Beta readers: essential or nice to have?

No, I’m not referring to a piece of computer hardware.

As I recently discovered, the term ‘beta reader’ refers to a person who reads a written work, such as a novel, with the intention of providing constructive feedback regarding everything from grammar and spelling to story structure and plot, prior to the story’s official publication.

Beta readers can be anyone – they can be friends, family, writers, editors, but ideally they must be avid readers (of that genre) and someone who is able to offer feedback constructively, in a reasonable time frame.

I’m lucky to have already had a few trusted beta readers early in the writing of Radiant, but were they absolutely necessary and what value did they add to the editing process?

For beta or worse?

So you’ve just completed your masterpiece. What now? Editing obviously. Nothing can replace the necessity or value a professional editor and proofreader can bring to your project, but you don’t want to waste their time or yours, so have a few trusted beta readers review your manuscript first.

Hopefully they’ll be able to bring some of the following to your project:

  • A fresh perspective: Writing is a solitary task, but even writers need someone to discuss their project with. I’d argue it’s essential. I’ve often found that in tossing something around with my beta readers they’ve come up with some great ideas and a fresh perspective that benefits my writing.
  • A reader’s viewpoint: the great thing about beta readers is that they are, you guessed it, readers! I’m not saying editors don’t read, but it’s their job to provide very objective, constructive feedback on your story structure, plot line and all the technical elements that go into making up a great read. Beta readers on the other hand will read it like they do any other novel and then let you know if it was entertaining, and ultimately, a good read.
  • Encouragement: I’m not advocating blind encouragement here. Trusted beta readers will be able to be honest with you about what they liked and didn’t like or what they felt wasn’t working with your manuscript. But they’re also on your side. They want you to succeed and they’re interested in your progress. It helps to have access to this type of encouragement on the sidelines from time to time when you’re continually pushing yourself to write, write, write.

For future books, beta readers will be an inevitable step on my journey to self-publishing. How about you? What are your good or bad experiences with beta readers?

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