Not all writers use beta readers, and not all writers offer their services as beta readers, but both of these things can serve as a huge help in our writing. Looking at it from the writer’s side first, it’s important to know what it is that you’d like your beta reader to do for your story, if there is anything in particular that you do want. Don’t be shy to ask if you suspect a weakness in any area.
In general, as well as glaring plot holes and so on, your beta reader will spot things like continuity problems, or hair that started out blonde and suddenly changed to auburn half way through the story. These are big deal issues for your future readers and often things that we miss because of our closeness to the story. For the same reason, we may leave out crucial descriptive passages or backstory because we know what’s going on. Beta readers could help you find typos and grammar gremlins too if that’s what you want and they’re so inclined.
When looking for beta readers, firstly look for those who enjoy reading the type of book you’ve written. A sparkly vampire book will probably not appeal to someone who thinks that Dostoevsky is the greatest thing since cream cheese. Be wary of those who are blatantly overcritical online. Some people just enjoy finding fault, and that’s not who you’re going for. Other writers generally make the best beta readers, because they know how to write, and mostly they’re kind too.
Be grateful for the service they’re offering you. Beta reading requires more than just reading a book, and all writers are busy bunnies, so giving you their precious time is a favour indeed – try and return it if you can, but even if you don’t, always appreciate it.
Don’t take all input to heart. Any critique can cut like a knife, but really make sure that you never, ever react to any of it with aggression. By the same token, you don’t have to agree with it, or implement any changes suggested if you don’t think that they fit your story or your particular writing style.
When you are the beta reader, on the other hand, always try and remain neutral when it comes to any of your personal pet peeves. We all have them, and they are most certainly not universal. Some people find particular words offensive. Others demand that NO telling at all be allowed in any tale – it must all be show, and show only.
Be kind. There are ways of critiquing that don’t have to include things like, “Your entire third chapter is a load of codswallop – delete it all!” Even if you do spot glaring and tragic errors and writing that grates on your very bones, be polite when returning your comments, while still remaining truthful.
In the end, remember that when it comes to the flesh of your story, and also your unique writer’s voice, you do not have to change any of it. Be open though, to the advice of those who don’t have a vested interest in your scribbles, and just take a deep breath or twenty, and try and take it for what it is – help.
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