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Beta Readers - What They Are and Are Not!

Updated: Dec 15, 2019

Hey, Writer! So you're at the stage in the noveling process where you're ready to reach out to beta readers - congrats! This is such a fun and important step; like early screenings of a movie, beta reader feedback gives you an idea of what receptivity might be like when it comes to your book! Some authors choose to forgo this step, but most look for anywhere from 2-10 beta readers and even go through multiple rounds to acquire feedback.

Having gone through this process a couple times, I wanted to do a series to help fellow writers maximize their beta reader experience. So in this first blog post we're going to talk about what Beta Readers ARE and ARE NOT:

1.  They ARE Your First Real Audience

As mentioned above, beta readers are a bit of a test audience; they give you a scope on how your book will be received. The great thing about this is that the people you solicit for beta readership don't have to be writers themselves! If you have an avid reader friend or family member who doesn't understand the technicalities of writing, that is just fine - as long as they can approach from a reader's perspective, they can beta!

2. They ARE NOT a substitute for EDITORS or CRITIQUE PARTNERS

This one confused me for a long time, but thanks to some research I finally got these three separated in my mind: an EDITOR looks for technical or content errors in a draft and gives you pointers to improve; CRITIQUE PARTNERS are often fellow writers with whom you enter a working partnership where you dive deep into each other's drafts and give advice on what works and what doesn't; a BETA READER is simply that - a reader. It's not their job to catch errors or give you content edits. They can tell you what works for them and what doesn't, but their approach is primarily from the perspective of any reader off the streets. It's important not to heap expectation on your betas that they edit for you or give you critiques, because that will take them out of the "audience" role and into the "technical" role.

3. They ARE In A Working Relationship with You

While a beta reader doesn't have the same role & responsibilities as an Editor or CP, they are still not the same as a general audience or even an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) recipient. Beta readers work with you on your timetable to give you their feedback on your story's impact so you can make necessary adjustments within your publication timeframe. Some people can offer their betas weeks or even months to read the book; I've partaken in a couple beta reading rounds where I had about two weeks to read and give feedback because that was the turnaround time the author.

Because you're in a working relationship with your betas, it's important to communicate professionally and clearly on expectations; I'll go into this in more detail in my next blog, so stay tuned!

4. They ARE NOT Your Only Audience

I struggled with this one a lot when I first started reaching out to beta readers; I was not careful in how I chose my betas and I ended up with some feedback on how people wanted me to change my book, and even some who didn't like it very much. By the same token I have beta'd for people and ended up not enjoying their books - yet those books went on to have overwhelmingly 4-5 star reviews!

The point is that, just like with a broader audience, all your betas may not enjoy your book; this is not reason for you to quit. It does not mean you failed, nor does it mean you have to change your book fundamentally to please your betas (more on that in a later blog, too). Keep a healthy approach and mindset to this process and remember that no book is right for everyone. That can include your beta reader pool!

What are some things you have learned about beta readers as you work with them? Let me know in the comments below!