Ode to the Beta readers

So you’ve finished the first draft of your novel and are wondering what to do with the 70,000 to 90,000 words or more you have poured hours of time into. Well editing it is one important next step because there are bound to be spelling errors, typos, the always dreaded missing words and characters who appear where they’re not supposed to be.

However it’s just as important is to find people, often called Beta readers, who will read the draft with a critical eye. Not only will they point out the faux pas noted above, the good ones will have lots of questions and ideas that can make your story much better.

The last thing you need at this point are readers who will only tell you the story is wonderful and they loved it. Baloney. It’s just a first draft; it can be improved in many ways.

You’re really blessed if you have Beta readers who not only have the ability to spot the obvious mistakes but also the background to pick out your faulty assumptions and unlikely conclusions and tell you what’s wrong. Their comments and suggestions can generate plenty of ideas to enhance the plot of your story. This is an adult process that doesn’t require bruised egos.

Example. In one story, I have an artificial intelligence who has long wished to possess a sense of smell. It finally receives that ability while it is being rebuilt following a serious accident. In the original draft, the human who oversaw the rebuild takes deep breaths trying to convince the A.I. to mimic him and discover its new sense. A Beta reader pointed that sniffing was the way people and animals used their nose to check the world around them. The story was fixed making it more plausible in the process.

Other readers have pointed out technology errors or events that are unlikely to have occurred. Never reject those suggestions without thinking through how they could improve the story.

Sometimes a Beta reader will simply misunderstand part of your story. However, you should still consider rewording it because if that reader didn’t comprehend your sentence, paragraph or page, odds are good other readers won’t either. You don’t want the people who buy your book to be put off by sections that don’t make sense to them.

Remember that it will take the Beta readers time to review your work and make notes. It’s best to provide them with a paper copy that has plenty of room for jotting down ideas. While they’re doing that, work on another story so by the time you return to the draft that has been reviewed, it will be fresh in your mind.

When your book is published, make sure you give credit to your Beta readers. The big name authors do that because they know how much they depend on the close attention their Beta readers pay to making the story as good as it can be. There may be only one byline on the cover but a lot of people have contributed to make the book as interesting as it can be. 

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