As many of you saw from my posts across social media, I am on the hunt for one or two more beta readers for my novels. I’ve gotten a lot of positive responses so far, but a host so questions too. This, of course, means I want to blog about it! Today’s post will cover what a beta reader is, things authors look for in a beta reader, and what I want from my betas.
What is a beta reader?
The basic answer is that a beta reader is someone who will read drafts of a piece before it’s released to a broader audience. This person or people are generally unpaid and it’s their job to help the author find grammatical mistakes, plot holes, or suggest improvements. A beta helps the author add a layer of polish before showing a work off. They are usually the step between finishing a first draft and a manuscript being sent to the editor or publisher.
What do authors look for in their betas?
A beta holds a special position of trust to authors, which drives the characteristics an author looks for in their beta readers. First, of course, a beta reader should have a strong command of the English language (or the work’s primary language). They should be able to catch spelling and grammatical errors as well as things that spellcheck can’t catch, like their/there/they’re. Second, the beta should know something about the author’s style and mindset. This helps them discern what an author might have in the head but have been unable to quite get onto paper. Finally, a beta has to be trustworthy. They are being entrusted with works before release. Authors pour their hearts and souls into writing and many are nervous about showing that work to another person. Additionally, a beta is trusted to read the work and not share details without permission from the author. In a world of modern social media, keeping spoilers from fans becomes a huge part of that trust.
What do I personally look for in a beta?
I like my betas to be a blend of grammar police, advisor, and sounding board. So far, all my betas have been close friends I can count on to catch my dopey mistakes and offer insight into the plot; I lean on each in different ways. My spouse is my first beta and a wonderful sounding board. But he also knows how I think too well, which means he knows what I mean and misses where I haven’t fully fleshed out a detail. My second is Beta Charlie, who I trust to find plot holes and give what I can only call “man advice.” He gives me the male reader perspective and points out where a male character’s reaction isn’t realistic/appropriate. My last beta, who has since gone inactive, was great at finding plot holes, throwing out great ideas, and finding connections in the plot that I didn’t even realize I created. That said, he tended towards Canadian English and grammar, which gave me a lot of comma drama when we were prepping Pantheon for publication!
With my new betas, I need all the things I listed under “What do author’s look for in their betas?”: a strong command of English syntax and grammar, trustworthy, and an idea of where I’m going with my works. Before now, I’ve known all my betas personally, so I could rely on them knowing me well enough to know the shape of my thoughts, even when I didn’t articulate it clearly in my work. Now, I need readers familiar with my current body of work and style: Pantheon, Born Not Bitten, and Confessions From The Trail. I need someone who can kindly point out mistakes and plot holes; offer their thoughts and opinions on the plot without being offended if I don’t ultimately use them; and finally, offer perspectives outside my own. I highly value diversity of thought when it comes to my writing. I need to know when something doesn’t resound with someone and why. Or when I hit an emotional nerve. Which characters do you love/hate and why? Which characters are just background static?
Being a beta is work, for sure, but you get that early access to works, a chance to guide the plot, and of course, an advanced reader copy once it’s been published! So, if that sounds like it interests you, join the mailing list here. I intend to send details about becoming a beta within the next week.
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