Let’s talk about betas for a minute… No, not those colorful fish that occupy offices and college dorm rooms. Beta readers. If you’re not familiar with the term, don’t worry, beta readers often times work tirelessly in the sidelines with authors to help polish and make an author’s work the best it possibly can be. Beta readers receive a manuscript well before publication and help the author by reading it and discussing characterization, plot, consistency, or any number of issues. Basically, Santa has elves and writers have beta readers.
If this is your first time hearing about beta readers you may be wondering how this differs from an editor, another important member of the publication process. The simplest way to put it, is that betas often times do not function as editors. They aren’t looking at the grammar or spelling of the work. They’re also usually in the author’s target audience and their opinions are employed as feedback to assess what the “typical reader” may be thinking and reacting to the work. Of course, there are many different relationships between authors and betas, this is just my experience and application.
So why do authors have beta readers?
I promise you it’s not to drive you crazy with the knowledge that someone, somewhere has access to the novel before you do. (And, trust me when I say, you likely do not want the novel in those early stages. My betas have had to slog through some rough edits.) It’s because authors and artists need feedback. We’re so close to our own work, in every character’s head, know all the nuances of the plot, that we see the connections and can forget to make sure the reader has a clear path to arrive at the right conclusions.
Many authors employ beta readers. In fact, sometimes, it’s the fans themselves who get brought on as beta readers because they’re fiercely loyal to the world and follow it closely. One such example is the currently reigning king of high fantasy, George R.R. Martin. He had two fans who had followed A Song of Ice and Fire’s universe so closely that he hired them as fact checkers.
Personally, I currently have four beta readers. The first is my cover artist zwxART, who gets early copies to create the artwork from and gives me her feedback on the story, digging deep into the characters. One beta is involved in publishing and marketing as well, and I leverage her knowledge from the perspective of what will “sell.” Another is one of my best friends who has a critical eye and isn’t afraid to tell me how it is. Finally, the last beta was added to the fold was a reader who really impressed me with a review.
My betas have helped me cull out problems in character motives, sloppy storytelling, and questionable plot progressions. I draft the manuscript and then edit it myself, then send it to my betas for review. I’d say up to 40% of the work can be changed by beta feedback, to emphasize how important they are to the final product. Then, the manuscript gets edited by me once more and sent to my editor for the first round of editing.
If you’re interested in becoming a beta reader there are some online forums (like Goodreads) that have places where authors and willing beta readers can connect. The best thing I can encourage is for you to work with an author you truly enjoy in a genre you read a lot in. Don’t be so excited by the idea of getting “advanced copies” that you miss the point of beta reading: to help the author grow. It’s a tiresome job that can require quick reading and lots of questions from an author who has you on speed dial. But, you can also have the unique opportunity to see how you directly affect some of your favorite stories.
My debut novel, Air Awakens, has been vetted through all my beta readers and editors. You can preorder it on Amazon until August 27th, 2015 when it will be available for regular sale. A young adult fantasy romance, Air Awakens is a blend of the hopeful romance of Cinderella and the dark magic and mystery of the Phantom of the Opera.
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