Friday, 27 June 2014

The Importance of Beta Readers

This is something I’ve been thinking about recently, as I am swiftly approaching the point (with at least one of my WIPs) where I will need to start recruiting a few new beta readers of my own. I believe they are one of the most vital parts of any Indie authors’ ‘toolbox’.
The simple fact is that for a lot of Indie authors, myself included, the amount of money spent preparing an MS for publishing is a big issue, and getting a professional editor simply may not fit into the budget. And if you can’t afford one the next best option is a beta reader – or more than one if you can find them.
One of the biggest challenges with editing a book is that often as the writer we are simply too close to it to see the errors. We know what we meant to say, so it’s hard to tell when we haven’t quite achieved our goal. The typos are invisible to us.
I know that first hand! I edited The Last Knight before I published it a million times (more or less) and never once noticed that I had the word ‘roast’ in place of the word ‘road’. A pretty glaring error you would think.
The same goes for grammar. Sometimes you catch the errors, and sometimes you don’t. Another set of eyes can be an enormous help.
But a beta reader is more than just a human version of spell check. Your beta reader is quite often the first person who will see the novel. They’re the first person to lay eyes on this baby you’ve created. And they should be able to tell you which darlings you need to kill.
Your beta reader is also a good barometer of how your novel is going to be received by other readers. Did it make sense to them? Did it make them laugh? Or cry?
But finding a good beta reader is more than just handing your MS off to the first person who offers to read it. You need to trust them. Not only because you need to be sure they’re going to give you an honest opinion.
A good beta reader is going to tell you to change things – quite possibly things that you might love. You need to be able to trust their judgement.
Here’s where it becomes helpful to have more than one beta reader. Personally I like three. That way I’m not relying on one person’s opinion. After all, reading is such a subjective thing. I like three because then if one person tells me they dislike something, or think something is a problem, but the other two disagree I probably won’t change it. If two out of the three agree then I know I need to take a serious look at the problem they’re pointing out. If all three of them agree then I don’t even hesitate to change it. It’s worked for me so far.
Here are the things I think you should be asking your beta reader to look out for:
The small stuff like:
Typos (Obviously)
Missing words, sentences that don’t work etc.
The big stuff:
Plot, plot, plot. Does it make sense? Are there glaring holes? Overly confusing twists?
Dialogue. This is one of the hardest things to get right. And unrealistic dialogue can destroy an otherwise good book.
Overall feel of the book. If you’re going for something darker, have you created the right atmosphere? If it’s comedy, is it lighthearted enough?
Characters. Which characters do they love? Which ones drive them nuts? If you intended the character to be annoying that’s good, but if they’re finding your MC infuriating you might need to think again.
At the end of the day however your beta readers will only be able to make suggestions. In the end it’s up to you what you change and what you don’t.
Now go and rock on!


  1. So true! Leti was enormously helpful with feedback and ideas for GOLD DIGGERS--I doubt I could've pulled it off without her! Thanks so much, Leti! Ellen

  2. First of all, I don't agree with you on one subject: I don't think beta-readers should be asked to look at the "small stuff", as you call it. Grammar mistakes, typos and missing words are the work of the proofreader, and it should be the last step before publishing. The suggestions given by beta-readers may lead to big (or small) changes in the content of the book. What do you do if there are mistakes in the parts that you have rewritten? Besides, looking for errors can be very distracting. The beta-reader might not be able to focus on the more important parts, the "big stuff".
    Second: where do you find beta-readers? I am curious.