Pollard, Belinda: What is a beta reader and why do I need one?

You might have seen the term ‘beta reader’ as you’re browsing writing websites, or maybe this is the first time you’ve heard of it.

Basically, a beta reader gives you feedback on your finished manuscript, so you can adjust it before you set it loose on the world. I consider them the superheroes of self-publishing (and great for traditional publishing, too).

What a weird term!

“Beta reader” has apparently been adapted from the software industry, where programmers release a ‘beta’ version of a new program to people who will test it. The beta version comes after the alpha version (which to a writer might be the first draft). I would have thought the alpha version was the one that goes on sale, but apparently not. Confusing, huh?

Don’t worry, just remember: Beta Reader means someone who evaluates a manuscript.

Beta testers find the bugs and improve the software’s usability before the final “release” version goes on sale. A beta reader tests your manuscript (by reading it), and tells you about the ‘bugs’ so you can improve its readability, its usefulness and even its saleability.

It’s an especially valuable step if you are planning to self-publish, but can also help you in the quest to get an agent or publisher if you are planning on going the traditional route with your book.

How to say it

Unfortunately, it’s one of those tomayto-tomahto kinda words. I say it “beeta”, like most Australians and quite a few Brits. In the US, it often seems to be “bayta”. And apparently in some parts of the world, it’s more like “betta”!

I think the take-home message is: Say “beta readers” however you like, just get some! :-)

Why do I need a beta reader?

The fact is, we spend so much time on our own manuscripts that we can’t see them objectively — no matter how diligently we self-edit. These can be some of the outcomes (there are plenty more):

  • We create anticipation or an expectation early in the book, but forget to deliver on it.
  • We describe events in a way that is clear to us but not clear to a reader who can’t see the pictures in our head. (At least, we hope they can’t see them. Are you looking inside my head??? Eek!)
  • We leave out vital steps in an explanation and don’t realise it, because we know what we mean.
  • The characters in our books (whether fictional, or real as in a memoir or non-fiction anecdote) are not convincing, because we know them so well we don’t realise we haven’t developed them thoroughly on paper………………………….

You can read the rest of this article and other articles regarding Beta-readers on Small Blue Dog Publishing

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