Everyone knows you don’t just write the rough draft of a novel or short story, then put it between covers the next month and sell it as complete. One tool many of us use in addition to editors is to use Beta readers.
Beta readers aren’t the same as critique groups. The latter offer much more technical assistance than beta readers. Belinda Pollard and Small Blue Dog Publishing makes the case very simply:
Beta testers find the bugs and improve the software’s usability before the final “release” version goes on sale. A beta reader tests your manuscript (by reading it), and tells you about the ‘bugs’ so you can improve its readability, its usefulness and even its saleability.
Got it, Belinda!
How Beta Readers and Critique Partners Differ
We use beta readers and critique partners for very different, but related reasons. Bridgid Gallagher offers her sense of how critique groups differ from beta readers on her website.
Critique groups or partners focus on your writing, looking at style, flow, etc. They are looking for the technical things that make for crisp, understandable writing. They approach this work in a professional manner, since most of them are writers themselves.
Beta readers focus on the how your work appears to the average reader. They will look at your work with that lens and give you valuable feedback, such as:
Did they like it?
Did the work make sense?
Was it confusing at all?
Is the work clear, or did they have to work to understand what was going on?
This last point is important because as writers, we have a lot of stuff in our heads. Some of that “stuff” is background information on characters, situations and scenarios that don’t make it into our novels. Yet sometimes it’s that “stuff” that would make some transition or event in our novel come alive—but it just isn’t there. Beta readers also help us identify those things that are crystal clear to us, but they couldn’t find in the novel even after reading it twice. Having beta readers in our corner is very valuable in helping our writing be clear not to other writers, but to common readers—in other word’s, our audience.
How to find them
There are lots of ways to find beta readers, and many websites have lists for this. Some suggest joining a writer’s group in your community. Others point to NaNoWriMo and their forums as a way of finding beta readers: that’s what I did. Fanni Suto suggested using Scribophile, an online source, while others suggest finding beta readers at writing workshops. Belinda Pollard also suggests using experts based on the work itself. For example, when writing a police procedural, finding a beta reader in law enforcement might be worth your time.
Most every writer who uses beta readers recommends cultivating a positive and long relationship with them because of the value they can bring to our writing. A very good idea indeed.