Thursday, April 2, 2015

A to Z Challenge: B is for Beta Readers

Welcome to April. With its customary showers comes the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For those who are unfamiliar with it:
The brainchild of Arlee Bird, at Tossing it Out, the A to Z Challenge is posting every day in April except Sundays (we get those off for good behavior.) And since there are 26 days, that matches the 26 letters of the alphabet. On April 1, blog about something that begins with the letter “A.” April 2 is “B,” April 3 is “C,” and so on. You can use a theme for the month or go random – just as long as it matches the letter of the alphabet for the day. (Source) 
The A to Z Challenge is a great way to get into the blogging habit and make new friends. For more details and its history, go HERE 

My theme this year is EDITING

I'll be posting practical advice for editing any story, novel, or other piece of writing. Editing is something most authors struggle with, and after years of doing my own as well as that of others, I have a pretty good eye for what needs work. I'll be doing short posts on editing topics and (hopefully) dispensing simple, valuable advice to help everyone out there self-edit.

B is for Beta Readers!

Beta readers (also called alpha readers, pre-readers, or critquers) are simply the first readers you give your work to in order to get reader feedback before presenting a finished product to the world.

For me, I call them my writing group. Me and a group of local authors exchange pages weekly (as near as possible) and edit one another's work for plot, character arcs, mechanical issues, continuity, and any other issues that may arise. 

Beta writers are immensely important for all writers and people telling a story. Often what a piece of writing sounds like in our own heads isn't what it will read like to others. Beta readers help with this.

My writing group has basically taught me how to edit. By listening to the things I hear from them over and over again, I learn my own strengths and crutches and how to play to them. I also learn from editing the stuff my group has written and incorporating my advice to them into my own writing. 

Recently I sent some edits back to a professional editor for one of my books which is being traditionally published. She said I had a good eye for words and editing, and most of the edits I had made were ones she would have made herself. I guarantee you this is NOT an innate talent. Rather, I have learned this from consistent, week-to-week contact with my beta readers.

So here's my advice on finding great beta readers:

1) Find readers that "get" your work. Sometimes you'll have a beta reader who will always give you negative feedback and that's because what you're writing just isn't their thing. Find readers that understand your work so they can help you to make it better, rather than just criticizing in an unhelpful way.

2) I find that having other writers as beta readers is immensely advantageous. We all recognize our flaws in the writing of others and vise versa. We can tell each other to get out of our "writer" voices and into the reader's head, without causing insult. Let's face it. Having others read/edit your work requires a thick skin, and having other writers who empathize makes it much easier.

3) Reciprocate. Always do things for your group that you would like them to do for you. Don't expect people to give up their precious free time to edit your work for free, and get nothing in return. 

4) Keep an open mind. Always be gracious about their edits. Keep an open mind to what they are trying to say, rather than being defensive. This is bar-none the fastest way to learn and grow as an author and improve your writing.

5) Get plenty of work done, but also have fun. Editing doesn't have to be a tense, serious activity. My writing group are some of my best friends. We spend the first ten minutes of group talking about our weeks, swapping funny stories, and talking about fun, upcoming plans. I look forward to group because it's genuinely enjoyable. Love, trust, and be friends. No one will understand you like your writing group.

**One caveat I will list is that while using other authors as beta readers is definitely recommended, it is also true that authors read manuscripts differently than other readers do. It may also be a good idea to have another group of beta readers who are not authors to get a more general impression about how your book will be received after you have fine-tuned your manuscript.

What kind of beta readers do you use?


  1. Great stuff. I'm always on the lookout for beta readers... a good one is hard to find!

  2. An open mind is a necessity!
    I have critique partners, but the first to see my work are my test readers. They aren't writers, but readers of science fiction. They help with the overall story.

    1. That's good. Having readers who understand the genre you write in is definitely a plus. I've run into that problem before with my critique group. Thanks Alex!

  3. I did not know about Beta readers...thanks for sharing:) Visiting from A-Z.

  4. Fantastic advice! Beta readers are crucial; I honestly don't know where I'd be without mine. And I love your point about finding readers who are not necessarily authors, because you're right -- they may notice totally different things.

  5. I never realized how important beta readers are but they sound essential.

    1. For me, they definitely are. Thanks Maurice! :D