In Praise of Beta Readers

Back in November, I asked several of my friends to be beta readers for The Reluctant Agent and this weekend, I received their feedback.

What Is a Beta Reader?

A beta reader is a beta tester for a piece of writing.  The beta reader can do a number of things; check spelling and grammar, spot typos, identify plot holes and continuity problems, evaluate characters, and adjudicate the overall quality of the story.

Why Would You Need a Beta Reader?

I can tell you why I needed beta readers more for this book than my previous book. “The Reluctant Captain” was written in a short period – just over three months. This book has been two years in the making. And for whatever reason, it was a slog. There were times when I was really busy and didn’t have time to write, but when I did, the words struggled to come out. I try to adopt the Dory model of writing “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” But the whole time I was writing, all I could hear was the Evil Editor in my head telling me, “This is crap. No one would ever want to read this screwed up pile of words.”

For me, having beta readers was the test to see if I was or right (it was a good story and interesting) or if the evil editor in my head was right. And because I’ve read it over and over and over, I’ve lost all objectivity. Part of me was starting to believe the Evil Editor.

I’m happy to report that for the most part, I was right and the Evil Editor was just a nagging voice. That’s not to say it was a perfect book. I received excellent feedback which corresponded to my own suspicions (but not those of the Evil Editor) and I’m going to tear into it and try to shore up some areas.

What I Look For in a Beta Reader

  • It’s someone whose judgment and opinion I trust –  The people I asked to read my book are people who I’ve known for a long time and I respect their opinions. If one of them recommends a book, I am very likely to read it (and probably enjoy it very much).
  • They will be honest, but not in a brutal way – They will tell me if it’s bad, but they won’t make me feel like a failure in the process. Trust me, the Evil Editor in my head is very good at his job and he needs no help whatsoever.
  • They are the potential audience for my book – I try to write the kind of book that I want to read. My beta readers fall into that audience as well.

What Does This Have to Do With the Book?

The feedback I’ve received is kind of spot on with some of the nagging voices I had in my head so I’m definitely going to see how I can apply it. I have to say that while I agree with all the feedback, some of it means a minor reworking of the plot that’s been in my head for two years. It’s hard for me to now go back and readjust it because I’m not sure what I’m going to do.

So I have a couple more weeks of tinkering. But that’s a good thing.

Thanks to Keven, Melanie, Bob, and Donna for reading it!

Happy Journeys!

Mike

 

 

 

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