Monday, December 17, 2012

The Writer's Guide to Beta Readers: Part 1

A smiley face from Beta Reader Megan!
What are beta readers? Why do you need them? What should you ask them? My Guide to Beta Readers posts will cover all of these important topics for writers.

First of all, what is a beta reader? They can be a member of a writing group or critique partner, a friend, family member, acquaintance, basically anyone who will read an early version of your book and provide you with honest and critical feedback. The point of betas is not to just tell you how awesome you are--although the encouragement they can provide is also helpful for beginning writers. The point of betas is to help you make your book stronger. They can point out to you all the things you can't see about your book because you're too close to it. The best betas will give you honest feedback and comments on things you can improve and also hopefully some encouragement to keep you going!

I love this quote from author Angela Ackerman regarding betas/critique partners: "You want them to love it and say it’s great, but what you NEED is for them to point out the problems." Nothing could be more true about the beta process, which is why it is so important you have betas that are absolutely committed to being honest with you. Brutally honest (hopefully not in a brutal way though--no need to kill dreams!)

There are always a lot of "Do I need a beta reader?" questions out there. My take is definitely. Here's why I think they're the best and you should get some too:

Why they're the best

I happen to have some of the best beta readers ever and I am so thankful for all of their feedback. The great thing is they all bring a different perspective to my book, but each one is still so helpful and committed. I've got some writer friends, some reader friends, some other friends, some family, and also some critique partners and authors to give me feedback, which makes for a great mix of advice!

I must say though that my favorite (read: most hilarious) comments come from Megan, one of my best friends and my former college roomie--she basically knows me better than I know myself. Megan tells it how it is and is so blunt with the characters. For example, in one scene, character A is reflecting on how many times character B has saved her life. Megan, however, jumped in and said "Oh no, B. Questionable. I'll give you credit for one life saving, but not two. The other one totally doesn't count." Comments like these are really funny when they are addressed to the characters and they have Megan's enthusiasm for the book and the characters all over them. It also makes it much more fun to read through and revise because I get all her sidebars.

ALL of my beta readers have been incredibly helpful in pointing out all the things I thought I said (but didn't) and helping me make my book what I intended for it to be in the first place. Then there are also those great suggestions and new ideas that make it even better than it was before. I really couldn't do it without their help! So that's why I definitely recommend you get some beta readers of your own.

If you're ready to dive in, check out this post on the Pub(lishing) Crawl blog on Finding a Critique Parner!

Check back for part 2 of my beta readers series where I'll post a list of the questions I gave to my beta readers to help guide their critique.

Have you gotten feedback from a beta reader or been a beta reader before? What did you find helpful? Any other tips for writers and beta readers?
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