I was asked this question at ACFW conference by a fabulous author who critiqued my first twenty pages and offered loads of good advice.
I had to answer her question with "no."
I have wonderful critique partners. I'm fortunate to have both an online critique partner and a face-to-face group full of astute critiquers. These people had all offered help that was invaluable.
Then there were the people who read parts of my story. Family. My husband. Friends. A member of my church. These people offered mostly their support. I am so blessed to have such encouragement.
Simple details. An opening of a door that didn't close. A cat that appeared out of nowhere.
Such details are in the writer's head and in my case I thought my on the page explanation was all present.
Deborah Raney explained that oftentimes other writers will miss these details as they write and as they critique. That's one reason why its so important to have beta readers, not to replace our critique partners but in addition to them.
If you are involved in the computer world at all, you are probably very familiar with the term "beta testing." My husband is an avid gamer and has been excited to be involved in beta tests for several computer games. In exchange for free play, he goes to the forums and writes about all the "bugs" he detects. Most of the people testing these games are just your average game player and have no inside knowledge of the software.
Hence the beta reader. He or she is willing to provide the service of testing your manuscript to let you know where the bugs are.
- Are your characters realistic? Are their motives believable?
- Does your plot move logically from one event to the next?
- Are there unexplained holes? For instance, in my case a character closed the door but hadn't opened it.
- Have we left out details that are necessary to the plot?
Beta readers can be good at finding the big picture.
Sometimes the words beta reader are used interchangeably with critique partner.
However, I think there is a lot of value in having a beta reader who is neither a writer, nor a close friend or family member.
I decided to enlist a friend from high school that I haven't seen in years. I thought she was a good candidate because we are not currently in close contact so I didn't think her honesty would be hindered. She is also a frequent reader so I thought she would be likely to notice issues of details.
Here is some valuable feedback from my first beta reader:
So as a reader I felt the beginning of the book was smooth and a quick read.
For instance, Mother Anna, she needs a line or two about who she is.
For me anyways, I need the background stories to fully involve myself in the novel. or I lose interest.
Although, I found that I had to go back to points to figure who some of the characters were and how they related to the story.
It's a great idea for a fictional novel and you have a great piece of Americana. I would love to know when you have completed this and have it published.
(Here's to hoping on that last point).
So what did I gain from having a beta reader?
First of all, I have decided I would love more of these and I'm willing to bribe them because the feedback is invaluable.
Secondly, my beta reader was able to see the big picture of my story in a different way as a reader. She spent less time focusing on the grammar/mechanics and so was able to give me an idea of how the "average" reader might read my story (does such a thing as an average reader exist?)
Thirdly, she was able to give me objective feedback (although I think my critique partners are also wonderful at doing this).
So how do I find these people?
- Network, network, network. If you blog, its possible a blog reader might be a good fit. I am just exploring the world of LinkedIn, but it offers networking groups that might be excellent for finding beta readers.
- Sites like Critique Circle can be a great way to find those willing to read your work.
- Join a book club. What better way to find those who love to read than joining a book club. (Since my book club consists largely of my family this would not be a good fit for me).
- Think of college friends, MOPS members, moms of those in your children's activities, those you chat with at the gym. There are so many possibilities.
- Think target readership. This is a biggie. Who is the audience of your book? Where might you find these people? Hanging out at the local gaming shop? Going to bowling league after all the kids are in bed? These might be the perfect places to find a future beta reader.
Very important...make sure you give back. Beta reading is a lot of work, though the person might be willing to read your work for free make sure you give back to them in some way. Critiquing is often a partnership with give and take, beta reading can be more one-sided. Be appreciative of the advice they are giving. Offer cookies and flowers and lots of words of affirmation.
Do you have a beta reader? If so, how did you find them?
Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also is a reviewer for Library Journal, Title Trakk and Christian Library Journal.