Hope everyone’s week has been good! I’m back with more insight on beta readers with my lovely twin poster, Rachel of Undivinelight. Be sure to check out hers, too!
So last week we looked at what a beta reader does and what their primary responsibilities are. They’re deceptively simple, actually: read the story and give feedback on it. But not all betas are created equal. How do you know if you’ve got a good one? Here are five things to look for in an ideal beta reader.
- Reliability: Let’s face it; it doesn’t do much good to send your story out to a hundred beta readers if 95% of them forget to read your work. Or got busy playing Pokemon Go. Or just made a tiny human and didn’t realize it would cut their sleep and free time down to non-existent. None of these things necessarily make a bad beta, just less than ideal. You want to know that the people you’re sending your story to are going to actually get back to you. Even if an emergency arises or plans change, you need to be able to trust that your beta will keep you in the loop.
- Honesty: You also need to be able to trust that your readers are giving you their honest opinion of your work. Asking your spouse or your mom to read can be a very good thing, especially if you’re like me and routinely need reassurance that it’s not a puddle of dog drool. But it’s just as important to know that they’re not simply saying it’s good because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. You need the full range of their response, the good, bad, and ugly.
- Courtesy: This might seem like a contradiction, coming on the heels of #2, but the two actually go hand in hand. While you do need someone who will tell you where your story is less than stellar, you need them to be able to do it without being insulting. There’s a big difference between, “This was slow as hell!” and “I found my attention wandering here.”
- Precision: In an ideal world, you’ve got someone who has a certain amount of experience at close-reading and can tell you exactly where something is off. But if nothing else, a beta should be able to point at a chapter or a character arc and say that something’s not working for them. Vaguely if not precisely, though the more detail they can give you about their reading experience, obviously the better. “It was good” or “I didn’t like it” does you not a whit of good when you’re trying to find ways to fix your story.
- Investment: The most important thing I’ve found in a beta reader is that they’re invested in the story and genuinely want to see it improve. These are the ones that I’ve found are more likely to give in-depth feedback and to stick with a project through the end. Now, it does depend a little on if you just want a one-time beta to get some instant feedback and don’t want them to see the project again. For my own experience, though, I’ve had the most success working with a group of two to three other people who all love the story and are committed to helping me make it shine.
Next week, five things you don’t want your beta to do, or when it’s time to flush that fish!