The Word: The Importance of Beta Readers

Beta-readers are often considered some of the most important individuals in the writing business. They can provide some of the first impressions of a book as a reader before or even after editing has began taking place by a professional. Feedback, first impressions, or even small errors can be easily picked up by a beta-reader while they’re reading over the manuscript you’ve provided, but what are the risks?

  • Without trust you could easily find yourself in a sticky situation. If the beta-reader isn’t someone the author knows well and trusts fully they can find their manuscript leaked, pirated, or even straight plagiarized.
  • Dishonest feedback. Sometimes even those we trust the most may not provide the feedback we need choosing instead to be nice and sugar coat a situation to spare the writer’s feelings. It can even happen that a beta-reader may not even read the manuscript. Whether they forget or never cared, but wanted you to believe they did, sometimes a person calling themselves a beta-reader is posing as a professional. Wolves in sheep’s clothing.

How can one avoid things like the mentioned above? How can you trust anyone in the business? Naturally, many turn to trusted family, co-workers, and friends to be beta-readers. They’re close, you can talk to them most often easier than someone online or that’s a professional, but even this can be risky. It all boils down to trust and professionalism.

  • The truth can hurt, but if you know someone that will definitely give you the facts and not the phony they could be a good beta-reader for you.
  • Professionals, there is an entire industry of professional beta-readers for hire if you’re wishing to go that route.
  • Choosing someone in the genre of your manuscript can really make a difference. Picking someone that wouldn’t pick up a book about werewolves most likely wouldn’t enjoy your book about them either.
  • Choose wisely and with intelligence, this manuscript is important to you and don’t take all your hard work lightly by placing it in the hands of someone who wouldn’t either. You could find yourself waiting for weeks or even months only to find out it’s been a major waste of your time.
  • If your story isn’t making sense they can point that out.

Things you need to know going in or to remember are:

  • They’re not the same as a critiquing partner. A critiquing partner is often another writer that will give you feedback based on your requests. They will do this usually as an exchange. ‘You read mine and I’ll read yours’ situation.
  • Beta-readers often can be sensitive to some materials, you’ll have to give them a fair-warning for things that may upset them. Often times a beta-reader will not read material that could be offensive to them or genres they won’t enjoy.
  • Be clear about what you’re looking for, a timeline for them to get it back to you, and what your ultimate goal is. Remember they’re beta-readers. They will approach as a reader would.
  • Sometimes the term sensitivity reader comes into play with a beta-reader, they’re a type of beta-reader that will read a manuscript knowing that the material may offend and will point this out to you or any issues with offense that may arise.
  • Be firm on your deadlines, wants, and needs. Beta-readers are not editors and don’t let them be. Some may find things, that’s fine, but don’t ask for a full edit. I repeat, they are not editors.
  • Trust is everything.