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Sunday, 28 February 2016

What a Beta Reader Does. Apart from running and hiding.

Well, it's done, and the Bronze Age book has gone off to my beta reader to be thoroughly scruitinsed.  For anyone out there who doesn't know about beta readers, here is a quick rundown of their very special nature and relationship with An Author.

Firstly, they must live far enough away that they do not have to fear the author (me, in this instance) coming after them with a breadknife or pushing poo through their letterbox, should they find a lot of mistakes.  I know some people who use family members as their beta readers - they are clearly far more stable and accepting of criticism than me, because any of my family would not dare say anything other than 'I really enjoyed it' for fear of spending the rest of their lives under an assumed name in a safe house in Walsall.
Yes, yes I am, thank you for asking

A beta reader should either be another author or someone well grounded in structuring your type of fiction.  There is absolutely no point in having your romance book beta tested by someone who last read a book in 1975 or who only reads books about military aircraft.  They can read your book, but they will only say 'I really enjoyed that', which is not really any help, or they will criticise the fact that there are no Junkers in it.  Unless there are, in which case they will tell you the fusilage is the wrong colour.

They should have a reasonable grasp of spelling, punctuation and grammar and not write things like 'I dont no wot u r on about heer, m8' in the margin.  If they do, you are allowed to kill them, apparently, although I haven't tested this yet, so don't quote me.

Your beta reader should be a critical reader.  That doesn't mean that they go through your book tutting, shaking their heads and making cryptic notes about the colour of Junkers fusilage in every Christmas card you receive from them - it means they should have the ability to flag up mistakes or plot holes.  Some readers just read straight over glitches like this, and it's only when your editor gets their hands on your manuscript and emails you to say 'what happened to the dog in Chapter Ten?  And how come your hero is an IT consultant in Chapter Four, but by Chapter Eleven he doesn't know how to log in to Facebook?' that you realise you never noticed this, and feel a burk.  Your beta reader should already have berated you about these things and enabled you to put them right before Editorial Embarrassment ensued.
Seriously.  Keep track of the dog. Editors hate that sort of thing.
They should know how to tactfully tell you that your book is...shall we say, lacking a certain amount of detail.  In other words, they should be able to criticise the words, without the author feeling as though they are ten and the school bully has just told them that they smell of wee.  Unless either of these things are the case, of course, and if you ARE ten and smell of wee then I think you might not be quite ready for a beta reader yet anyway.  This is a knack that some people don't possess, and if YOU feel you have been attacked by your beta reader and need further information, then there is a helpline number coming on screen after this programme...

I love my beta reader....
but I keep the breadknife and poo on standby. Just in case...

1 comment:

Rhoda Baxter said...

I've used a beta reader for when I'm writing about something I've had to do a lot of research on - for example, when I wrote about someone who had been a carer for a parent and was struggling to move on, I asked someone who had been in a similar situation several years ago (and was able to think about it without weeping!) to beta read and flag up anything that was wrong or insensitive. Maybe that's a sensitivity reader... I get confused.