The Lost Gift to Writers: Beta Readers

The Lost Gift to Writers: Beta Readers

While at NASFiC, I attended a panel titled “Editing vs Beta Reading” and wished I could have been on the panel, as I had more to add! 🙂 Instead, you’ll have to catch me at the South Hill Library in November, where I’ll be talking more in-depth about how my background in editing has impacted my writing.

In the meantime, I’d like to share some of my notes and thoughts from the panel.

First off: authors need BOTH editors and beta readers.

Perhaps I should offer a definition first, so the difference is made clearer.

An editor is paid, a beta reader is not.

Just kidding, there’s more to it than that.

It’s also not as simple as saying, “Beta readers come first, before finding a publisher.” This isn’t true for the self-published world where the two meld together, nor even the traditionally published, where there’s still definitely a use for both.

One of my biggest pet peeves is the amount of errors that slip through the cracks into traditionally published works these days. I’m talking The Big Ones, too. For example, I stopped reading Philippa Gregory because her editor obviously decided it was easier to just publish her without checking her. I much prefer Alison Weir these days because she was a distinguished nonfiction writer first, and her historical fiction shows it.

This happens frequently with the big names these days. Most readers (that is, millions of readers), don’t care if the major authors are edited. Readers are going to buy their books anyway, and that’s what the publisher counts on. There’s only a minuscule few who will stop reading an author they love because of the amount of grammatical errors contained within their books. Or historical, or scientific, or…but that’s another topic. 😉

So in my opinion, ALL authors should use beta readers. They’re a lost gift to writers. But what are they?

Beta readers are the first people to read a book and offer their thoughts on the story. They’re like the pre-content editor, or pre-developmental editor. They’re not there to check grammar, line edit, or even continuity edit (though depending on the person, they may attempt to offer their expertise in these areas anyway).

Mary Robinette Kowal (Hugo award-winning author of The Lady Astronaut and Glamourist Histories series) gave this description on Writing Excuses (the most incredible podcast for writers—if you’ve never listened to it, I cannot recommend it strongly enough!):

A beta reader reads for the ABCD’s: Awesome, Boring, Confused, Didn’t Believe.

Author Dan Wells (also an incredible author who just wrote his first historical fiction which I can’t wait to read!) on Writing Excuses describes beta readers as the ones who give you the symptoms of what’s wrong with your book, but don’t prescribe the medicine. In other words, they tell you what they liked and didn’t like about a character, plot point, setting detail, etc., but they don’t try to tell you how to fix it. That’s up to you, the author.

That’s it. And they offer their thoughts for free! Why wouldn’t you find beta readers??

AFTER you make all the changes a beta reader offers, then you can decide what you think you need next. Some books, like historical fiction books especially, may require an expert reader. For my book, I had a professional blacksmith, a train buff, an expert on Japanese Americans in the Pacific Northwest, the head of the Spokane police history museum, and the head of the Campbell House museum check my book for authenticity. Not to mention all the local Spokanites from the Spokane History Buffs Facebook group who graciously offered to give their critique! I’ll be thanking every one of my beta readers by name when I’m published, but until then, they all did it just to be a part of the process, and to know that their opinion has made my book all the better.

It frankly gives me such a peace of mind to know all of them have read my book and signed off on it. I know there will still be those who think I missed something, but there will always be critics. Especially where history is concerned, which is as biased as we think it is unbiased.

And then, after all this, there’s still the editor—editors. But I’ll go into that next time. Come back next week, same writing time, same writing channel, to hear just how many editors a book really needs.

Interested in being my beta reader? Contact me through my website today to get in on my next work in progress!

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