Beta readers are those people who read your completed manuscript with the goal of giving feedback. This feedback then becomes the roadmap for your revisions. All writers know that it is through the work of the revision process, that a manuscript becomes a publishable piece. Therefore, those beta readers and their feedback, are probably one of the most critical stages and considerations for an author.
Some authors find beta readers in their writers’ groups and pair up to read and critique each other’s work, and others may decide to pay for beta reader services.
While there are many different approaches to finding the right beta reader for each manuscript, and much depends on the manuscript and your needs as a writer, I believe there are three foundational things that must be in place in order to optimize the power of the beta reader.
The writer is placing in the hands of the beta reader, their manuscript. Their story, their heart and soul. There must be a deep level of trust in place. Trust that the manuscript will be given the serious consideration it deserves. Trust that the beta reader will honor any requests you have for focus or feedback. Trust that the reader understands their responsibility in this relationship. Trust that the beta reader will also be able to put their own biases aside, and embrace the goal of the work, and focus their feedback on ways to ultimately help the writer achieve the best piece of writing possible.
As writers, we must trust that our beta reader will be honest with us. Not tell us what they think we want to hear. Not tear apart our work just for the sake of finding fault. But to honestly, and kindly, share their thoughts, reactions to, and reflections on, our work. For it is only when we get honest feedback that we as writers, can begin that critical work of revision. We must know that our beta reader will tell us the truth, tempered with mercy if needed, as they see and feel it.
- Good literary instincts
While a beta reader does not necessarily need to be a writer themselves, they must have a strong understanding of literature, writing, and a deep understanding of either the content or the audience. This means not all beta readers are a good fit for every manuscript. If it is a piece of historical fiction, someone with a strong history background is an advantage. If the book is for children, someone who works with children is a choice fit. If it is a piece of fantasy, someone who only enjoys reading nonfiction is probably not the best beta reader for that manuscript.
While I have had a long list of different beat readers who have given feedback on my many, many projects, I do have one reader who is the first to read every single manuscript I finish. My first and primary beta reader. She is a lifelong educator, an enthusiastic reader, a passionate advocate for children, the kindest and most trustworthy person I know, and my longest and dearest friend. She knows me well enough to know when to push and challenge me, she knows when to temper my off-track tangents, she knows what questions to ask me to get me to think of things I have not considered, and she knows how to give feedback, even critical or negative feedback, in ways that support my work as a writer.
And her feedback always results in a better story.
Wishing all the writers out there inspiration, innovation, imagination……… and an extraordinary beta reader!