“But my book is in English.”
Blink. Blink. “Are you sure?”
Beta: The second letter of the Greek alphabet is the collective nickname for the second users. These crash test dummies are invaluable to the publication of a successful book.
Yes, you wrote the book. This is the main reason you are not the best person to judge it as complete or competent.
In terms of non-fiction, being too close to our work means we may read a passage and know what we meant, which may or may not be what a reader is going to get out of it… especially if the reader is reading the book to learn the first time.
Readers are not ignorant, but they may not have as much knowledge as the author does on the subject at hand. Authors have to deliver information succinctly without skimping on the support for concepts.
Just because you wrote the story and understand it does not mean your readers will. Your readers were not at the story boarding meetings you and your characters had in your head and on your scratch pad. You know your characters better than anyone else. For the book to be a success, you have to move them out of your head and in between the pages.
The Big Zit
Nothing is worse for the OCD author than picking up the final copy of your book and discovering a typo which completely changes the meaning of a passage. When you have read something enough times, you can overlook glaring mistakes because you know what you (thought you) wrote. Beta readers see them more readily because they are fresh eyes on your manuscript.
Where’s my truck?
“Oh, you mean the one I drove through the hole in your story line?”
Story gaps and mischaracterization are the first things good beta readers notice. They pick up on the subtle details and nuances the way a book buyer does. From simple things, like changing a character’s name in chapter 12, to the massive issues, like forgetting there was a battle in the city on the day of your parade, beta readers pick up the inconsistencies and dredge the experience pool creating the book.
My mother loved it.
Your mother loves you. Not many mothers will tell their children, even at 46 years old, their stories have fatal problems. Did you tell your child grizzly bears really were not blue with orange spots? See.
Beta readers are not your friends. Your friends can help you find beta readers. Having a go-between for the author and beta reader is not a bad idea because it shields both parties. Not all authors handle critique with grace, no matter how apt the critique is. Not all beta readers are willing to use the sandwich method when telling an author how big their trucks are.
Friends of friends, who have a grasp of the language mechanically and on a literary level, make good beta readers. When you can find a reviewer who is not booked for the next six months, you have an invaluable beta reader. If you have a Grammar Nazi close by, bribery is not taboo.
Besides Mom, spell check, siblings, someone who helped with story boarding and your editor are not people who make first cut for beta reading. Your copy editor is the last pass before press. You want your book as close to perfect as you and your beta team can get it before it gets to your copy editor.
Team? Yes, beta team. Three is a good round number, but five is an optimal number of beta readers. Each reader’s life and literary experience will highlight a different part of the manuscript.
Commonly, books are bloodied in beta. Beta readers are your story editors. They ask questions.
- What does this colloquialism mean?
- If you killed him in chapter three, why is he on the telephone in chapter six?
- Why did you put this (in, here)?
Some of the questions will be minor fixes. Some of them will require entire rewrites. Some will require you adding chapters to explain what the beta readers did not get out of the manuscript. When you are done rewriting, it is time for different beta readers.
See: Too Close.
Ironically, second beta does not have the name beta beta. The second beta is as important as the first. The inevitable changes which come from the first beta reading will need to be read for continuity.
- Do the patches you put in place blend seamlessly with the rest of the story?
- Did you change voice?
- Did you shift tense?
Depending on your writing method, rewrites can create problems while fixing other issues. Once rewritten, the manuscript really is back to square one. Send it to beta again with fresh sets of eyes.
No, you are not done yet. Once you get through a beta read where the readers only want to write reviews, you are almost done. You need at least one more person to read the book. Yes, we all know you talked to the beta reader about the book at some point. The last person who reads your book needs to know nothing except you want them to read your book.
It is easy to poison the beta pool. Reason #49 to have a go-between: Telling your beta readers about your book can give them insight you did not write in the book.
For instance, you tell the beta reader you are writing a book about how Joan of Arc was really a witch from a coven run by dwarves. Since your beta reader is a fantasy buff, unbeknownst to you, Beta has conjured story line to support your argument even before opening your historical reference book.
Beta is likely going to overlook the fact you failed to mention dwarves in the book on the assumption you are going to pitch the book, as you already have, on the jackback. Do we need to explain assume?
Wrap it up…
- Write. Self edit.
- Beta Readers
- Rewrite. Self edit.
- Second Beta Readers (Repeat 3 & 4 as necessary)
- Final Beta
Have you ever been a beta reader? What was your favorite part of beta reading? What did you learn about your writing by putting your book out to beta readers?
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