A little over a week ago (I know; I’m terrible), we established that writers need beta readers, and why. I didn’t want to make that post too long, so I thought I would continue with the process of choosing your beta readers here.
Here are some tips to consider when choosing who should read and critique your writing:
1. Choose people who read
I read wide. I don’t read deep. For me, it was good to choose a beta reader or two who are well-read and could provide insight gleaned from their wide reading experiences. They brought to the table the experience of everything they’d read before my work, and in light of that they could tell me what they liked, didn’t like, loved, and hated. Two of my betas brought their inter-literary strength and, looking through those goggles, told me how to pull off what they could see I had intended, but hadn’t quite achieved by the second draft.
2. Choose people who don’t read
Two of my betas were new to modern fiction, yet passionate newbies to say the least. Why should I trust the opinions of people who don’t read? Well, because to them, the experience of reading is novel (haha, right?) and they could give me untempered, untainted feedback from eyes that are new to this reading thing. It works because it drills to the core of the reading experience. Avid, voracious readers become hardened and, sometimes forgiving when writing techniques are obvious or when certain words, phrases and punctuation tricks act more like narrative tools than as simply conveying meaning. New readers will call you out on tricks that seem too obvious, or if you’re being obscure.
3. Choose readers who enjoy your genre
This one speaks for itself. This kind of beta reader will be your litmus test as to whether you’re on the genre money or if you’re missing the mark. One of my betas had only started reading horror because I introduced the concept of beta-reading my work about a month or two before I needed his help. He read other horror with a proverbial pen and paper in his mind so that he could check the boxes (or not) when he was tasked with reading my manuscript. This was super helpful.
4. Don’t choose readers who want to please you
While it’s almost impossible to not enjoy the flattery of someone telling you how brilliant and amazing your writing is, save that craving for your book-signing event. Beta reading is not the time for flattery – it’s a time for learning. Choose people who will be 150% honest with you about where you can improve, and about what will make your story better. Two of my beta readers are very close friends of mine, and while certain writing advice blogs have discouraged choosing friends as betas (the idea that beta reading can be a friendship-ending activity), it worked well because I don’t take constructive criticism personally, and because I choose my friends well.
5. Choose other writers
Since writers are familiar with the mechanics of writing, they’ll know exactly what to look for. However, for all the points mentioned above, don’t only choose other writers to do beta reading for you. Three of my betas are writers at varying levels of experience, and their feedback was truly valuable from both the reader and writer perspective.
I can’t write a post about choosing beta readers without mentioning this awesome post by Belinda Pollard (again :) ). What makes a good beta reader? covers all the bases of how to choose your ideal beta readers, and it’s worth the read. It’s important to note that you can’t just choose willy-nilly. Your future as a writer is on the line.
On that note, I’ve just published a micro-horror and couldn’t have polished it to its current condition without the help from my betas: Mat, Kurt, Nangi, Etienne, Pippa, and Nicci. Consider these guys my entourage on my international book signing… it’s coming… soon :P
Feel free to shoot a comment below on your beta reader experience. What do you look for in a beta reader? Had any great or not-so-great experiences? Tell me!