A Beta Reader is a person who reads your finished novel and gives you feedback on it before publication—while you still have time to make changes. The term “beta reader” has been adapted from the software industry, where programmers release a beta version of a new program to people who will test it. So think of this as someone “test driving” your book!
Having beta readers is an excellent step in writing your novel, as a good beta reader can vastly improve your book. They serve as a second pair of eyes, ensuring that what you’ve intended to write is really what you have written. A beta reader will read your entire manuscript and develop a personal response to it, uninfluenced by the opinions of others. And don’t think that using a beta reader implies that you’re an amateur or that you don’t know what you’re doing. Far from it! Using multiple beta readers (and analyzing their responses) is the mark of a true professional.
Some beta readers focus on grammar and spelling errors, and others are better at pointing out problems with the big picture. For instance, you know your protagonist inside and out, and therefore may forget that your reader does not. Vital character information may be lacking and perhaps you don’t even realize it! A beta reader can point this out, as well as plot holes, inconsistencies, and other problems with your book, and then you have time to fix these things before publishing.
A good beta reader is kind but firm, honest without squashing you as a writer, a well-rounded reader of both classical and modern literary and popular material, and preferably not related to you. This can be the hardest feature to find! Yes, your mother will probably happily read your book, but will she give you firm, honest feedback? Will your best friend be able to give you detailed advice without hurting your feelings? Probably not.
In the past, beta readers were simply avid readers who performed the task of offering free opinions in exchange for the pleasure of reading your book. Recently, however, some “professional” beta readers have begun charging a small fee. While it may be easier to find a paid beta reader than a free one, I caution you to find out beforehand exactly what you are paying for. In other words, what type of advice will you receive, and what experience does the paid beta reader have that allows him or her to provide “professional” feedback? If you’re paying for a service, you deserve to get what you paid for.
There is a Beta Reader Group on Goodreads, where you can ask for beta readers for your novel. The link is http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/50920-beta-reader-group. Also, Small Blue Dog Publishing has produced a series of articles on how to find beta readers and what to expect from them, answering questions like:
What makes a good beta reader?
How to find a beta reader
Is my book ready for beta readers yet?
Why you shouldn’t ask beta readers to do copy editing
Briefing a Beta Reader: The Approach
Briefing a Beta Reader: Practical Details
The brutal truth about beta readers
If you’re interested in—and serious about—using beta readers, you’ll want to read all of these excellent articles, listed on this page: http://www.smallbluedog.com/category/beta-readers.
We’re Dun for today, so keep on Writin’!
Owner, Adirondack Editing