When you write something you’re truly passionate about, it can be difficult to go back through and look at it critically. Even those who are skilled at putting aside their emotions as they peruse their own work may miss plot holes or character inconsistencies. After all, it’s easy to miss the confusion that readers might experience when you already know what you meant by a description or piece of dialogue.
Unfortunately, you’re but a starving writer and can’t afford to pay an experienced editor $30-$50 an hour to look over your manuscript. Thankfully, you don’t have to. There is a happy medium between critiquing your own work and hiring a full-on editor to give it a thorough rework. That happy medium is known as the beta-reader.
What is a Beta-Reader?
Ever heard of a beta-tester? The word “beta” is often used in the gaming industry to denote that something is being tested. A beta-tester might practice playing a game, intentionally scouring it for bugs and imbalances. The beta-reader is the beta-tester for the writing community. They are not there to publish a book or offer a review. They are there to act as a practice reader and to give you valuable feedback on the reader experience.
Beta-readers can be more or less professional. They may be paid. They may volunteer their services. They might only offer an overall impression after reading a book, or they might give you a thorough line by line critique of grammar, style, and plot. In this way, they are not strictly editors or proofreaders. However, they could act as either depending on the reader and your needs.
What do Beta-Readers Look For?
Well, as we mentioned above, that’s a hard question to answer. Typically, beta-readers will look for any of the following:
- Some style (particularly where it causes confusion)
- Inconsistencies in plot, characters, tone, etc
- Other character or plot holes
In general, beta-readers are there to represent readers and develop a broad impression while also offering guidance and pointing out problems as they read. They do not conduct full-rewrites of a manuscript.
Who Needs a Beta-Reader?
You do if you have a manuscript that you want to make reader friendly. Of course, if you’re publishing through a large or small press, you’ll almost certainly be given a beta-reader and or editor to help with your manuscript. However, if you’re going through a vanity press or self-publishing, you’ll need to find someone on your own.
Where Can I Find a Beta-Reader?
That entirely depends on the level of expertise and involvement that you’re looking for. If you want someone who can provide thorough and informed guidance, check out freelancing forums like Upwork or Freelancer for writers who can act as beta-readers. However, if you just want someone to read it and give you a general impression or more rudimentary critiques, look around you. Friends, family, and colleagues can all be beta-readers. Choose someone who reads and, even more importantly, someone you trust to be honest with you.