Wednesday, April 2, 2014

B = Beta Readers Are Your Friends


Think of beta readers as your pre-reviewers. Would you rather have a reader tell you—in a scathing review on Amazon for all the world to see—that your book has plot holes, typos, and awkward phrases? Or would you rather have a beta reader tell you—in a much gentler, more constructive fashion—prior to publishing?

Beta readers can be literal friends: people you know well, who are willing to take a look at your book and tell you what they think of it. Beta readers can also be strangers: perhaps fans of your previous work, if you’ve already published. They might simply be fans of the genre in which you’re writing, and love to see books before anyone else does. Either way, they’re your golden opportunity for honest feedback in order to iron out any problems prior to showing your work to the world.


Whether you use a paid beta or a freebie, keep in mind that the closer someone is to you emotionally, the harder it will be for them to tell you if there are flaws in your manuscript. Family and close friends are wonderful cheerleaders, but an uninvolved party will probably yield better results for the work itself.

57 comments:

  1. I like Beta readers and having a CP. Betas I tend to think of as fans of reading as to where a CP is someone who is a writer or editor working currently and who you can bounce ideas around with. Both are extremely helpful. Nice post.

    Brandon Ax: Writer's Storm

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    1. It's nice to have someone who will be honest with you before your work goes public. I like it when others help me to see something from a different angle.

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  2. It's true, and it can be difficult to find readers who are completely unassociated with you. They are definitely the most valuable type, though. I've got a list of both industry-related betas, and straight reader betas to chose from, but I always think it great to widen the circle.

    http://crystalcollier.blogspot.com

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    1. You're right: the more people you have to choose from, the better. A broad range of ideas is always good.

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  3. Betas are worth their weight in gold!

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  4. I am lucky to have an exception with my husband, who has some storytelling background himself and is very much willing to bypass my feelings to tell me the truth. But I agree, it's crucial to outside the family for readers and critique partners to get less bias! I need to find more non-writer readers to preview my work.

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    1. I have a husband who is willing to "bypass my feelings to tell me the truth." He's a good fashion advisor for those times like, "Hmm...I know you're comfortable in that outfit, but it's not as flattering as it could be." People can be honest and tactful at the same time.

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  5. I really don't give my friends or my family my stuff until it's published. I don't need to hear it's good; I need to hear how I can make it better.

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    1. Right-o! They can pat your back all they want, once the neutral parties have had their way with your manuscript.

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    2. I think I hurt their feelings until I explained my rationale, then they got it.

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  6. I've had pretty lousy luck with finding betas, since it's been really hard for me to find other historical writers at the places I've been told to find critique partners. I suppose the regular readers of my weekly Sunday bloghop, and the old Saturday hop I did for a long time, are my betas, since they've read so much of my writing and have commented on it.

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    1. I have a friend I recommend here on my blog who does paid beta work. She's really thorough and has great insights I'd never pick up on. Find a good beta is priceless! The better ones will tell you what's good and what's lacking without telling you what they'd like to see instead.

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  7. Yes they are. Yes they are indeed! :)

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    1. Better to hear it prior to putting your work in the public eye, right?

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  8. You know I'm a big beta supporter. Nothing beats a good solid feedback...you know before its published...otherwise the "beating" would be directed at reviewers for speaking the truth. Oh, is that not how it works? Okay, so no beating on them, but there wouldn't be too much of a need or want to do that if we use non-family-tough-loving-cheerleaders first ;)

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    1. Beatings don't sound so bad for certain reviewers, though you must be disciplined and keep your mouth shut. After all, you put your work out there for people to purchase. BUT I'm all in favor of the NFTLC!

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  9. Thanks, Lynda. I've never heard the term beta reader before, but it makes sense. I review books for The Kindle Book review, and if an author that I have reviewed favorably before were to approach me to be a beta reader, I would certainly do it!

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    1. I think it's a great way for an author to connect with readers who are familiar with the work. As long as they're willing to be honest rather than giving a bunch of "I love it!" comments, it works very nicely. Plus, I think betas help to spread the excitement as the book is getting ready for release.

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  10. So based on your statement that "keep in mind that the closer someone is to you emotionally, the harder it will be for them to tell you if there are flaws in your manuscript" Does that mean I should stop flirting with my Beta Reader?

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    1. You should flirt harder and more purposefully, I say. My professional opinion, of course.

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    2. Absolutely not, Raymond! You cannot stop. That's part of the deal: you flirt, I give you honesty.

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  11. Beta readers are extraordinarily helpful. I think one reason is because they're not in your head. They can tell you where you haven't been clear in your plot!

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    1. A neutral set of eyes is always a plus, and betas are great for letting you know if something doesn't make sense.

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  12. So I need to find some betas... will start the search...
    I've heard some writers advise that you choose betas within and out of the genre you write...
    Writer In Transit

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    1. I do have a beta I recommend here on my pricing page. I do think a mix of in-genre and out-of-genre people is a good idea! Some who aren't as familiar with your genre might catch something others miss.

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    1. Jo, propositioning strangers is risky. ;)

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    2. Well not total strangers, but people whom you don't really know.

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  14. Yep, beta readers are a MUST. My manuscripts would be utter crap without them, and that's a fact.

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    1. Funny you would say that, Melanie. I've heard of authors who don't want to admit to using betas, and I can't understand why that would be something to hide. I don't know many who *don't* use them, and they all tout the benefits. Ultimately, they're helping you to produce a better product. What's not to like?

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  15. I always preferred strangers as beta readers. I felt people who know me as a friend won't be critical enough. I only use CPs (and my agent) now -- and they're terrific! :)

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    1. That seems to be how it works best. Friends want to make you feel good (as they should) but might not be as objective. Glad you have good ones!

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  16. Reviewers saying it is far worse!
    I use both test readers for early drafts and then critique partners for the more polished versions. My test readers read my genre and they are my best gauge if I'm on the right track or not.

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    1. I have been a mean reviewer on occasion (of course I always felt self-righteous and justified about it at the time). I've mellowed a little since getting to know some authors and remembering that they're human beings with feelings. However, I won't lie if something's not ready to be out there, especially if my money is going toward it.

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  17. Very interesting post. thanks for sharing.

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  18. I'd never release anything without a beta reader! Whenever I look back on my early manuscripts--pre-crit partners, pre-beta readers, pre-editors--I can't help but laugh at myself. It's kind of sad actually. But you are so right. Go for the beta, people. You won't regret it!

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    1. I hear that a lot...people looking back and cringing at their earlier works. But live and learn, right?

      Thanks for the visit and the comment!

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  19. My husband is always my first beta reader as well as my first editor/proof reader. Good thing he likes mysteries. LOL!

    D.B. McNicol
    A to Z: Romance & Mystery...writing my life

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    1. How convenient to have him under the same roof! It's good that he can be objective enough to be helpful, although he's probably used to the honesty if he's also one of your editors. There's no advantage to being wimpy about it.

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  20. Greetings human, Lynda,

    My paws are struggling to keep up with all the pawsts on the A to Z. Anyway, I have arrived at your letter, "B".

    This seems like a beta plan. I understand. For beta and for worse, I really understand.

    Penny, the pawsitive host of the Alphabark Challenge, 2014!

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    1. Penny, I'm so glad you took a moment in your busy dog-day to paws and visit me. My day is all the beta for it. Pawsatively.

      Please tell Gary I said, "Ruff ruff, grrr woof." He'll understand.

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  21. Nearly done with my first draft, then editing and I have a list of beta readers. I will be nervous, but you are right, it's better than a public flogging.

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    1. Anything's better than a public flogging! Way to go on the first draft progress. Sounds like you have things lined up nicely.

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  22. I think it's tricky to find beta readers who will do a balanced job - the pearls among the flotsam. It's the same with editors. I've seen good and bad.

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    1. It can be tricky. Some authors will add a set of questions to make sure all points are covered and the reader knows what to look for. The more experienced betas are already looking for those things, but a reminder is always nice.

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  23. This is so true! I'd much rather a beta reader tell me what's wrong with my book than receive harsh criticism from a perfect stranger in an internet review. I tend to choose people who are close to me as beta readers, and sometimes it isn't so helpful. But, my husband is my most trusted beta--he isn't afraid to tell me the truth (sometimes he needs a little more tact, but hey, can't have it all.) :)

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    1. Tact is always a plus, and I can laugh about that because my husband will always tell me the truth, with or without tact, though he's always *aiming* for tact. I'd rather hear it privately any day of the week!

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  24. I met a beta reader today; I didn't know what they were until she explained it. We both laughed about how we're so obsessive about proper grammar, we'd probably never get to plot or character analysis! Oh geez, did I put that comma in the proper place??

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    1. It IS hard to turn of the inner editor when reading for beta purposes! I have to give myself a serious talking-to so I remember that many of the details will be changed anyway. I'm so glad I'm not alone in this.

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  25. Dear Lynda:

    Beta reader? Never knew to refer to them that way! Good to know. Thanks.

    Best regards,
    Elizabeth

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    1. Yes, sort of the "product testers" in the assembly line; that's the way I think of them.

      Thanks for the visit!

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  26. LOL. Wow, am I out of the loop. I had to look up beta reader. I've always called them critters, short for critique partners. I have to though, I've had some excellent critters along the way. My first one in 1994 was Jan Holloway, who has since passed on. After reading my first draft, she told me she wanted to throw the thing across the room. Wish she'd lived to see it published.

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    1. I love that: critters. Makes them sound so cuddly. Sounds like Jan Holloway was a gem with her honesty. I think the only difference between beta readers and critique partners is that CPs tend to be authors more often, and beta readers can be authors or simply readers who can spot plot holes and missing/incorrect details in the overall picture.

      Thanks for the visit and the comment!

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  27. "...keep in mind that the closer someone is to you emotionally, the harder it will be for them to tell you if there are flaws in your manuscript."
    I just alienate them by having them read my work. Trust me, after they read the kind of things my characters get up to, they're not that eager to be emotionally involved with me.

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    1. I see no flaw in your plan.

      I'm looking forward to reading Reprobate so I, too, can gain some emotional distance from you. :)

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    2. You better. You smell like an editor.

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