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To beta or not to beta, that is the question

I recently received a first draft of a manuscript from one of my clients. She’d been promising it to me for a little while and kept giving me updates about her beta readers weighing in on the material before she shared it with me. I was encouraged by this news because it tells me that she has taken the time to not only complete the entire manuscript, but get feedback on it from readers who she presumably trusts and make revisions accordingly.

It also tells me that she is focused on delivering to me a draft that is in good shape, has been read and re-read, and has been edited or revised to make it as complete and ready-to-go as possible. I often work with my authors to develop projects from idea stage to publication, so don’t assume this means you have to send me a manuscript that’s been copyedited and is ready to go into production! But with the market being so difficult, I really appreciate this time and effort spent to deliver a clean manuscript so I can focus on the larger issues of plot and character development rather than fine tuning more benign early draft issues.

So it was with interest after getting the manuscript this week (which I’ve not yet had a chance to read, but plan to very soon!) that I found this article on the topic of beta readers that I thought was worth sharing with our blog readers.

It gives the basics of what a beta reader is, and how you might look for your own group of beta readers as you develop your novel. I think it’s important, as the author Joe Moore notes, to seek out readers who understand and can relate to your category. If you’ve only written thrillers and your new book is a YA, then it’s probably best to find additional readers who know that category and can give you feedback that is specific to your intended audience.

I’d love to know if you use beta readers, and how you go about this process. How do you find your beta readers? Do you find it helps your work, and do you wait to share your first draft with agents or publishers until you’ve heard from all your beta readers and made any suggested changes? Let us know if you are a fan of the beta!

12 Responses to To beta or not to beta, that is the question

  1. Josie R. says:

    Nope. Don’t use them. Opinions are too subjective on anything other than grammar, and I can handle that myself.

    Too often, a beta will decide not to get back to the writer, or will take far too long.

  2. I love my beta readers. I wouldn’t send my stuff anywhere without their input. it’s as important a part of the process as writing a stinky first draft just to get the story down.

    That said, I never give the book to my betas until it’s in at least a second draft state. I need to do at least one round of revisions on my own before I get other people involved.

  3. Susan Adrian says:

    Absolutely. For this book, which is a new genre, I’m doing two rounds of beta readers to cover different aspects of the book.

    Opinions from readers and fellow writers are invaluable. You don’t have to take all their suggestions, but they absolutely see problems you won’t. I want that feedback BEFORE I go to an agent or editor.

  4. Tami Veldura says:

    All of my writing classes that pertained to my degree were workshop style classes so I got used to having several voices weigh in on a rough draft that would allow me to strengthen it. Yes, each voice is very subjective, but if 6 of 7 people say they couldn’t visualize that paragraph or this scene felt flat, odds are good there’s some work to be done there.

    I sent my first short story out for publication and it was forwarded to the editor before I considered giving it to a beta reader (I was fully expecting a form rejection). Once I got edits back, however, I sent it to my beta reader (with ok from the publisher) exactly because a single set of sure in not enough for a well-rounded edit.

  5. Keisha says:

    I’ts been one of the hardest process for me as an aspiring writer, I also had to educate myself in regards to the difference between a beta reader and a critique partner the two are very different, but its effective to have both. The key thing about beta’s is that they are readers, that should hopefully read the entire manuscript, and give feedback according to the mss entirety, CP may read the entire mss mostly in my experiences they read chapters here and there. I have been through tons of CP/BR and sometimes I initiate the end of the relationship or my CP/BR does. The important thing like you mentioned is trust and also consistency for me I want a BR/CP to hang on with me for a few books, and also us suporting each other.

  6. After my critique group went through it, I gave the finished manuscript to about 15 beta readers. Not for everyone, but worked well for me. I wrote a four part series on finding them and getting feedback from them on my blog, kind of comparing the process to running a psychology experiment.

    http://blog.liviablackburne.com/2011/04/experimental-psychologists-take-on-beta.html

  7. I have a crit partner and I use beta readers. All of them are followers of my blog. They emailed me and asked if I needed a beta reader or if I would beta read for them. All read and write YA (like me).

    Another thing I do is stagger my readers. They don’t all get a copy of the wip at the same time. I’ll send it to two individuals then edit according to their suggestions before sending the ms to the next round. Sure it takes longer than sending it to everyone at the same time, but I’d rather find out if my changes made my story better BEFORE I query agents.

  8. I love beta readers! They bring a different perspective to the table than critique partners because they’re usually readers not writers. I think it’s important to give them a draft you’re already fairly happy with though; it saves everyone time and aggravation. I usually find them through friends, acquaintances and fellow book bloggers.

  9. I love my beta readers. I have four and like to go through 2 rounds, 2 in first round and 2 in the second. The first set gets the early draft and after I revise based on their comments I send out to the 2d round for the polishing comments. I found mine on the Absolute Write messageboard, which is a godsend. It’s always good to get other eyes looking at the MS. Yes, everything is subjective, but beta comments open my eyes to things I miss or give me further ideas to work into the MS. The creative process is a wonderful thing and if you can get ideas from others to make your work better then it’s invaluable.

  10. Sarah Henson says:

    I love my betas! I recently finished a new manuscript and went through 2 rounds of beta readers. The first pointed out some big changes they thought I needed, the second helped me polish, and I ended up with a much better story than I started with. Fresh eyes (unbiased eyes) make all the difference to me. Sure my husband and some family members read first drafts, but it’s not the same as having another writer point out character flaws and comma misplacement.

    I found my betas through the AW forums. Before I game them my MS, I researched them to make sure we were on the same page and that I trusted their work and opinions. We swapped stories and I am so thankful that we did. I got to read some great work while receiving excellent feedback in the process.

  11. Stacey says:

    Sorry for the delayed response, but wanted to say thanks to all who shared their thoughts on this topic. I see it’s something that opens up discussion within the community, so I’ll try to look for topics that further that conversation. If you have ideas, please share!

  12. ChemicalLove says:

    great stuff but you missed a couple (minor) spellin mistakes near the end lol and my comment from earlier hasn’t shown but hey…..

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