re lucky, your beta will be happy to bring you ideas. And some ideas might prove useful.
One thing to point out: the opinion of your readers is not to be taken as sacred and truthful. You don’t have to use their advice. You are the author, your decisions are final. The readers may try to help but they can be also very wrong in many cases and not spot a problem in your work but cause it. The whole idea of these readers is to give you ideas and personal opinions. Beta readers can help you save a lot of money since the editors won’t have to polish your manuscript so much.
This is a person who knows something in greater detail than you. And you need this something in your book. Is your main character a chemist and you yourself cannot see a difference between the baking powder and pudding? Your laboratory scenes need more. Or did you cause psoriasis to someone in your third chapter? Fortunately, you have healthy skin yourself, so it’s hard to imagine how the character feels. Or you put the story in a culture other than your own. Your characters have a different skin color or eye shape than you. These are big challenges, and you should definitely want to avoid writing nonsense because of your ignorance. It is, therefore, time to look for an expert.
Advanced copy reviewer
You need a lot of these readers once your book is about to be published. Your goal is to contact as many as you can, reach an agreement with them, send them a copy of your book just before publication, and receive a review for it. Ideally, the reviewer uses multiple platforms (blog, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram…) and will recommend (hopefully) your work wherever possible. This is a very useful thing to help with promotion. People can’t buy your book if they don’t know about it.
And what about you? What is your experience?