B is for…Beta Readers

What the heck is a beta reader, you ask? Beta readers are those lovely souls who read drafts of manuscripts prior to publication and provide feedback. They are the ones who find all of the plot holes, inconsistencies and gaffes. The best ones also couch their critiques in lots of hugs and “but here’s all the stuff I loved” comments. (Writers – especially this one – have fragile egos.)

Getting feedback from beta readers is a little like seeing a picture of yourself after you’ve only been catching glimpses in the mirror: “Oh my god, is THAT what my novel really looks like?” Writing is funny that way – you get to know your characters and their world so well that you lose objectivity and need others to help bring it back.

In your mind, your characters’ quirks, motivations and emotions are so obvious that you forget you haven’t translated everything in your head fully to the page. I had a few readers on Some Flew North who kept saying that my main character was inconsistent and too passive. My main character grew stronger through each round of drafts as I explored her motivations more, but she still has a long way to go, in part because I should have listened better to my early beta readers.

Beta readers also catch glaring errors, of which I have legion in all of my manuscripts. Like when a character’s middle name changed – twice – during the novel. Or when another traveled three hundred miles roundtrip (on foot!) and was back home in two days. Or when another one kept running his hand through his hair. Seriously. Every other page. Him with the hair. And even though this character has really good hair, it was a little excessive.

I can get manuscripts to a certain point (usually the third or fourth drafts for me) and I know I can’t get them any further without having several other pairs of eyes reading them and giving feedback. So no, I couldn’t do what I do without beta readers.

I’d like to end with a roll call of my beta readers – any omissions are my own error. The gratitude I feel toward them is without measure:

Jen, Sara, Sarah, Alyssa, Asli, Erika, Diane, Amanda, Kari, Jeff, Don (he knows why) and Leila (who also knows why).

And especially Chris, first reader and best love.

6 thoughts on “B is for…Beta Readers

    • Thanks! I have had so many excellent beta readers I think I could probably make them my theme for next year’s challenge. (A is for Amanda, etc…) 🙂

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    • Thanks for the shout out! I’m heading over to your blog to read up on some new books and ponder book titles based on the picture you posted – what a great way to spark inspiration.

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  1. What a fun post! I laughed at the inconsistencies your betas uncovered. Been there, done that. There are some “professional” writers I wish had your dedication. On a long trip once, I was listening to an Iris Johansen mystery. On every other page “His lips thinned” just about drove me off the road.

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    • Ha! Some of those things are even more apparent when you hear them out loud, too. The thing that drove me the most nuts about 50 Shades of Grey (and there were lots to pick from) was that she was always biting her lip. Always. Poor thing could have probably used some chapstick instead of a helicopter ride.

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