What Is a Beta Reader and Why Are They Important?
Beta Readers Are Not Editors
Editors are a major part of any writer’s journey to publication, and they come in many varieties: proofreading, copy editing, line editing, and developmental editing. All of these types are necessary before one can be published. However, there is someone outside an editor that is almost equally important: a beta reader. A beta reader is not an editor, they are as close to a consumer reader as you have in your pre-publication stage. They may not be qualified to edit anything and they may not care if your novel is technically sound, but they are still as important as editors. Let’s talk about why.
Beta readers are your first audience
They are the audience before the real audience. They’re there to read your manuscript and tell you what they liked and disliked about it, which is very different than what a traditional editor would do, which is typically marking up your work. Of course, it’s totally fine to encourage your beta readers to mark up their copies for your reference, but these notes are usually going to be centered around the beta reader’s opinion, as opposed to any editing notes.
They are your test market
There are a number of reasons you may choose someone to be your beta reader. They may be your best friend, your mother, or it could someone whose opinion you value. There’s no rule on how to pick a beta reader, but it’s worth considering who your intended audience is going to be. I would recommend picking someone who isn’t your friend or relative, just so you will be able to get the most honest feedback possible.If you believe your audience is going to be adult men, then you probably want an adult man to read it. Then, based on his feedback, you may want to either edit to fit that audience. Either that, or you may want to rethink what audience you wrote for.
This can even help you determine how accurately you have reached your target audience. Having beta readers that fit in multiple audiences will help you better align yourself with your book’s audience. If you find that the men weren’t into it, but that all the women were, then maybe women are your audience. Then, you can better market your book to agents and publishers that cater to those groups. These are, of course, sweeping generalizations, but I think you get the idea.
Side note: don’t take the opinion of just one beta reader to determine your audience
One person’s opinion is not representative of the entire market they exist within. It’s worth getting the opinion of multiple people that exist within the same market, so you get a variety of views and opinions. This can be more difficult, but might be worth it if you are unsure of who your target audience is.
Beta readers will help prepare you for harsh reviews and criticism
I’ll readily admit, one of my greatest fears is receiving large amounts of negative reviews. I’ve received my fair share of criticism and rejection, but negative reviews still just get me. Beta readers are there to prepare you for that. They are representative of the people who will possibly read your novel one day. If they have harsh critique, take it in stride. This is great preparation for what you can expect on a much wider scale. Beta reader criticism will also give you a chance to fix things before a much larger scale of readers have a chance to critique it.
Beta readers might not finish your mansucript
At this point, you may say, “Why is that valuable to me?” Because you need to know why they didn’t finish it. If they couldn’t finish it, and they are your target audience, then an agent or publisher probably won’t finish it either. Every time I share my manuscript with a beta reader, I always tell them, “It’s fine if you don’t finish it, but please tell me where and why.”
Sometimes I get feedback, like “I just didn’t have time,” which is a reasonable enough excuse, but every once in a while I’ll get gems like, “This part was just so boring.” Harsh? Maybe, but also extremely valuable. Feedback like that is priceless and can save a boring manuscript from the brink of doom. Every interaction a beta reader has with your work is a chance to get feedback and make it better.
Beta readers are essentially free crowdsourcing
With editors, you are having to pay someone to make your work technically sound. However, most beta readers do it for free, simply because they want to read your work. There’s not much you don’t have to pay for when writing a novel. You have to pay your various editors, if you’re self-publishing, you have to pay for a cover or for the software to make your cover, etc. Take advantage of this free resource. Find people who want to read and give feedback, your novel deserves it.
All-in-all, beta readers are amazing and an essential part to any writer on their journey to publication. What do you think? Have you utilized beta readers? How was your experience? Let me know, and comment below!