Anna Questerly

Anna Questerly
Bookseller and bibliophile turned author, Anna Questerly writes medieval fiction and fairy tales for smart kids and young hearts. For adults, she creates Utopian fantasy as A.J. Questerly.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What Exactly is a Beta Reader?

One of my Twitter friends recently asked me this question, and since it takes more than 140 characters to answer, I thought I would share it here.

Beta readers are God’s gift to authors. These are the folks who read through an early draft of your novel, looking for the holes and gaps, you, as an author, are too close to see. They can be writers or readers, but ideally they enjoy the kind of book you are writing and are familiar with its genre.

Keep in mind, there are two steps in the editing process. The first is a story edit also called ‘Chunking Edits’ where major changes take place. The second is more of a line edit, focusing on word choice, descriptions, grammar and the like. Beta readers are perfect for your first round of editing.

They should be people you trust to tell you the truth, both good and bad about your book. What’s working, what’s not, what’s missing, what’s repetitive, and so on. They may offer suggestions and may even send your story in a different direction, as happened to me with The Minstrel’s Tale.

Whether you take their suggestions or not, their feedback is invaluable to authors. It’s your first glimpse at what readers think of your story.

They’re not looking for grammatical, punctuation errors, although they may find a few for you. They’re really great at making sure your story arc is on the mark, or that your characters have unique voices and don’t all sound the same. They may draw your attention to facts you have wrong or let you know when something isn’t clear. They will tell you if your character is doing something that doesn’t make sense. In short, they’ll find all the things Amazon reviewers will find if you publish without a good edit.

I use 5-7 beta readers with my novels, but I was able to have an entire 5th grade class beta read The Minstrel’s Tale.  They’re the ones who made me take the second book in a new direction.
So where do you find these readers?

I rounded up my first few Beta readers from authors I enjoyed working with in my critique group.  I also corralled friends and family members, and I captured a few at my bookstore when I noticed they were reading something similar. 

Do you need both a critique group and Beta readers?

I don’t think so. I loved being part of a critique group in my early attempts at writing. Their suggestions made me a better writer, but it takes a long time to get an entire novel through the critique group process. After my first book, I switched to Beta readers exclusively.  I know some authors who have always used critique group feedback, so there is no one right answer. Find what works for you as an author and keep tweaking your system.

What should I expect to pay a Beta Reader?

Most Beta Readers don't charge, thank goodness! But if you're asking an author to Beta Read for you, expect to reciprocate at some time in the future.

How do you keep your Beta Readers?

Once you find a few Beta Readers you respect and can work well with, don't forget to thank them in your acknowledgements and gift them a copy of your book upon its release.  

So what's an Alpha Reader?

An Alpha Reader is the person you trust the most to read your writing first. A spouse or best friend who gets you and can give you an almost unbiased critique works well. After making changes my Alpha catches, then I give the book to my Beta Readers.

Hope this helps! Feel free to add your opinions or experiences with Beta Reading in the comments.


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