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 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.

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. I used to read and review (and half the time line edit) scripts for an online writer’s group. You would get everything, from things that barely made sense, to scripts that could be filmed virtually as is and be a better movie than most of the things that get produced.
    Binky recently posted..Impressionable YouthMy Profile

    Reply
    • I think that is the most disgusting part of the slush pile. Gems which are far better than the dreck on shelves sit because someone who only likes one kind of book reads them.

      Reply
    • I’ll keep you off the hook and not ask you which camp mine were in. ; )

      Reply
  2. I have n.e.v.e.r. beta read; I feel I am too judgemental–grammar-wise. Why is it we do not see inconsistencies in our own attempts, but see vertually the sun, the moon and the stars when reading someone else’s prized babies? Why?
    Tess Kann recently posted..Flash in the Pan – DinerMy Profile

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  3. I would love to be a reader. The best thing I ever read was my son’s dissertation. Honestly. Not being a mom here, well I am, but subjectively it was the most beautiful, prosaic, complex piece of writing I ever read.
    I proof and edit lots of things: scientific papers, grants, business communication. I love it!
    In a way, it’s much easier than writing my own stuff!
    Enchanted Seashells, Confessions of a Tugboat Captains Wife recently posted..She sees seashells and shelves near the seashoreMy Profile

    Reply
    • If you want to join the coop and beta read regularly, send me an email. I know what you mean about the dissertation. I have read quite a few. All of them were largely revealing of the passion the authors held. It is truly a shame more of them are not published to the public at large. xxx

      Reply
  4. Excellent post on Beta Readers and a VERY good A to Z challenge choice. I wish I had thought of this one but I doubt I’d have done half as well. Thanks for the post!

    *~ MAJK ~*

    Twitter@Safireblade
    #AtoZchallenge

    Reply
    • Welcome. Feel free to tick the CommentLuv box to link to your posts in the future. You are more than welcome to leave a link to your blog in The Green Room (top menu bar). It is our official jumping off spot when we are not on the linky list. Thank you for stopping by today!

      Reply
  5. Joan of Arc was really a witch from a coven run by dwarves? huh? I missed that 😉 I have been a beta reader and the best thing about it is getting to read something really good before anyone else and getting to say it sucks if it is really bad. The anonymous part helps a lot becuase you don;t feel like you have to say nice things and don;t have to worry about someone having sour grapes and saying poopy things about yours if they happen to be a beta reader for you. It works in the favor of the author too because you can really believe your beta readers – good or bad opinion and I gained a heck of a lot of confidence after mine went through the beta readers… because i didn;t feel like the good things being said were to blow smoke up my ass… I would never consider publishing without Beta readers now that i know how important they are and what they do. this was a great post – very informative and puts a whole new light on the necessity of Beta readers and how to find them and what weight their thoughts should have. It’s a crapshoot when you are one whether you will enjoy it or not – that is up to the author and whether they are really prepared for that stage and also if they are going to listen… cause getting it again and realizing its the same is a little – disheartening and sometimes can be a chore to push through but in the end you can say .. I was part of that .. my beta readers can say – when I am famous – they were key in giving me the confidence to be an author… they can say it anyways so the famous part – eh.. just being optimistic (or is it insane? no def optimistic) Can;t wait to see what the rest of the alphabet has in store.. i mean i saw what they are – I can;t wait to read them…
    Much love and looks like you are gonna maybe even top last year.. .which is saying alot – that;s when I first started reading M3 and still refer to the words and what i learned then…
    Rock on with it..
    ♥ Lizzie
    Lizzie Cracked recently posted..A-Z Challenge; B is for Botox Mental MomentMy Profile

    Reply
    • oh..oops.. I got a little wordy there .. geez..
      Lizzie Cracked recently posted..A-Z Challenge; B is for Botox Mental MomentMy Profile

      Reply
    • Very true. It is being a big part of the process of a successful book to be a beta reader. I firmly advocate go betweens for the sole reason everyone’s feelings are protected.

      And I would be ecstatic if this year tops last year. We had a ball and all of us made some connections we still have. Plus, the research is amazing. xxx

      Reply
  6. I’d never make a Beta reader I’m afraid, I’m just not wired right! 🙁

    Plus I lack in education, which is a terrible thing to have to admit! 🙁

    God Bless!

    Prenin.
    Prenin recently posted..Tuesday – A call to Environmental Health.My Profile

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    • There is nothing wrong with admitting it. Absolutely nothing. There is another post upcoming which reiterates this.

      Reply
  7. Where’s my truck?

    I love it.

    MJ
    MJ Logan recently posted..C is for ComfortMy Profile

    Reply
  8. Have beta read at first, second and third pass. Have actually handed books back before finishing them with the comment, “this is so bad I refuse to read it.”

    I think you forgot the part;

    1. Storyboard
    2. Self edit

    Then hand to beta readers.

    Books have to at least be legible as stories before you ask others to read them.
    Valentine Logar recently posted..DOMA DammitMy Profile

    Reply
    • I think when I publish the book, I will add some portions to it. I am getting the impression from the comments already storyboarding is something I should cover.

      Reply
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