The Pros and Cons of Beta Readers

21 Aug

Announcements:

My short story, The Pink Scarf, was published in the second volume of an adult anthology collection, Ashtrays to Jawbreakers. It is completely free on Smashwords, so feel free to check it out by clicking here.

Take Me Tomorrow was reviewed by A Literary Mind recently, and you can read the entire review by clicking here, but check out this small excerpt: “I can’t say how refreshing it was to have a protagonist that felt real. Knife-throwing abilities aside, Sophia is like the rest of us; she’s stubborn, flawed, and simply cannot control her curly hair (I feel your pain!).”

The Pros and Cons of Beta Readers:

I love beta readers. In fact, I consider my beta readers some of my closest friends (and secret keepers.) But they are close to me because we were equally careful in deciding whether or not we were good for one another, and that is what I’m talking about today: how beta readers can be both fantastic and destructive, depending on how your relationship is decided.

Why Are Beta Readers Important?

I hate to be egotistical and quote my novel when I say, “Sometimes an outside perspective is the clearer perspective.” But it’s true. (Shout out to Talk Show Host, Illuminating Now, for quoting Seconds Before Sunrise yesterday and inspiring this piece.)

But, yes, having an outside perspective is vital BEFORE the novel is published. Why? Because authors often get too close to the story. They understand too much. They know all of the answers to all of the questions, and because of this, they sometimes forget to clarify enough for a reader to understand. Beta readers prevent this confusion by reading, reviewing, and even editing as they go. If writers, publishers, editors, and beta readers were a team, beta readers would be your very first fan who still shows up to all of your games, even when you lose. And they always have great advice that even your coach didn’t think about.

Are they really THAT important?

I stand my ground when I say that the importance of editors should also be on beta readers. Like editors, beta readers are vital in creating a professional, understandable story. I think most people in the publishing industry would agree that editors must be chosen with care, but some think I’m extreme when I say that beta readers should be treated the same. Yes, it’s okay to have your friends and family read your story, but you wouldn’t rely only on them to edit, so don’t rely only on them to beta read. Find trusted colleagues or join a writing group. This might take a long time, but it’s worth it in the end. Their dedication, encouragement, and ideas might be the clarity you need.

My beta reader, Bogart

My beta reader, Bogart

So how can they be destructive?

Like any relationship, two people who are wrong for one another can be destructive to one another. In this case, a bad relationship with a beta reader can cause more confusion, a horrible change in a manuscript, and more. This doesn’t mean the beta reader is bad. This doesn’t mean the author is bad. It just means they are bad for one another. Just because two good people are in the same room, doesn’t mean they are meant to be together. This is actually relationship advice my father gave me when I was an awkward preteen that hated life in general, but it stuck with me because it is true. You must find a beta reader who likes your work as much as you do, but you also must find one who is willing to be honest about it (and an author must be willing to listen and consider.)

Is there anything else I should know?

Definitely! This small list is just an outline of basic advice I’ve given to fellow authors in search of a beta team. But the one that scares them the most is the one that scares me the most: you often have to find different beta readers for different novels. Sure, I have my go-to team, but – like readers – beta readers have genre preferences, and they work better when they focus on those particular types of novels. Just like I can’t expect a sci-fi cover artist to create a romance cover, I can’t expect my beta readers to jump on any piece of writing I hand over, and I definitely can’t expect them to praise it. You want them to give you constructive criticism so you can grow together as a team – which brings me to my last point:

Thank all of your beta readers

Even if they drop your manuscript after twenty pages, the outside perspective might suggest what type of reader will also drop the manuscript. Any advice is helpful. (Yes. Even if you hate it. Because it allows you to figure out what beta readers are good and bad for you.) Plus, having a beta reader to discuss your novels with is like having a best friend to write with, and I think all of us authors can use a few more people to talk to other than the characters in our heads. (We know how confusing they can be.) So take the time to thank them, and if you’re feeling extra thankful, put them on your acknowledgements page in your next bestseller.

P.S. I would like to take this moment to thank my beta readers past, present, and future.

~SAT

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40 Responses to “The Pros and Cons of Beta Readers”

  1. S dot Love August 21, 2014 at 12:32 am #

    Great post and I can definitely relate. Right now, I only have one beta reader for my first novel that I’ve been working on. It’s been such a pleasure to have his help, but it has also been a learning experience for me as well. Sometimes, his advice would try to sway my story so that HE could relate to it, instead of thinking about the larger audience. Beta readers are definitely needed and useful, but like you said, it’s very important to find one that is RIGHT for you!

    • Shannon A Thompson August 21, 2014 at 2:07 am #

      That is a fantastic add! I’ve had an experience where the beta reader and I were also swaying two different directions and focuses. It’s important to recognize aspects like that. Thank you for reading and commenting.
      ~SAT

  2. Bethany Hatheway August 21, 2014 at 12:49 am #

    Reblogged this on Writing Madness.

  3. Charles Yallowitz August 21, 2014 at 6:33 am #

    Makes one wonder about all those ‘call for beta reader’ posts that I see. I used a bunch of beta readers for my first book because I accepted every offer to help. This was probably a bad idea because many started with ‘I don’t usually read fantasy’. That never seems to go well.

    • Shannon A Thompson August 21, 2014 at 1:26 pm #

      I definitely had more beta readers when I was younger, but I think it was because I found beta readers easier to find when I was attending school. It is difficult to find beta readers for certain genres! You’re very right. Most of mine don’t mind fantasy, but I struggled to find one for a contemporary romance piece I wrote a while back. I think I ultimately had to turn to Wattpad, and it took a couple of months to find someone I wanted to talk to and someone I trusted. Now that I’m a little older, a couple months to just find someone doesn’t sound reasonable. Someone below you commented that we should have a “dating” website for beta readers and writers. Too funny! (and true.)
      ~SAT

      • Charles Yallowitz August 21, 2014 at 4:14 pm #

        Funny thing is that I always found romance readers, but fantasy readers were so rare. I didn’t have much luck finding classmates to help either. There was a weird competition and loner mentality within the program. At the very least, I wasn’t one of the core students and tended to be left to my own devices.

        “Dating” website does sound funny. Wonder what it would be called.

  4. Mishka Jenkins August 21, 2014 at 7:17 am #

    Beta readers are really important, but also finding people you can trust and who will give you honest critique is just as important.

    I have 3 readers who I am very lucky to have, and it’s amazing how they all manage to focus on different aspects, which obviously works out perfectly! 😀

    • Shannon A Thompson August 21, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

      Oh, yes! Trust is the foundation of relationships, including beta readers. I think you brought up a great point of how different perspectives can come from an array of beta readers (not just one.) Thank you for reading and commenting.
      ~SAT

  5. Jonas Lee August 21, 2014 at 8:06 am #

    Do you find it’s easier giving your betas a chapter at a time or a completed MS?

    • Shannon A Thompson August 21, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

      Honestly, I find it easier to give books to a beta team after it’s completed (or VERY close to being completed) because I often go backward and change a lot once I get to the end. If I hand them the beginning that I changed, it ends up turning into a giant mess of what version we’re talking about. But that’s my style of writing that causes that. It’s been an issue in writing groups because they’re generally organized by giving a chapter at a time, and I don’t function that way. I have to give them older, finished work to critique.
      ~SAT

  6. dkorthbooks August 21, 2014 at 9:08 am #

    Reblogged this on Daisha KorthBooks and commented:
    I use beta readers and I choose them very carefully. I’ve found that it’s great for both sides. They love your writing and get a sneak peek and you get feedback. I do try to have more than one and rarely are any if them in the same age group. I want a variety of perspectives. Do you use beta readers? If not, why?

  7. stephsgrn August 21, 2014 at 10:14 am #

    I have done some beta reading in the past, and I really love it! I have even been given the opportunity to help pre-edit some writing, I was given a copy of someone’s work with full editing privelage.. I really enjoyed that. I did, however, have reservations about touching someone else’s work so freely so anything I changed, I did it in red so that it was clear to her and easier for her to catch and decide if she liked the change. I want to write someday, but have basically lost the story that was in my head. I feel like I was forcing a story and that, to me, makes for a bad one. I am seriously hoping to have one just come to me and hopefully one day I will get my muse. In the mean time, I will continue to follow all of you actual writers in hopes of some great tips on how to get started. Thank you so much for your blog!

    • Shannon A Thompson August 21, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

      Oh, yes! I do content edits for my publisher, and I love it, but I always mark my edits in different colors so the author has ultimate sway. If I feel like there is a storyline issue, I also take notes on a separate page for them to read through. (So it doesn’t fill up their novel’s pages – I feel like that can be really discouraging to see all that red on your writing.) Editing is a lot of fun! But it is only fun when you also have a good relationship with the author, and everyone knows you can trust one another not to get their feelings hurt. I think you’re already writing by what you do. 😀 It’s only a matter of time before you put the red pen down to pick up a black one. You can do it!
      ~SAT

      • stephsgrn August 21, 2014 at 5:16 pm #

        Thank you so much! It means a lot to hear to say that!

  8. Ensis August 21, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    I’ve had terrible luck with beta readers, even the ones with whom I swap manuscripts. I find that writer-betas are too concerned to do my work justice–(I rarely get back more than one chapter my MS while I read five or more of theirs. Then they just stop returning my emails)–and non-writer-betas don’t give me the kind of insights I need. “It’s good!” “Yeah, but did you feel it dragged in any places?” “Uh… no. Very creative.”
    Ugh. Sorry, just a vent today, but thanks for the post and providing a place to vent.
    Guess I need to keep looking for my good match!
    If only they had dating websites for writers and beta readers…

    • Shannon A Thompson August 21, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

      You make a great distinction – beta readers who are writers and beta readers who aren’t writers. I wish I had discussed this, because I do feel like they have a very different approach to reading. I try very hard to have one writer-beta, but most of my betas aren’t writers in the sense that they pursue it. (They might write here and there, but it actually is a hobby to them, not a career choice or passionate plan to pursue their dreams.) I have more luck with non-writer betas, and I think it works because I am looking for readers to read my book, not writers. (If they happen to be both, great.) But – like you said – it can go both ways when a non-writer beta doesn’t understand the type of depth you need. Great comment! Thank you for reading.
      ~SAT

      • Ensis August 21, 2014 at 2:33 pm #

        That makes me feel better about not finding writer-betas.
        I was wondering–do you think it’d be a good idea to come up with a survey about the work for them to fill out after they’ve read it, or do you think that’d be too much?

      • Shannon A Thompson August 21, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

        I don’t see why not. I almost always tell my beta readers what I’m worried about. It isn’t a literally surgery, but – in a way – I’m sort of guiding them to look for what kind of feedback I’m looking for.
        ~SAT

  9. pouringmyartout August 21, 2014 at 10:44 am #

    I should really try this…

  10. eclecticalli August 21, 2014 at 12:07 pm #

    Beta Readers are so important and helpful! I started this long reply… but now am just turning that into a post of my own about the awesomeness of the beta readers I’ve found 🙂

  11. Robyn August 21, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

    Loved “The Pink Scarf”!
    I agree, there are readers, and there are writers. Sometimes what I do is ask two sets of people to look specifically for different things.

    • Shannon A Thompson August 21, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

      Oh, I’m so glad you enjoyed my short story! Thank you for reading both my story and my post while also commenting. I appreciate it.
      ~SAT

  12. theowllady August 21, 2014 at 5:27 pm #

    Reblogged this on theowlladyblog.

  13. theowllady August 21, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

    Reblogged this on MARSocial Author Business Enhancement Interviews.

  14. Julie August 22, 2014 at 8:05 am #

    Reblogged this on The Kolb Web and commented:
    Shannon A Thompson is spot on with this. I, too, thank my beta readers, past, present and future. It is true, it doesn’t matter what their opinion is – good, or bad. It helps!

  15. Julie August 22, 2014 at 8:07 am #

    Very well said, so well, I reblogged it! Thank you.

  16. rmcalzada August 23, 2014 at 2:43 pm #

    Reblogged this on Richard-Michael Calzada and commented:
    Time for me to start looking.

  17. Susannah Ailene Martin September 3, 2014 at 10:29 pm #

    The only thing I can add is that sometimes, your parents actually are pretty good beta readers. My mom was one of my first beta readers and my current editor. She doesn’t get the whole creative writing thing all the way, but she has been an amazing editor.

  18. wlloydjr September 6, 2014 at 9:26 am #

    Reblogged this on William Lloyd (Author).

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