Faye Arcand, My Twisted Writer Brain…

Do You Really Know What a Beta Reader is?

The term beta-reader gets tossed around like an author’s rite of passage, but you need to decide if it’s right for you. You may want to consider an alpha-reader first.

It’s really all about timing.

An alpha is the first to read your manuscript (not the beta). We don’t hear too much about them but they are key to getting a manuscript ready for beta-readers.

So, let’s take a look at what each is and when to engage outside readers.

A beta-reader (or second reader, if you like), is one who reads through your completed, rewritten, and self-edited manuscript to then let you know what worked, what’s missing, and questions raised.

They are casual readers but are aware that their comments, criticisms, and/or findings could impact the work immensely. The beta reader should be given clear direction and questions on what to do and what to look for. They’re reading for reading sake but with all antenna up.

A beta-reader is providing an opinion on your work and an agreement must be entered into with an understanding of what is expected and acceptable for both sides. This is important because any time there is a critique involved, feelings can be hurt. For a beta-read to be a success there needs to be an element of trust and professionalism.

When an author choses to use a beta-readers they’re taking a chance that others are seeing what they intended. The author is therefore vulnerable to criticism and must be prepared for judgement.

Let me explain.

As writers, we isolate ourselves in our projects to pour out the deepest, and sometimes darkest, parts of ourselves. The pages are full of who we are.

Or, so we think.

The question is, did it make it to the page?

Sometimes, writers will get so caught up in what they’re doing, that the craft or story falls short of what’s in the mind of the creator. So when a writer visualizes a scene thats so techno-color clear to them, they may not realize whether or not it’s translating onto the page.

These are the things you want your beta-readers to recognize. Perhaps a scene lacks clarity or maybe the author went off the tracks somewhere without realizing it. Maybe the manuscript should have spent more time with the alpha.

What about the alpha reader?

If you’re using an Alpha-Reader which is someone who reads the work before you’ve done a final rewrite or do final prep for publication, you need someone who knows the craft of writing to be your reader. If your alpha doesn’t know the difference between passive and active voice or show don’t tell, then you could have issues.

An alpha reader is in the trenches with the writer. Working through the early drafts and the mess that a manuscript can be.

The alpha-reader is looking for such as:

  • use of passive voice.
  • too much tell
  • tension
  • flow
  • plot flaws
  • believability
  • characters likability
  • extraneous prose
  • dialogue–use and tags
  • overall impression
  • sensitivity read (cultural)

Now, the beta reader may be looking for similar things but on a more directed basis as the author will prepare specific questions for the reader.

An alpha or beta-reader is not there to fix things or tell you what would work–that’s up to the author to figure out in conjunction with an editor.

Using someone with industry experience does make a difference because it can catch a lot of different things that a reader such as your mom or next door neighbor may not see.

Should you pay for a beta read?

You can if you want, but be warned that by paying it doesn’t mean you’re going to get any better advice or service than if you asked your writing group to read it.

After the Beta Read:

So, you sent your book to five people and they completed your questions but also came back with remarks about writing style etc. Now What?

Well, it can be pretty overwhelming to be hit with a bunch of different opinions about your work so either jump right in and read them all at once or read individually to absorb the thoughts of the reader.

Remember, readers and writers are all different.

Don’t rush in and start changing everything. Check for similar comments. For example, if you have four out of five readers really disliking your main character then you may have a major issue.

Remember that opinion is subjective and not everyone likes the same thing. The artistic endeavor is one that leaves you vulnerable and open to interpretation and judgment.

Why Bother?

There’s no rule anywhere that says you need to use either an alpha or beta reader but I believe they can make your final product better.

The choice is always yours.

Sadly, many rush to publish and what could have been a great book is overlooked as mediocre.

By using outside readers before publication and final revisions the product will get stronger every time. Whether or not the author can deal with that is another story altogheter.

6 thoughts on “Do You Really Know What a Beta Reader is?”

  1. Hi Faye,

    Great column. So practical, clear and straightforward. My knowledge around BETA readers has always been quite hazy. Just now learning more with the second book in the works. How are you doing through all this craziness? Your column production is impressive!! I am slugging away trying to get a first draft of the new book done by the end of March, all the while marketing the Nepal book. I’m becoming the queen of the podcast interview! I have done four (to be aired in Jan/Feb) with about six more to go. Sales have slowed down some but I just keep slugging away. I think I’ve sold about 500 so far. I welcome any and all marketing ideas.

    Take good care of yourself. I long for a writer’s conference – in person – real writing colleagues!! Hope we don’t all have to wait TOO long.

    Stay well, Patti

    1. Thanks for stopping by Patti. Yes, I keep writing. I guess I have a lot to say. lol. So glad to hear you’re onto your second book. Those first drafts take so much time. Thanks for the tip re: marketing…I’ll throw out a couple of articles on just that. So important when you have to do it all alone. The podcasts are awesome tho. Did you connect with Josh? And, I too long long long for a in-person conference. We’re slated for september but…it’s pretty dicey at this point. Will have to wait and see. If I hear of anything specific re: your Nepal book I’ll let you know. And watch for articles on marketing. Thx. xo

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