Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Many new writers I’ve met are extremely shy about sharing their work. If they don’t learn to do so, they miss out on a valuable part of a manuscript review process.

One of the most important parts of my writing process is to find beta readers. Oh, there’s different types of beta readers and all of which I use for different reasons. They are indispensable in the process of getting your writing in shape.


Oh, yeah, there is always more than one side to a story. I’m sure you heard that one before. Well when it comes to writing there is the story you’ve written. The one that’s in your head, and the story that the reader reads.

The best part of reading a book opposed to seeing a movie is that no two readers play out the exact same story in their head when they read. Having people test read your writing shows you the things you forgot to tell them. Let’s you know when you tell too much. Picks out the times you forgot to show the story.
As an author, we know the story we want to tell in detail. And those parts that are our tough spots – places in the tale where we get too lazy to figure out. The reader picks up on them with clarity and reminds the author to fix those vague spots.


In order to turn your caterpillar of a story into a butterfly, don’t skimp on the Beta Readers. I have several sets of beta readers that I use. I break them up into groups and my expectations for them are different. I also find that coming up with questions for that group or a checklist helps them to focus their reading and gives them permission to be nitpicky.

AUDIENCE – This is the age, gender, group that the book is written for. I usually get a hand full of kids to read my YA books. They usually flush out lags in the story, dialogue issues, believability and story likeability.

PEERS – These are fellow writers. This is my secret weapon. Other writer’s are really good at picking apart grammar issues, plot holes, character issues and structure problems. They are golden and definitely never let anything go out without running your stuff by this group of beta readers at least 2 times.

RANDOM READERS – This is usually adults I get to read my middle grade and young adult books. They don’t usually read YA, but can give me a good indication of hidden audiences. If the story is strong enough to transcend the intended group and go mainstream.


As an author, beta reading other’s work is invaluable. I’ve become a better writer, editor of my work and others through beta reading. Also, it is a give and take. I love doing beta switches with other authors and critique their work at the same time they are critiquing mine. It ensures that they have an invested interest in helping my story succeed as much as I do in theirs.

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reading. writing. revolution. said...

Yeah, this is something that I am seriously lacking. The main reason for this, and I totally don't mean to seem arrogant here, is that the beta reader pool seems to be mostly women who would rather tell me that my story is "wonderful" and flirt with me rather than be critical. "Oh, that was terrific" is not the feedback I'm looking for. On the other hand, my editor said the book needed serious work then proceeded to berate me for not being willing to date her. It's a disaster.

That said, I went over "Dying Light" with as fine a toothed comb I could find, always asking myself questions about why the characters did this or that, if things made sense or was I just interjecting "this cool thing" into a chapter for the hell of it. I'm still doing that, although I would love to find a reasonable beta reader that 1) had a clue about writing, and 2) didn't have another agenda.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I have to LOL about the dating comment, because finding good critique partners is a BIT like dating: although you don't have to be matched in skill levels, you do have to have similarities in temperment, or at least the ability to critique openly and honestly (and be able to take a critique too). Finding a good match is not easy, but well worth it.

I think there is tremendous value in giving/receiving critiques from people whose writing skills are more advanced and less advanced than yours. A reader may not be able to school you in grammar, but they know if they voice or tone is off, or can spot plot holes. Likewise, a writer who is more skilled in craft can help you tremendously - but this goes both ways, which means giving a helping hand to those just starting out.

Writing is the most supportive community I've ever worked in, and I'm glad to be a part of it.

Great post, LM!

Maria Zannini said...

I wouldn't dream of turning in a manuscript before my beta readers dissected it.

They keep me honest.

Aheïla said...

I wholeheartedly agree with that post.
In video games, we have playtesters and they are the key to making sure a game is fun for the intended audience. I'm used to that so I'm naturally inclined to have beta readers for my writing.

I have one writing-inclined friend who gets to hear early drafts. Not read. I read it out loud to her and watch her first reactions to the story which helps fix it pretty early. Reading my story outloud also raises my awareness of redundancies.

Since I'm writing my first novel in French, I have a group of French beta readers who will provide a first batch of comments that I will address while translating my story to English. Then send it out to English beta readers.
Both groups contain people that are my audience and people that aren't.

It's nice to have a confirmation in your post that I'm on the right track. ;)

LM Preston said...

Also, I believe beta readers prepare you for positive and negative comments from reviewers. You can't please everyone in this business, but running it through betas helps the writer to accept that not everyone will 'get' what you are writing. Also, it will reveal the strenghts of your writing while giving you an opportunity to fix things that may deter from the tale you are weaving.

What Do You Live For? said...

I was just thinking about my teen betas(3 girls & 1 boy) that I have lined up to read my wip. After reading your post it made me wonder if you have set questions or do you make them up as you go(write)?

I want them to give me feedback, and feel if I don't do a questionnaire form of some type they might just be nice.

Any thoughts?
Thanks for the great post.

Lisa Gail Green said...

I agree! Not only is it important to get beta readers for your own manuscript, it is invaluable to do it for others.

L.J. said...

I've been reading a lot about beta readers. Forgive my ignorance on the subject, but what point in the writing process is the best time to send it out to them? After fully edited, for example? I found this post to be extremely helpful, by the way. Thank you.