The Importance of Beta Readers

What I Learned the Hard Way

My first novel (the soon to be released yet untitled fantasy) took me 6 years to write. One reason was that at times I worked on some other major projects and put the novel to the side. Another reason was I was still struggling to grasp some of the fundamentals of the craft of writing.

But one big reason was I was writing alone. I wasn’t getting feedback.

Sure, I got some along the way. But it wasn’t consistent, and very few people read the whole manuscript from start to finish. So they didn’t have a good sense of the flow of the story.

My second novel (Magic Ties, coming in 2020) has only been a year in the works. I accomplished in one year what took me five before. A big part of that has been feedback.

Thanks to the gang over at The Write Practice, I had a small but dedicated group of readers who read my chapters each week and offered valuable comments and criticism. Priceless.

Getting regular feedback as I wrote told me what was working, what wasn’t, and what I needed to tweak on the next draft. Between the feedback and some other tricks I’ve learned along the way, I feel confident that I have a solid draft.

The Next Phase: Beta Readers

Which means now I’m ready for beta readers. At least, what I think of as beta readers.

There are some people who think of beta readers as people who give the manuscript one last read right before publication. They’re looking for ways to polish the prose or to spot that last stubborn typos that refuse to go way.

While I see a value in that, I think beta readers’ input is vital earlier in the process.

To my way of thinking, beta readers are the kind and selfless souls who willingly read an unpolished manuscript. They offer their comments about flow of the story, what they liked and didn’t like. They point out places that are boring or confusing. Characters who are annoying. Or others who don’t talk like human beings. They spot plot holes and inconsistencies.

My Experience with Beta Readers

I’ve used beta readers, both for my first book, Beyond the Rapids, and a few years ago on an earlier draft of that novel I’m close to finishing. While I got some good feedback, I learned quite of few things.

The first is that many people can’t handle giving honest feedback. So they content themselves to correcting typos. That’s disappointing. I learned I need to give clear and complete instructions.

Others are the reverse. They delight in giving their criticisms in the harshest or most condescending language possible. I learned they are trolls, to thank them graciously and end the conversation. And to take the time to see if there is any validity to what they said, and to ignore them if they were wrong.

Then there are those who offer thoughtful comments, both positive and negative in the spirit of being helpful and encouraging. I learned to be exceedingly grateful to these people, who showed me strengths and weaknesses in my writing I wasn’t able to see on my own. And they sparked new ideas for making my story stronger.

My Need for Beta Readers

So why this discussion about beta readers? It’s because I’m in need of some. Before doing any more revisions to Magic Ties, I want some more feedback. I want to know if the story entertains and intrigues. If readers root for the characters and resonate with their struggles.

And I also want to know where the story falls flat. Where it doesn’t make sense. Or where readers lose interest. I want to know the flaws in the story. Far better to hear about them in a private email than on a public review on Amazon.

So…. If an author ever invites you to be a beta reader, accept the invitation. You’ll become a valuable part of the publishing team and any comments you give will be appreciated. Who knows, some of your ideas could end up in the finished book!

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