An Ode to Beta Readers
Warning: I am not a poet, so if you clicked on this blog hoping for an actual ode, I’m sorry to disappoint. But please, keep reading.
NaNoWriMo ended this past Thursday, so many writers will soon have solid first drafts of their manuscripts. When I reach that stage of the process, I quickly start thinking of a crucial step towards moving forward: locating beta readers.
Beta readers form an essential part of the writing and publishing process. Writers can read their drafts, but not with the same outside perspective as a beta reader. It’s difficult to judge the impact of a suspenseful scene when you already know how each and every event will play out—because you wrote it. But if you can’t do that, how are you expected to pinpoint problem areas in your own novel?
That’s where beta readers come in. Once a draft reaches a stage to be read and revised before submitting to a literary agent, beta readers give writers the reader’s opinion on their stories. Are there grammatical issues? Does a character make sense? Do romantic subplots hold up? Does the story keep the reader interested from first page to last?
Once beta readers reveal plot holes or problem areas, it’s up to the writer to revise, revise, and revise.
Beta readers are essential, but in my experience, many do not recognize their value in the writing process, particularly if they are not writers themselves. That is why I dedicate this blog post as a message of gratitude to beta readers. If you are a beta reader, take a moment to feel confident in yourself, because you are very, very important.
Beta readers, without you, we as writers would be lost in a sea of unknowing. Sure, we fangirl over our own romantic subplots, but did they actually hold up compared to our overarching storylines? Or did my subplot instead take over the story, and now a reader that expected a tale about a girl traversing a fantasy world to defeat a greater evil instead encounters a tale primarily about a girl falling in love? You have the power to tell me.
Beta readers, if other writers are like me, we anxiously await your thoughts and opinions. I live for each and every reference to my story while a beta reader has it, and I revel in the precious moments we can spend discussing it once my beta reader finishes. It makes no difference if the comments are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. After weeks or months or years of being the sole person who knows a story, it is wonderful to share it with another person.
Beta readers, your ‘bad’ comments are not mean or uncalled for. They are crucial and wonderful. No draft is going to be perfect and free of mistakes, plot holes, and underdeveloped characters. Writers should know that, but we might need assistance locating those mistakes. Your critical comments fuel our revisions, which make our stories much better in the long run. I love hearing what my beta readers love, but please do not hold back critique out of fear of hurting my feelings. Tell me the issues so I know to fix them.
Beta readers, I want to thank you. You are the first people we share our work with, and you are very, very important.
As we come upon the holiday season, keep the importance of beta reading in mind. If you don’t have the funds to buy presents for your writer friends, consider beta reading for them instead. It might not seem like a lot to you, but I know for me, a beta read can be the greatest gift.
If you are a writer in need of beta readers, or a reader interested in helping writers out, join a local or online writing community. I don’t think you will be hard-pressed to find someone willing to share or trade, and you can make friends along the way.
What are your thoughts? What are your experiences as writers and beta readers?
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I write YA fantasy and paranormal fiction. This blog is dedicated to thoughts and advice on writing and publishing, as well as various interests related to the world of Young Adult.