For today’s–slightly late, sorry!–Twin Thursday, Rachel and I will be talking about beta readers. Who they are, what they do, and how to find a good one. This will be the first of an ongoing series, if all goes well. Be sure to head over to her blog at Undivinelight to see her take! (Also, don’t worry–I haven’t forgotten about Agent Hunt! I do plan on getting back to it once life settles!)
First, what is a beta? A beta, or beta reader, is a person who reads an early draft of your story or novel and gives you feedback to improve it. Ideally, they’re going into it blind with no expectations of what the story is about or any spoilers. I know it’s tempting to talk about the BRILLIANT thing you came up with for chapter four, but try not to tell them. You want an honest first reaction to it.
Much as we as writers like to think otherwise, we don’t catch everything. We can’t; we’re just too close to the work to see its flaws. Therefore, a beta’s primary responsibility is to respond to the story on the level of a layperson. If they happen to be well-versed in craft, so much the better; it can only help you if they’re able to say, for example, that your pacing here is slow or the tension in this arc is lacking. But, on the whole, they’re reading for comprehension, flow, and appeal. Is the story too long or too short? Predictable? Nonsensical? Are there plot-holes or unresolved threads? Sections where your characterization slips? These are among the things a beta should be told to look for.
The other thing you’ll want to ask your betas for is to pay attention to the parts of the story they enjoyed. If the dialogue sparkled or if the villain scared them witless. It’s easy as a writer to dwell too long on the things we need to fix. It’s good sometimes to get some distance from that and follow up with some positive news.
Next week, I’ll hopefully talk about what makes a good beta reader and a few things to avoid. Happy wording!