A beta reader is someone who will read your story after you think it's finished, but before you submit it. Beta readers do NOT exist to tell you how wonderful you and your writing are. That's what your mom is for.
The idea is to get a fresh set of eyes to go over your manuscript to catch all the flaws that you have become blind to. What flaws am I talking about? What do you want your beta reader to be looking for? It varies.
You should not ask your beta reader to check for spelling, grammar, verb tense violations, etc. That's the sort of thing you should be able to spot yourself. Point of view violations tend to creep in without us noticing, so those can be fair game. Sometimes you want a beta reader to check for stumbles in narrative flow, or get a sense of the believability of character motivations.
As an example, when a beta reader says, "It seems out of character for X to do Y.", YOU SHOULD LISTEN. Think about either changing the action, fleshing out or changing the character, or both. Nuance of character behavior separate decent books from good or great ones.
Treat beta readers kindly, and remember: they are doing you a favor by pointing out the stains on your tie.
I don't ask anyone to beta read my FridayFlash stories before posting them on this blog, although if I'm going to submit them for publication elsewhere, I do. What about you? How do you use beta readers?
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