The Value of a Good Beta Reader

posted in: Various Musings | 0

Jade provides tips for writers every week.

You might be asking, Why do I need a beta reader? Well, if you’re not a writer, you don’t. But if you’re a writer who wants to be published, you do! Good, solid, steady beta readers will give you feedback before you publish. Think of a beta reader as a wingman—they’ve got your back (er…your side? Okay, maybe that was a sucky analogy). Bottom line: a good beta reader will give you feedback to make your story better.

I’ve had a good many newbie indie authors and creative writing students over the years freak out about anyone getting hold of their manuscript prepublication, and I understand that fear. There’s a fear of piracy, mostly, and that is why you must choose people you trust. Don’t just give your unpublished story to anyone. After all, you’re then going to trust them with something even more important—your baby. Your word baby.

So what does a good beta reader do? It depends. I have several beta readers, and they all excel at something. One of them catches continuity errors (my most recent beta read had that type of error caught by not one but two beta readers—the character was wearing a pair of shorts at the beginning of the scene and jeans at the end. Wait. What?! She’s magic!). Another gives me what I call big picture feedback, telling me her overall impression and also letting me know if anything strange jumped out at her. Yet another is a fellow Grammar Nazi who catches booboos I don’t (yes, I’m human!). Still another pulls no punches and gives me a blow-by-blow of what she did and didn’t like. And they will all tell me if/when they catch something that didn’t feel or seem right, whether on the word level or story level. These beta readers, both separately and as a group, are an invaluable part of my writing process. They help me make my story better so that my paying readers get a story that’s the best it can be.

Do you have to take every little piece of feedback from a beta reader as gospel? No, absolutely not, but you should weigh what each has to say. Obviously, if a beta reader says, “You wrote two when you meant to” and you look at your manuscript and know that she’s right, then change it! But what if it has to do with the way a character behaves or reacts or which path the story took? Those kinds of feedback are sometimes harder to work with, but I’ll tell you how I handle them. When I receive comments from beta readers that kind of go against either how the character is in my mind or the story as I saw it, I read through the feedback and mull it over, kind of letting it set and stew. There might be merit to their comment (or it might be just one of those things where the reader didn’t like something—and that happens! Remember what I’ve said about reviews, that you’ll never be a 5-star to everyone? Sometimes that even includes your beta readers). If, after some time of weighing the feedback, it clashes with your vision, you can choose to not act on it. After all, the story is yours and you have final say! That said…what if a majority of your beta readers say the same thing and you are stubbornly sticking to your story? That’s when I listen and really take feedback to heart—if all or most of my beta readers are hollering the same thing at me, then maybe I’d better sit up and take notice. It’s definitely something I need to address—or be prepared to face the same comment from regular readers. If all or most of my beta readers say, “Nicki would never do that—it’s so out of character!” then I need to look at why they said that. Is the story or character not developed well enough or did I truly lose my way as a writer? And how do I fix it? If it’s a simple misunderstanding/ miscommunication or even something more significant, I can fix it before release date.

And that’s why you have beta readers—to help you polish and hone your story so it’s as close to a masterpiece as it can be. A good beta reader is worth her weight in gold!

Got a writing question for me? Post below and I’ll be happy to answer it either here or in a future Saturday blog post!

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