B is for Beta Readers.
When I started writing my debut novel, PAINTING BY NUMBERS, I had no idea what the hell a beta reader was – some kind of Ancient Greek Newscaster I wondered. But when I was about a hundred pages into the book, I met a published author who explained who these strange beings were and why they play such an essential part of the writing process.
Just in case you don’t know, basically, a Beta reader is a critical reader, someone you trust with your manuscript who will give you an honest and constructive critique of your work in progress. Those two words HONEST and CONSTRUCTIVE are very important. The last thing you need is some ill-informed eejit telling you that your work is brilliant when it stinks, or telling you it stinks without any positive suggestions for improvement. That’s why I wouldn’t recommend friends or family – it’ll only end in tears or a bloodbath. The best beta readers are perhaps fellow writers or people who read a lot and can offer informed and constructive ideas about what they think is right and wrong with the story so far. I don’t pay them any money . (I am Scottish after all) We have a reciprocal agreement and I beta read their work.
My beta readers were life savers when it came to helping me improve by book. They spotted a range of issues from plot holes and problems with the narrative arc, historical and technical inaccuracies, through to droopy dialogues and character developmental issues.
Some writers have up to half a dozen beta readers on the go, but for me I prefer three. Three readers will give you a range of views and suggestions, and from that you can then work out how to improve or develop your work. One beta reader is not enough and for my money six or more could only confuse me. And unless you are very confident or super stupid, don’t be tempted to submit your half conceived baby to one of those open online critical forums that proliferate the web. The stakes are too high to allow complete strangers to kick the living daylights out of your work.
It’s also important to stress that my beta readers are not editors or proof readers. Betas are reading for content, structure and overall flow (unless you want them to do more than that of course) But it is worth employing a good editor as well, to scrutinise your work in microscopic detail and pick up any issues that you or your beta readers may have missed.
Finally, you may also wish to consider a gamma reader who is not a senior Ancient Athenian butcher, but someone who reads the finished manuscript for the first time with a fresh pair of eyes.
So if you are in the middle of a book or considering starting one, do yourself a huge favour and go get yourself some critical support.. after all, writing is more of a team effort than many would have you believe.
THE PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE FINALIST – PAINTING BY NUMBERS – a dark, surreal thriller is available in digital and print formats from Amazon UK/Amazon US and all good online stores.