Tuesday, July 14, 2015
So, Uh, What's a Beta Reader?
In the world of software development, when something has gone into beta, that means that it's been released to a few people to try it out so they can work out the bugs before it's launched on a broader scale.
In the world of book writing, a beta reader is the second person to read the manuscript as it's in development. Meaning, you write it, so you're the alpha reader (and being the alpha is cool, as we learn from psychology), and then you send it to a beta reader. It's important to make this distinction so we understand the critique process and we're using each step most effectively. The beta reader's job is to take a look at your story while it's still in development. This is the stage where you can change characterization and plot and motive and pretty much rip everything to shreds and start from scratch, and it's the beta's job to tell you if that's needed.
You can get a beta-type evaluation from a couple of different sources. Your critique group, for instance, could fill that role for you, as can a one-on-one critique partner. I've used all of the above. But the most important thing to understand is that now is not the time for a paid editor. You need to send the book through a couple of other readers first or you'll just be wasting money. If your editor is having to point out a ton of things that should have been caught by beta readers, you'll just have to go back and have it edited again after the simple mistakes are caught, and that gets expensive. Hiring an editor should be your second-to-last step before submission or publication, the last step being a proofreader.
Anyway, back to betas. They're the ones who will tell you if your hero is a dweeb or your heroine is a ninny or if the plot just doesn't work. This is the stuff you need to hear early in development so you aren't spending zillions of hours on a plot line that will never actually work, but should be scrapped and redone. Then your zillions of hours will be well spent instead of thrown away.
I encourage you to get yourself some good betas. They will save you lots of heartache in the end. Listen to their thoughtful advice and weigh out their suggestions. Sometimes you'll need to disregard a suggestion because it doesn't work, and that's okay as long as you're not ignoring a major problem that needs to be resolved.
Have fun, and happy writing!