I’ve mentioned beta readers several times and I’ve had a handful of people ask me what the heck they are.
It’s like beta testing a product. When you develop computer software or hardware, you have to beta test it before you start to sell it for real money. There will always be coding issues that need to be fixed, so developers have to debug it so that users don’t waste their hard-earned cash on something that’s going to have issues.
Same thing with books. It’s a product, and my readers spend their hard-earned money on it, so I don’t want to sell them a product that is defective.
But how can a book be defective?
It’s different than a computer program, of course, but the concept is the same. Of course, physical books can have defects, and ebooks can have formatting issues, but what my beta readers are examining is the actual story. When my readers dive into one of my books, I want their experience to be as immersive and seamless as possible.
Part of that is editing, but editing is separate from beta reading. When I hand a book to a beta reader, I’m not looking for grammar and punctuation advice. What I am looking for is any other ways that the reader experience might be disrupted so that I can fix it. I don’t want a reader to be pulled out of the story because they stumble over the wording. I don’t want them to be jarred from the emotion of the scene because they’re wondering who George is and why he’s suddenly being mentioned a third of the way through the book. Those are things I would consider bugs in the story just like there are bugs in software.
In order to properly debug my story, I have to have multiple beta readers because they will all catch different things. It would be easy to have a couple people read it, tell me it’s fantastic, and then pat myself on the back thinking it’s ready. But it’s so much more satisfying to have quality beta readers who ask questions, who demand that I clarify something, who call me out when I make a character use a word that’s out of character, etc…. The more of those bugs that I can fix, the more seamless and enjoyable the reading experience will be.
As I first pointed out in my Preparing to Publish post, good beta readers will ask questions like:
- Who is talking right now?
- Is Joe still in the room or did he leave?
- You said she put her hair in a bun earlier, but now it’s down.
- She’s holding the gun the wrong way.
- Who is this guy? Am I supposed to remember him from earlier?
- This sentence makes no sense.
- This dialogue doesn’t sound realistic.
- Is this really what a cop would do?
- I kind of hate this character right now. Am I supposed to hate them?
- This sounds creepy instead of romantic.
- I had to read this three times to figure out what was happening.
- Too much description.
- The man who loves her is less than 15 feet away, so why is she fighting the bad guy by herself? Shouldn’t he be helping??
- Did we just switch points of view?
- Add a beat here.
- Describe his expressions when he is saying this.
Good beta readers will also be brave enough to tell me when a section of my book needs a complete overhaul. If I count the number of times that I’ve been told to rewrite the end of my book, the number would be…nine. If you’re keeping track, you’ll know I’m about to release my ninth book, so…yeah. My initial attempts at ending my books are always fine. But I’m lucky enough to have people who read them and aren’t satisfied with fine and demand more. And hallelujah for that.
Beta readers have been on my mind because that’s the stage I am in. I’m debugging my book. I’m shining it up and making it pretty, because my release date for Songs for Libby has been set and it’s up for pre-order. I’m committed.
If you would like to help me with my book launch, please join my Fan Group on Facebook. There are opportunities I’ll be presenting there exclusively.