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Beta readers: The more eyes, the merrier

Illustration © G.G. Silverman 2014

Illustration © G.G. Silverman 2014


As I’ve been editing the latest draft of my book, I’ve found it helpful to work with beta readers (basically, book testers), people outside of my critique group who are interested in giving me feedback.

To do this, I sent a recent, fairly polished draft to 6-8 people I trusted. Trust is important, you don’t want your unfinished book floating out there on the internet without your permission, and you also want someone will not only be honest with their feedback, but constructive. The people I chose were an eclectic group: some were YA readers and writers, others weren’t; one person reads zombie books obsessively, while others weren’t into horror at all. One person was even a YA librarian as well as a YA author. One reader was a gun expert, which was necessary because there’s a gun in my book and I wanted to get that part right. And some readers were video gamers, important since one of my characters is a gamer girl. This was my first time working with beta readers, and in some way, it was a test for me as well as them. I wanted the broadest range of opinions possible.

I asked beta readers to keep in mind the following:

  • Do you understand what’s happening in the story?
  • Does the story flow well? How was the pacing?
  • What did you think of the characters?
  • Please point out anything that read awkwardly or confused you, or any errors.

The results I got back were interesting and varied. First and foremost, I was relieved that mostly everyone got the dark humor. And almost everyone said they read it one sitting, and liked the fast pace, overall.

But the reason for working with beta readers is to have them spot things that don’t work, and I’m happy to report that different people spotted wildly different things. In fact, each person pointed out things that no one else had, and that was the most amazing part of the process, having a more thorough examination of my story than I would have if only one or two people had read it. Several pairs of eyes are really better than one. Some people were grammar hawks, where others had a knack for understanding pacing (maybe my story was a little too fast), characterization, and plot. The end result is that I now have a complete picture of where my story needs work, and am diligently working on a new draft, hopefully complete by the end of March 2014. Plus, I have an awesome cheerleading team that’s excited for the final draft. Thanks, guys!

To add more to the conversation, I asked some local authors why they work with beta readers, and Seattle-based YA author Ksenia Anske responded:

“Without my beta readers, I don’t think I would’ve grown as a writer as much as I did over the last two years. They see things I don’t see, they ask questions I didn’t ask, and they detect the heart of the story while I’m still floundering in the middle of my writerly doubt. And they believe in me, they give me courage to keep writing.”

Well said, Ksenia.

If any other writers have their own unique experiences with beta readers that they’d like to share, please post them in the comments. Looking forward to hearing from you. And, happy writing!

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