Terminology: What is a beta reader?

You’ve heard of them on fanfiction websites, or from fellow writers who use them. Beta Readers.

On the surface, Beta Readers are a dream-come-true – a group of eager readers who offer valuable feedback that you can incorporate into the never ending quest of improving your writing.

In general, these are people who you know personally, either face-to-face or online, who at some point read and enjoyed one of your stories, but who also enjoy offering feedback. Most Beta Readers are unpaid volunteers, and you probably want more than one (two, three, four…) so that when the inevitable happens (busy with other things) your stories can still be looked over by a fresh set of eyes before you move on to your next step, whatever that may be.

Perks of a Beta Reader

Many beta readers straddle the lines between the different kinds of editors and offer a large, valuable amount of insight into how a reader will experience your story. In  my experience, they tend to focus on consistency of characters, plot, and world-building more than any other kind of feedback, but proofreading is also common. If you have beta readers of different life experiences, or who may be exceptionally familiar with a particular genre, they can also provide some feedback on jargon and mistakes made that would fall into the category of ‘not enough research’.

When to use a Beta Reader

Some beta readers might also be willing to read the story multiple times, but they will never be as vested as you are in trying to look at it with fresh eyes. What this means is that the maximum usefulness of a beta reader is when they read your story for the first time. It’s better to hold off sending a story to a beta reader until you have done everything in your power to self-edit through a draft or two.

Proceed with Caution

One word of caution toward using beta readers (and in some cases, developmental and line editors) is that too many cooks can ruin a dish – in other words, /you/ are the the foremost authority on your characters, your plot, and everything that is your story. Sometimes you can be too close to it, and this is why feedback is valuable, but you do not need to listen to every suggestion another person makes. At the end of the day, it’s your baby, not theirs, and you’re the one who has to love it unconditionally. Making sure you can also be proud of it is definitely a good thing.

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