The Importance of Beta Readers

For independent authors, beta readers play a key role in getting a book ready for publication. If you become traditionally published, you will have an editor (or sometimes a team of editors) assigned whose job it is to help bring your book up to market standards. However, if you’re an independent author you won’t have this advantage. So it’s great to know that there is a willing bunch of volunteers out there who will act as beta readers.

Essentially this means that they will read through your book before it goes to market and give you valuable feedback. This enables you to make any necessary adjustments and bring your book up to as high a standard as possible before publication.Magnifying glass

What they do – Some of the tasks that beta readers will carry out are to check for inconsistencies (plot holes) and errors, and problems with character development, continuity or feasibility. They could also make suggestions on ways in which to improve the story, for example, if there are areas of the novel in which you need to show more of the action rather than just telling the tale.

When you’ve been working on a book for several months it’s sometimes difficult to be objective. It’s therefore invaluable to get the opinion of an unbiased third party who will notice things that you may have overlooked.

Sometimes beta readers will also highlight proofreading errors, but this depends on the beta reader. On most occasions, proofreading is undertaken as a separate task and it doesn’t generally fall under the remit of the beta reader.

Man readingHow to get them – There are various ways of getting the message out that you are looking for beta readers. You could try putting a request on your blog, or put a message up on social media to let people know. Goodreads is another good way to make people aware and there are Indie author threads in many of the Goodreads groups, which will allow you to put up messages about your books. If you have a mailing list, you could also try adding a request for beta readers to your newsletter.

Who they are – Sometimes fellow authors may offer to beta read for you, and it’s often useful to have a reciprocal arrangement whereby you help each other. You may also find enthusiastic readers, book reviewers, people who are interested in your work, or others who want to improve the quality of published books on the market.

It’s great to have a good balance of beta readers to offer different perspectives. My current beta reading team includes male and female, authors and readers, and people from both the UK and the US.

It’s probably not a good idea to ask family and friends to be beta readers. It’s difficult for somebody to be totally honest when they share a close relationship with you. They may hold back or, on the other hand, if they give you some unwelcome criticism it may cause ill feeling between the two of you.

How many? – As each beta reader will concentrate on the aspects of a book that are important to them, it’s useful to have Woman readingseveral beta readers. I would aim for at least four, but more if possible. I personally think that five or six is an ideal number but other authors may disagree.

Dealing with feedback – It can be difficult when you realise that your book isn’t at quite as high a standard as you thought it was. Bear in mind though that it’s best to have it brought to your attention at this stage rather than have reviewers point out any failings.

Each beta reader will have their own preferences and their own point of view, and because you will write your book in your own particular style, you won’t necessarily want to act on every single one of their comments. It’s up to you as the author to decide which changes you want to make to enhance your book. It’s also worth bearing in mind, though, that if more than one person brings something to your attention, then it’s probably something you need to address.

I want to take this opportunity to thank my wonderful team of beta readers for the excellent job they do. I value their input and appreciate all their helpful suggestions.


Anticipating my Arrest

I’ve just finished the first draft of my second novel and happily sent it off to my lovely beta readers, so I’m feeling a bit frivolous and in the mood for some light-heartedness.

A recent occurrence led me to think about my Internet browsing history during the course of writing the novel. It makes for some pretty disturbing reading:

  • Drug abuse
  • Machetes
  • Guns
  • Bullet wounds
  • Gang culture
  • Drug skimming
  • Law enforcement
  • Dog attacks

And that’s just in the last few weeks.

The occurrence that led me to think about my Internet browsing history was something as innocuous as searching online wool shops. (Yes, despite the graphic nature of my novels I’m actually quite Knittingboring and mainstream in real life). Within a few hours of searching the wool shops, I was seeing advertisements for wool on Facebook and other social media sites. I was flabbergasted at how they had managed to get hold of this information. If advertisers can cash in on your browsing history so easily then the possibilities for the police are endless.

At this point I want to add that as well as carrying out online research I also have “brainstorming sessions”. Most of these occur while I’m at my computer and usually entail me sitting at my desk talking to myself. Then, to capture certain scenarios I sometimes mime my character’s actions just to check whether it would work in practice, and to make sure it would be realistic. Sometimes it’s necessary to use a mirror so that I can study the positioning of limbs, facial expressions etc. It’s all in the name of my art, you understand, and has nothing whatsoever to do with being slightly eccentric.

Simple-Teddy-Bear-1-5496-largeSo, I’m picturing the scene. The police have had a tip-off from their technical team about a dodgy browsing history so they start monitoring the house. One of the officers spots someone carrying out what appears to be a frenzied knife attack but when he zooms in the perpetrator is attacking a teddy bear with a biro pen. He calls for support. When the two officers arrive they approach the house with caution and creep up to the window. There they spot a middle aged woman sitting at her desk having an in-depth conversation. After a few seconds the conversation becomes heated and she seems to be taking on the roles of two different characters.

Ooh dear, how would I explain that one? Maybe this home working isn’t such a good idea. While writing the plot, I’m also losing the plot!

Is it just me or do other authors find themselves acting out scenes and talking to themselves while they work? I’d love to hear your views on this one. Talk to me please; my sanity depends on it! 🙂 🙂 🙂