Beta readers - the secret weapon

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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4 comments:

  1. I have about 10. Between them they're either not-quite-friends enough to have a motive to lie to me, or such great friends that they could tell me my work completely sucks and know I'd still buy them coffee and cake. I always go back to the scenes that my readers tell me don't quite work; it's usually straightforward to fix.

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  2. That sounds like the optimal kind of readers. Friends might be afraid to hurt your feelings, but close friends will be honest.

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  3. I just sent mine out to two friends of a friend. I don't know them. I gave them a check list to fill out after each chapter and when they are done, I'll take them out for coffee. I might have a shot of brandy first, squeeze my eyes shut and hunch my shoulders before they open fire.

    If I'm still alive, I'll post how it goes.

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  4. Janet Aldrich (tec4)Nov 24, 2010, 8:40:00 AM

    Not so much with my flash fiction, but the fanfic/connected universe writing I do, because they tend to be much longer pieces. I have a couple of good friends -- one a published writer -- who go over those stories without mercy. And I appreciate them very much!

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