They read it first, in praise of the Beta Reader

Before my new masterpiece sets out into the big wide world, there’s a group of unsung heroes who help to make it a lot more readable than it might have been.

One of the problems with being the author of anything is, by the time you think that it’s finished, you’ve read and seen it so many times that you become blind to its faults. As far as you’re concerned, it reads perfectly, there are few (if any) mistakes and all it needs is a quick polish from an editor.

What the story really requires is the eye of someone who knows nothing about the content but will honestly tell you what they think of it as a whole. Someone who will offer unbiased advice. In effect, a person who is allowed an advance read and a chance to offer a critique, warts and all.

It’s a nervous time for an author, but it has to be done. It’s better to get the initial reaction privately, for a whole host of reasons. Enough said, I could write a whole post about THAT subject.

Enter the beta reader.

Beta readers take my first draft and slog their way through it. They spot a lot of the inconsistencies, plot holes and downright awful writing that has escaped my attention for the simple reason that I’m too close to it. Because I know the story inside out, I can see more than just the words on the page, my mind fills in any missing bits without me noticing.

Then there are the things that I reckon are clever but come across as stupid or predictable. The poor or unrealistic dialogue, the science that doesn’t work. The need for more backstory or justification. The obvious twist, need I go on?

I have a few beta readers and they’re worth their weight in gold. I trust them with my initial manuscript and never expect them to do any more than just read the book and let me know exactly what they think. Whether their reactions are a few simple comments, an overall impression in a paragraph or two or several pages of detailed exposition, all their input is incredibly valuable.

While it might not always be positive, the great thing is that I know it’s objective. Which is more than can be said for some reviews post-publication. At this point in the process, honesty is the most important thing.

I’m regularly amazed at the things my readers spot. Their suggestions can often unlock fresh ideas or suggest ways that the story could be improved. In one case, they showed me why a whole sub-plot of the story was not needed.

Like all advice, I don’t have to take it. However, as well as their beta reading function, they are part of my target market so it would be silly of me not to understand and appreciate what they are telling me.

I always consider every piece of feedback when I’m amending and rewriting. Especially if more than one of the readers flag up the same thing.

So, whenever you’re reading (if it’s one of mine or anyone else’s), spare a thought for the people who read it first, and who may have helped make it something you’ll remember for a long time.

And if you’re a beta reader, thank you.

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10 Responses

  1. Marjorie Mallon

    I don’t beta read too often but when I do it’s so good to know that my comments might help. A lovely message to put out there Richard. Thank you for sharing. <3

    • Richard Dee

      Then I’m honoured that you read for me, thank you for all your input.

  2. sally cronin

    I agree Richard Beta Readers are invaluable and excellent reminder.. I will share in the blogger daily this evening.

    • Richard Dee

      I couldn’t do it without them, thanks for the share.

  3. Roberta Eaton Cheadle

    It is very important to get someone else to read your books, Richard, I absolutely agree. To date I’ve used my mom, who is super critical and my ordinary reader test, then a developmental editor twice, before and after, then an editor and finally my publisher.

    • Richard Dee

      My team are amazing, Robbie. I wouldn’t spot half of the things they see.

    • Richard Dee

      Thanks, their opinions are worth their weight in gold.

  4. Alex Craigie

    I have a lovely team that I call Betas but they comment on my WIP chapter by chapter instead of at the end. Already, they’ve come back with problems that I can change now before they’re hard-wired into the book and need careful untangling later. Four members of my family go through the drafts at the end, don’t pull their punches, and all spot things that others missed. The difference both groups make is invaluable.

    • Richard Dee

      That’s a different way of doing things, If they’re happy to work like that, I can see the logic.

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