B is for Beta

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b“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.

Mine!

Yes, you wrote the book. This is the main reason you are not the best person to judge it as complete or competent.

No, really.

Too Close

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?

Too big for carry on compartment

“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.

Who?

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.

Who not?

All dogs should read.

Probably not a good choice.

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.

Rewrites

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.

Why?

See: Too Close.

Second Beta

Ironically, second beta does not have the nameΒ 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.

Final Beta

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.

Poison

Jolly Roger

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…

  1. Write. Self edit.
  2. Beta Readers
  3. Rewrite. Self edit.
  4. Second Beta Readers (Repeat 3 & 4 as necessary)
  5. Polish.
  6. Final Beta
  7. Editor


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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54 Comments

  1. What a humbling reminder re: getting plenty of beta readers. There are always little boo-boos floating in the text as I’ve come to realise!
    Mel recently posted..B is for Bertie ButterflyMy Profile

    Reply
    • I have books which went through three editors which came out with at least one typo or formatting “OMG! Who put that there?” More eyes are always better. Always.

      Reply
  2. B is for Barely. Meaning I can barely call myself a blogger much less a writer and I would never assume to call myself an author.
    Bo Lumpkin recently posted..Things ChangeMy Profile

    Reply
  3. I have enjoyed reading this one to and when I reached this bit (Did you tell your child grizzly bears really were not blue with orange spots?) I had a bit of a giggle πŸ™‚ lol You have a knack for humour within a serious work and how wicked that is πŸ™‚

    I think that Beta readers are necessary otherwise the authors ego becomes over enlarged and somewhat misplaced, though with some writers the quality has already been noted through other mediums such as blogging, which is definitely a positive for anything that is offered.

    I can’t wait to see what you
    add for ‘C’ my great friend πŸ™‚ xxx

    Reply
    • We are going to have a really good time with this one. If you want to see what i am going to do in advance, grab The Map for this year’s A to Z page. I have some doozies planned… Like that would be different just because it is April! πŸ™‚

      Reply
  4. Great advice – will need to stock up on Beta Readers. Another enjoyable read.
    printedportal recently posted..B is for… Buddy UpMy Profile

    Reply
  5. No, I’ve never been a Beta reader. But, your blurb about Mom reminded me of something:

    I once had a Himalayan cat, and my daughter went to kindergarden talking about him. Other kids thought she said “Him A Lion.” So, kids thought we had a lion at our house. She asked me much later why the teacher only smiled and never correct her.

    Far-fetched story, I know. πŸ™‚
    Alexandra Heep recently posted..B is for Buona BeefMy Profile

    Reply
    • Oh, that is hysterical! If you want in on the beta gig, I can probably get you in with this publishing company I know πŸ˜‰

      Reply
      • It sounds interesting, but I can’t read e-books unfortunately. I am not even supposed to be on a computer in the first place.

        As far as the story goes, it’s true… I was just saying it’s far-fetched to tie in with your post!
        Alexandra Heep recently posted..B is for Buona BeefMy Profile

        Reply
  6. I was a beta reader three times. I love it! In the first instance, I felt I could be helpful and gave constructive feedback. The second, I was too close to the subject matter and wasn’t helpful. A beta reader has to be honest if they can’t do the objective job and give a summary. In the third case, it was poetry, which is one of my genres and I felt competent.

    In all it was an honor to be “holding” another author’s treasured work and to give feedback that undoubtedly would have an impact. Through beta reading, I have learned my abilities and limits through which I can help, which is why it is so important to match the beta reader with the work, which was done with a sharp eye at RP. Thanks!
    And thank you to my own beta readers!
    Gail Thornton recently posted..IntoxicatedMy Profile

    Reply
    • You touched on something others may overlook. Your beta readers do need to be competent to say, “I cannot do this because (personal reason, writing is atrocious, subject is too close).” I know I have always gotten great beta feedback. Some of the best beta feedback I ever got was “Scrap it and start over.” xxx

      Reply
  7. Interesting. I’ve heard the phrase Beta Reader, but was never really sure what it meant. I’m learning already, Red! πŸ™‚
    Tom recently posted..The ResultsMy Profile

    Reply
    • The first post said we were going to demystify the process. Everything you want to know and then some.

      Reply
  8. Beautifully written, dear Red! You’ve captured just the amount of silliness (as Gray said) to make it not seem to dictatorial. I have been a beta reader and fully wholly really loved the experience. I don’t know how I’d do on a poetry book, but on the two memoirs, I was honored to be part of the beta team! Hopefully I can keep it up as prospective (yours, hopefully) authors submit works for the publishing process.
    I used to be afraid of beta reading, in that I am usually a very forgiving reader.I now realize that many of the books I struggled to finish or even didn’t finish could have used a good strong beta team. I think I’ve learned to be aware of the right things, that it is a pleasure and honor to be on a beta team!!
    Sorry – couldn’t stop when I got started!! I’m loving your series here Red!!!

    πŸ™‚
    BuddhaKat recently posted..B is for… BEHIND BARSMy Profile

    Reply
    • No apologies. There is no reason to be afraid of beta on either end. (You may want to counsel Bo.) The mindset of a beta reader needs to be objectively critical. Beta readers are not tearing the book apart for no reason. They are making it better. Beta readers find when they read for pleasure, they are more observant than they were before. xxx

      Reply
  9. Though to be fair, some work just can’t be helped.
    And on the other hand, some people don’t like anything, no matter how good it is.
    El Guapo recently posted..Beatnik Poetry Slam – IceMy Profile

    Reply
    • I agree with both of those statements. I have beta read some books/stories unfit for cat box liner. I have also had readers who were islands and only liked the things they wrote. Generally, I find those in the second group write into the first group.

      Reply
  10. My mom tells the truth no matter how much it hurts. haha
    Bearman Cartoons recently posted..…and the winners areMy Profile

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