The Beta Reader

by Betty Kuffel

Writing “The End” at the finale of a work of fiction is a great achievement. You can sit back and take a break. Let the novel sit for a while. Do something else. Maybe think about your next book or take a few days off to clear your thoughts before beginning rewrites and self-editing.

For most writers, edits are numerous and tedious. Check for repeated words, sentence structure, believable dialogue and make sure subplots enhanced the storyline. When you are satisfied, only then is it time to share the manuscript with a beta reader.

What exactly is a beta reader? A manuscript reader poised to provide the specific feedback you request. They are usually non-professionals who critique a completed manuscript. If you are in a critique group, your writing has been repeatedly evaluated so you may be accustomed to some negative input, but inexperienced writers are often sensitive and intolerant to changing words or even altering dialogue. This is the time to be openminded and listen carefully to the reader’s opinions.

Who you choose matters. You might ask friends, family, or co-workers. However, your mother may love it the way it is and provide no meaningful feedback. Co-workers and friends are not a good choice, either. Offending you or hurting your feelings by pointing out negative aspects can harm personal or workplace relationships.

Timing and purpose for beta readers varies. The beta reader request should specify the type of feedback you want. An essential beta read should be timed to incorporate accepted suggestions into the manuscript before proceeding to hire a professional editor. If you have published, during the pre-release period, you might ask a beta reader to provide an online book review in exchange for an autographed copy. Some professional editors will also beta read for a fee.

The best beta reader is a prolific reader in your genre. Someone able to evaluate and analyze your work with a thoughtful critical eye and able to provide feedback before you pay for a professional edit.

When you have chosen a beta reader be sure to prepare a list of questions you would like addressed in the critique. Here are a few examples:

Please suggest word changes and sentence structure clarification.

Did you relate to the characters? Were they believable? Is the dialogue natural?

Did you notice confusing parts or areas that lagged or didn’t move the story forward?

In the beginning, did you learn the setting, story and meet the main character soon enough?

Is there enough intrigue, conflict and tension to keep you interested.?

Was the ending satisfying?

Any general comments would be appreciated.

After you have read the critique, remember, you don’t have to follow any of the suggestions. It is your book, your story, and sometimes a critique can be brutal, changing your storyline and incompatible with your thoughts on the book. If you trust this person, once you recover from the body blows, be sure to look at the manuscript with a critical eye. There may be a glaring hole in the story that you missed.

Completing a beta read critique and manuscript adjustments are giant steps toward publication.

Best wishes and happy writing in the New Year.

Betty Kuffel

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