Why I Beta Read... And Why You Should Too

So I have been lucky in the last few months to serve as a beta reader for a handful of writers, reading both short stories and full-length novels. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience and I wanted to take today’s blog to explain exactly why I beta read and why you should, too.

First, for those in the room who may be new to the scene, let’s figure out what a beta reader is. Taken right from Wikipedia, a beta reader is…

A non-professional reader who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting. Beta reading it typically done before the story is released for public consumption. Beta readers are not explicitly proofreaders or editors, but can serve in that context.

Elements highlighted by beta readers encompass things such as plot holes, problems with continuity, characterization or believability.
— Wikipedia

A rather lengthy description, but it does not leave much to the imagination. A beta reader is someone who is not a professional editor (or at least not acting in that capacity) who will read your work and help point out the good, the bad, and the ugly. They are a critiquer of your work, so make sure you are prepared for a little self-realization when you get a beta reader, or at least grow a thick skin for it.

So why do people beta read? Well you can do it for a number of reasons. I do it for both selfish and altruistic reasons. The selfishness comes into play because I get to not only read a story, but give my input and feedback, and I can come away with the satisfaction that I have helped improve something.

The altruistic reason should be obvious. I get to help people who are trying to pursue their passion. No one writes a story or book because they have to, at least not indie authors. So you have this piece of literature that they have slaved over for years, potentially, and they are looking for ways to improve it. I will do everything I can to make that happen for them! I don’t need glory or public praise, just knowing that I helped - and maybe a simple thank you - is reason enough to beta read.

And my own work has improved because of some great beta readers, too! It is not always easy hearing about the flaws or weaknesses in your work, but I can attest to the importance of it. Just yesterday I rewrote half a chapter based on some beta feedback I received and the difference in quality is astounding! Never underestimate what a second, third, or fourth set of eyes can do.

An important thing to remember about beta reading, however, is that you do not want too many eyes. You may end up getting conflicting remedies for your problems, or just an overload of feedback that it does not actually end up helping! What I do advise, however, is to split the beta reading up into multiple rounds. Archangel has been through one round of beta testing, which prompted some dramatic reworking. After the changes have been made, I will subject it to a second round and then probably even a third. You can use the same beta testers across rounds, but it will always be good to have at least one fresh set of eyes with each iteration.

Finally, and most importantly, do not think that beta reading can take the place of professional editing. That is not the point of beta reading, even if it does point out grammar and spelling mistakes. Always be sure that your manuscript gets a thorough rundown by a certified, educated professional. Beta reading is great for the story, editing is great for the reader. No one wants to read a book riddled with errors.

In the comments below, let me know about your experience in beta reading. I will hopefully be looking for readers for a second round of beta reading come the end of March/beginning of April, so keep your eyes and your ears peeled for that if you are interested. Until then, I will be lost in someone else’s world, but with a red pen close at hand.