Beta Readers, are they for you?
Ah, another Sunday morning, another intrusion of my privacy! On Valentines Day no less! Savages! Come on in. I know you won't leave until I tell you all something of great importance. How did you all find me in Canada, Alberta anyways? Shit, I even grew these porkchop sideburns to throw you all off what I looked like and changed my name to Logan. Damn, you guys are good, like bloodhounds or something.
Why are you looking at me weird? Shorter? No, don't be absurd; how would I have gotten shorter? I have always been 5'3.
Alright, now that you are all seated, let's talk beta readers. There is a lot of back and forth on this topic. It seems the majority of authors use them, and only a small percentage don't. But the one thing I see most on the "don't use them" channel is thinking beat readers only have one job, and that's to tell you what to change in your story. And as we all know, a lot of authors can't take constructive criticism well.
So, let's explore some of the thing's beta readers are good for.
As we all know, one of a beta readers' primary goals is to point out problems in your story. Now that could be several things.
Plot/story holes- Are there holes in the plot? Things that you might have missed or overlooked? Thought you explained better than you might have? This is greatly important to have eyes on. We as authors are too close to the work; after hundreds of hours writing the damn story, it is easy to miss certain things or have small things slip by that we in our mind know and think we have explained, but to a reader, we haven't or at least not well enough. So this is a good thing to have a few eyes on.
Characters- This is another big one. I have been guilty of this myself. A character starts with certain features, and halfway through; I changed their eye color, or hair color, or even mannerism of speaking without reason. They will point out possible faults in the dialogue between characters, speech patterns, and whether or not the character's speech stood out and was recognizable. But not only that, beta readers will give you an inside of which characters are likely to become favorites among readers or disliked. Both are handy to know before a book is released, to give you an edge in how to market the book with those characters in mind.
Overall flow- This is another big one. The flow of the book is super important. Does it flow nicely from start to finish? Were there parts of the story that seemed to lag? Or need to add to? Or even taking away? Or just general tweaking? Are there parts that should be explained better or less? Parts that seem to drag or go by too fast? These are all good things to know if you want to create the best story you can. And just because you feel it is, doesn't mean readers will agree. Now you, of course, are free to leave it as you please, but it's always good to have this knowledge.
Soft edits- A lot of authors use beta readers for soft edits. Catching spelling, grammar, punctuation mistakes. I myself don't have beta's do that. I am more interested in the other things and would prefer them to focus solely on that task. But many authors do use them for that, which does, of course, helps the end game editing.
Now that is just what MOST people think beta readers do. Which is true; they are known for doing that. But there is so much more they do/can do for you.
Marketability- This one, I feel a lot of authors miss the mark with beta readers. This is a fantastic chance to have someone else help pimp/promote your works. Most beta readers will talk about your book. Will brag about it on their social media, that they get to read it first. That, of course, creates interest in the book and you. It is a small thing, but the more betas you have, the wider the spread. Not to mention when the book is finally out, they will be some of the first to promote it.
Reviews- This is one I think most authors seem to forget about. Beta readers are your first and front-line reviewers. As soon as your book drops, they are the first ones to drop their reviews on your book. So within a day or two (sometimes longer), your newly published book isn't sitting there with no reviews. It gets to start with several reviews (hopefully good ones) right off the start. And as we all know, having reviews brings more interest to the book. And also more marketing content.
Now, myself, I like to use at least ten beta readers, sometimes up to fifteen. Wait? What did I just say? I know, that seems like a lot, and it is, and that's the point, and there is an excellent reason for it. Most of you likely only use two or three.
Why do I use so many? Because of all the reasons mentioned above. Except now I have MORE eyes on those things, giving me a broader view of what the average reader might think/find.
But now, let me explain HOW I pick my beta readers and why. First off, I never use friends or family—ever. At least not personal life friends, online friends only if I can trust them to be honest.
Now, you'd think the best beta readers would be, of course, people who actually read the genre you write in. And you'd be correct, but only to a degree.
Let me break it down. Say I am using ten beta readers for my newest book, which is a crime/thriller. I want to find five beta readers who actually enjoy and read that genre often. That will give me a solid idea from those five how the book will be perceived among that readership.
But I will also find three readers who are okay with reading that genre. It isn't a genre that they jump for or one they read often, but they will if it looks good or someone recommends it every now and then. Why? Because these people will give you a whole different level of thoughts on your story. They will be able to dissect it differently from the five who read the genre often. These are the readers who, if they stumble onto your book and end up liking it, will look further into your work and likely read more of your books. Plus, if you can make these people like your story, you are even more of a shoe-in with the many crowds of that genre.
The last two beta readers I find are people who don't read that genre at all. Weird, I know. But there is a significant reason for this. These people will hold nothing back from you. If there are issues with the story, they will tell you straight. This isn't their genre at all, so they will pick it apart harder than anyone else. Now, this comes as a double edge sword. Yes, they will pick it apart and point out things the other two groups likely won't. BUT that does not mean it will all be valid. You got to keep that in mind with all beta readers. You need to take it all with a grain of salt. But here is the fun part about this group. If you can touch them with your story where they loved it, and now this genre is something they will check more out. You know you got a winner on your hands. But with that said, if they don't like it, but you had plenty in the other two groups that did, you still have enough to know that you will win over a large percentage of readers.
Remember, knowledge is power.
The more you know about how your book will be received, the better your game plans can be for fixing it and marketing it.
Okay, I want to touch base a little more on this grain of salt thing. This goes for all beta reader feedback. I feel authors assume that any feedback HAS to be listened to, which is just not so. Sometimes you will get feedback, and it just doesn't make sense or doesn't matter to what you want for your story. And that is fine; you don't have to change anything. You say thank you for your insight and move on.
But one of the things you do want to pay attention to is when two or more start saying the same thing, whether you like it or not. If you use ten beta readers and three of them hit you back with something like this, the character changes halfway through the story in dynamic, and it doesn't fit and seems like a cop-out just to speed the story to the end. That is something you need to look at carefully cause right there is 30% of readers now, and if 30% of readers are going to draw that conclusion, you are going to run the risk of getting a slew of bad reviews about it.
That would be one of those things that you would likely want to go back and look at and see if maybe you did and then how you might be able to change it. Again, 100% up to you if you change it or not, but it will also be on you the possible backlash you might get because of it.
This is the reason beta readers are so important (IMO). They provide so much. Let's face it we authors aren't perfect, we miss stuff, we overlook things, and we make mistakes. To think otherwise is simply foolish. To ignore all the positive potential a group of beta readers can bring you is, again, in my mind, foolish. More so because you are not out anything. 90% of beat readers do it for free, just because they like being the first to read a book and be able to give an opinion on it.
What do you have to lose? Nothing.
What do you have to gain? Potentially a lot.
Alright, one of you farted! What the hell did you eat? Cabbage and tuna? With that level of smell, you might need to see a doctor.
Wait—why did you go through my laundry hamper? No, those yellow spandex aren't mine—they're not— Don't you dare tell anyone! Get out!
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