29 April 2017

#Editing 6: Beta Readers

Pilgrims of the Pool is finished. Except it's not. 

But it is coming along. The initial editing sequences have been completed and the novel is now with its beta readers. Hurray! But what are beta readers?

Beta readers test-drive the novel, yet they aren't your normal fiction readers. They are readers with attitude. Often they'll be writers themselves, sometimes they are would-be or ex- editors. The skills brought will include sharp eyes, a firm grasp of grammar, pacing, and all the other elements mentioned in previous posts. If they understand the requirements of the chosen genre/sub-genre, so much the better. Their job is not to edit per se, but to mark potential problems.

My being a member of Hornsea Writers means my novel has a two-stage beta-read. During weekly meetings chapters are read aloud for constructive criticism while still a work-in-progress, an ideal opportunity for me to raise queries and for niggles to be flagged by listeners, meaning there is less chance of a character or the storyline taking an unnecessary detour. The second stage is for the novel to be read as a whole work. Anything catching the beta reader's eye is annotated on the digital page via Comments.

My beta readers are given an idea of what I'd like from them, plus the proviso that they are to stop at any time if they don't feel empathy for the text or the slant I've given the genre. A beta reader who isn't at least interested - they don't have to be enthusiastic - is going to start scan-reading as the story progresses - a waste of their time and effort, and mine. The final page will include a short list of my own concerns which the beta readers may or may not address.

Multiple beta readers? One is better than none; three are better than two. Every reader brings individual skills, and what one notices another may not. However, their comments are advisory. I am, after all, the writer, but if all beta readers draw attention to the same element, I'd be a fool not to pay attention.

Are beta readers necessary? In my opinion, yes. Hot off the printer, a writer is too emotionally invested to view the work with the necessary objectivity. Hence the need for beta readers with both the necessary insight and the lack of fear in pointing out what could turn out to be a few unpleasant truths. Better the beta reader than a gaggle of caustic reviews on Amazon.

Do you use beta readers? Are you a beta reader? Share your experiences below.

See also:  
Editing-1: What does editing actually mean?
Editing-2: The Structural Edit
Editing-3: The Content Edit
Editing-4: The Line Edit
Editing-5: Line Edit Update 
Editing-6: Beta Readers

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