Guest Post: Pros and Cons of Beta Readers
Hey Epic Geeks! It’s been a while, sorry. Today we have a guest post from the novelist, screenwriter, and copywriter, JT Pledger! I originally connected with him from Hannah’s Group: Between The Lines Writer’s Nook . As a beta reader and writer, I’m extremely excited to share his pros and cons list of beta readers. Enjoy!
Everyone has a story to tell. Hard fact: Not everyone can write their story. Harder fact: Not everyone who does write their story writes it well. Hardest fact: Those that wrote their story and wrote it well did not do it alone.
Writing is a solitary sport. Publishing a novel or script though, is a team effort. No one does it alone.
One of the most overlooked aspects of writing a story is the beta reader.
Who are they? What do they do? Do you really need one? Let’s look at the answers to these questions about this mysterious audience:
Who are they?
Beta readers, as the name implies, are people who read your near-finished work before anyone else. While alpha readers usually read your story long before it is ready for market (in your eyes), beta readers have a bigger role and are therefore, seemingly more important.
Who they are, isn’t an easy question to answer. In general terms they are people willing to read your work and give honest, if not brutal, feedback. They are the plot-hole finders, the timeline straighteners, the story arch connectors.
They are your eyes and mind because yours is blinded by your own brilliance.
What do they do?
Their job, in essence, is to selectively pick apart your project and point out the areas where it sucks. It’s a tough job and (as I have found) most are eager and willing to rip your work apart. Lovingly, of course.
The problem comes in when “what they do” isn’t what you expect them to do, or they don’t do it well. You find yourself asking: “Self, do I really need a Beta Reader?”
Let’s help you answer that:
Do you really need Betas?
Beta Readers can provide a wealth of insight into your work before an editor has a chance to pick it apart word by word. In my opinion a single good beta reader is worth more than the final chapter of your story. They aren’t for everyone though. Some people find them tiresome or unproductive. So let’s clear the air and follow the rules.
The first rule is no friends or family. I tend to break this rule a lot. I rarely let family see my works (but there is a whole different reason for that and it has nothing to do with my dark colored wool). When I let friends read it though, I make sure to tell my friends not to worry about hurting my feelings. You should too. It is always nice to have someone read your work that you know. You can then beg them to hurry and be less formal.
The second rule is thick skin. This is a must for any writer. Agents and publishers are going to wipe the floor with your ego, you might as well start putting on your iron masks now. Beta readers aren’t designed to stroke your ego, they are designed to make your book a better read.
The third rule is to take the feedback with a grain of salt. We’ve all heard the adage “you can’t please all the people all the time.” This is true of your novel as well. Not everyone even reads romance. No one likes it when the bad guy wins (except me.. write more of that shit, please).
When you gather your feedback from your Betas, make sure to pay attention. If all 10 (picking a number out of you know where) say something different, you can ignore them all. However, if three or four or all ten say that chapter 4 sucks and needs to be removed, you may want to take a note of that.
The Pros and Cons of Beta Readers
Beta readers are good, m’kay? (Drugs are bad. Except coffee. That’s a good drug).
Here is why:
1. They can see things you can’t. You have spent so much time with your work you have grown blind to it. Did you notice you said Peter will mary Mary? It’s not a typo, spell check didn’t alert you. A beta reader will remind you that mary with one r is a person, with two r’s it’s a verb.
2. They carry shovels. They need to in order to fill in all your plot holes you overlooked. How come the antagonist went into the supermarket on page 12 but has never ever come back out? Or why did the red car get describes so overwhelmingly in chapter 3 only to never be mentioned again?
3. They want to be helpful. While the vast majority love to read, they also love to tear a book down by pieces. This only helps you as a writer. Finding weaknesses you didn’t even think about.
4. They are the keepers of time. A story follows a certain timeline. Forward, backward, in the future in the past. As the writer you know what is going on. You may lose a reader though. Betas will point out where your timeline fails. Then you can fix it!
Not every pro list is complete without the bad boy cons coming into play. You can’t have the good without the bad. Here is what to watch out for with beta readers:
1. All beta readers are readers. Not all of them are writers. You should strive to find other writers as your betas. They know the ins and outs of why things are and will offer better advice and guidance.
2. They run on their own time. You can’t (well.. shouldn’t) push a beta reader to hurry and finish. Your time and their time are two different things. Betas are never in as big a hurry as you are to finish the project.
3. Vague feedback. You’ll see a lot of it. Sometimes something just won’t work for a reader but they can’t really express why it doesn’t work. Getting feedback like “I just don’t like this part for some reason” doesn’t really help you at all.
4. Format issues. Everyone will have a digital copy. But if you write in some random program your readers don’t have, they may not be able to open it. Or you spend extra time formatting for other types. Sending a PDF to reader A, and DocX to reader B, it gets tiresome and redundant.
That’s All Folks
Beta readers are worth their collective weight in gold. My only advice is to watch how much silver you spend gaining that gold. Select your Betas carefully, make sure they know what their task is, have different tasks for each reader and take the feedback with a tough skin and a grain of salt. It is your work after all: you aren’t required to change it for anyone. You probably should listen well though.
JT Pledger is a novelist, screenwriter, and copywriter. When he isn’t sitting at the keyboard he is swimming in the Atlantic ocean or reading and learning new and fascinating things. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or learn more about his Masterclass writing course here.