My brilliant beta readers are the best that I could hope for, as a writer. I have the utmost respect and appreciation for them!
You see, they’re not afraid to tell me what they do or don’t like and what does or doesn’t work in my story. Thankfully, they don’t mind having to answer more questions once their work is complete. They see it as an ongoing project they’re helping to shape. They not only provide feedback, but they’ll also catch the occasional typo or inconsistency, and let me know when a transition didn’t go as smoothly as it should have. And, believe it or not, they do this for free!
What I’ve gotten in the way of beta readers has been ideal, I’ll admit, but there are guidelines that help in choosing the right beta readers. And while most of them don’t charge, you’re entitled to have higher expectations if they do.
What’s important to note is, you’re not hiring a beta reader simply to proofread. You can hire an actual proofreader for that. I have several people look over the work for that purpose, including my editor.
You’re not hiring a beta reader to edit your work either. You absolutely need a professional editor for that, no matter how good of an editor you are or how qualified your beta reader may be in suggesting edits.
You don’t want a beta reader who will come back with, “I like it. Everything’s good.” A sentence or a small paragraph of feedback is not going to help much.
Writers are sometimes to blame for that. Many of them get pissed at beta readers for giving their honest opinions, but if you think you can do no wrong, you will get nowhere. We’re not perfect. Mastering our craft is an ongoing thing, and if we’re doing it right, then we continue to grow as writers. Some may say, “But I am the writer, and they are just readers.” Forget that word “just.” Readers are everything! It is the reader you want to appeal to, and it’s their feedback you are requesting. We always benefit by listening and learning. There are a lot of great writers out there. We can’t kid ourselves, thinking we are beyond any competition.
Yeah, we can get a little stubborn about certain things. I’ve found that I can be stubborn, too, so it helps if I give myself time to process what my beta reader is saying. Ultimately, I’ll be able to see their point and let go of what I’d been holding onto so tenaciously. We can be biased, and, no matter what, it’s personal, and so we can have tunnel vision. We need to ask ourselves, “Why is this so important to me? What’s going on here?” Sometimes I engage in a debate with the beta reader, and he or she will convince me that it needs to be a certain way. It may turn out that they see my point, or that it results in a compromise, but we have to be open to omitting or changing things. It’s good to have people who are not going to get upset with you or you with them. It takes a level of maturity on both parts and an ability to set ego aside.
On the other hand, if you’re hiring someone just to validate that you wrote a perfect book, that’s a different thing entirely.
As for me, in searching for the right beta, I also look for people who may be particularly helpful for what I’m writing. I do a ton of research (probably too much), but for my current work-in-progress, I’m interested in cops, detectives, veterans, people who’ve lived in or traveled to Spain, and people who grew up in the Bronx. I like to have both male and female readers because I love appealing to both audiences. I have three beta readers now and can take on one or two more.
Your beta readers are part of your team. At the very least, I like to thank them in the published book’s acknowledgements section and provide them a free signed copy.
My beta readers help me write a better story, and that’s what you always want—a better story.