The Value of Beta Readers
Beta Readers. Some authors swear by them, some swear at them. It’s a toss-up, depending on who you talk to. There are some things to consider before you decide whether or not you want to use a Beta Reader. There are pros and cons to each method. I’ll go over a few and hopefully, you will have enough information to decide on your own. Let’s begin, shall we?
Let’s start with the Pros.
Using Betas allows you to get feedback and direction on the manuscript before it’s even published. You can use the information and feedback that they give you to make your book stronger and the story flow better. They can find mistakes you’ve made in both details and in story direction before it’s ever out there for the readers, themselves, to find. That, in and of itself, is incredibly valuable.
Betas make a great sounding board for ideas that you’re trying out in the story. Let them read a chapter or two before you commit to putting it into the book. See how they like the concepts and gauge your readers reactions based on the reactions of the betas. This is another great way that betas contribute to the quality of the book.
There are many ways in which having a beta will help the author tweak and make changes to the manuscript before it goes to print and is virtually set in stone. I’ve had times where a beta caught a mistake the editor missed. It can happen, even with the best of edits and editors. Mistakes slip by people. We’re only human. Having an extra set of eyes is always handy.
I’m sure I’m missing some of the ways in which betas help, but you get the picture. They help adjust the story and make a vast difference in the quality. They can help catch editing mistakes as well as be a sounding board for ideas. They’re definitely worth considering.
Now for the Cons.
I’ve had Beta Readers that I chose not to use anymore because all they wanted was to have an advanced copy to ready. I never got any feedback other than “it’s great.” That’s completely useless to a writer. We need honest feedback and critiques from a beta to improve the book and to make necessary changes. “It’s great” helps nothing. Even if the story is great and there’s no changes that they can think of to improve it, they to be say that and explain what they think makes it great. Also, there is ALWAYS something that needs to be improved. Always.
You will also get people who want to be a beta, then never get back to you with ANY kind of feedback. Not a word. I’ve had a few of those, as well. That completely defeats the purpose of being a beta in the first place. Why would they do that? I don’t know, but I’ve seen it happen.
This one is an extreme example and it’s never happened to me, but it’s one of those nightmare scenario type things I read about. I don’t personally know the author it happened to, but I can imagine how I would have felt if it had been me. A person agreed to be a beta. The writer sends them a nearly complete version of the manuscript. The “beta” then takes the manuscript and publishes it as their own. I know it’s an extreme example, but it’s theoretically possible. What would you do? What could you do? This is a nightmare scenario, but it’s also conceivable under the right circumstances.
You might also run into beta readers who decided its ok to share the manuscript with a “few friends” and next thing you know, you’re manuscript is making the rounds on the internet for free. All of that hard work, down the drain. Months of work, gone in a flash. Another nightmare, like the last one.
The moral of the story?
Whether or not you choose to use a Beta Reader is entirely up to you. Weigh the pros and cons before you decide and don’t pick a beta based on someone you met in a group on Facebook. Either thoroughly check out a potential beta or chose from people you know and trust. That means to know them in person, not on Face-space.
You’ve poured your life into your writing. Don’t trust it to some random stranger from the internet. Make certain that they understand the nature of what a Beta Reader does, too. That way, there is no misunderstanding of what you need from them when they read the manuscript. Both of you know exactly what you need from the relationship. This way, you can have them beta for you many times without any issues. Explain what you need them to do and what you expect for them to tell you. A simple, “It’s great” is not acceptable. Even if they think it’s great, they can still say what they liked and I’m certain, disliked.
Betas have the potential to really help improve your book, fix issues before they see print and give the book more readability. You want your readers to have the best experience possible. To that end, a beta can be worth their weight in gold. You might even consider having them sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement. That might potentially keep the theft and sharing of the manuscript risk down. At least you’d have a legal document to use to dispute their claim to the script and for potential financial losses during litigation.
Just as with any other decision you make concerning your writing, be informed and choose wisely. Do a little research and be cautious. Betas can be a monumental help, but they have the potential for going very bad, as well. If you do choose a Beta, choose someone you can trust. Food for thought.
Be wise, be safe and be informed.
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