Wouldn’t it be great to have someone with fresh eyes invest time in reviewing your manuscript before it goes to an editor? Someone who asks questions a reader would? Questions like: But HOW did the murderer get the poison into the victim’s toothpaste? WHY didn’t the protagonist fire that employee the first time he searched her desk? And wait, doesn’t it take more than an hour to drive from Phoenix to the Mexican border?
Writers, meet beta readers.
A beta reader gives the writer feedback about a manuscript before it goes to a professional editor. The term “beta reader” comes from the software industry, where people test a beta version of software before its final release. Beta testers look for bugs or problems in the software; beta readers look for anything in a book that trips up a reader.
Writers often use family members, friends, or colleagues as beta readers. Laurinda Wallace, author of the Gracie Andersen mysteries, looks for avid readers she trusts to give her honest feedback. Two of her beta readers are also natives of the region she writes about.
C.D. Davis, author of the Darklings trilogy, appreciates the “friendly, constructive feedback” of her beta readers and their answers to questions like: “Does the story maintain a level of action and suspense sufficient to keep the reader engaged to the very end? Does it leave the reader wanting more?”
Beta readers can comment on anything in a manuscript, including the believability of the characters and plot, the story’s pacing, accuracy of details about the setting, and whether anything was inconsistent or hard to follow. C.D. Davis also uses a few of her beta readers for first-level proofreading and editing, to help prepare a cleaner manuscript for the editor.
Beta readers are usually unpaid, but writers may thank them by name in the acknowledgments or send a free copy of the published book or a small thank-you gift. Laurinda Wallace has written more about beta readers and included sample guidelines.
Bottom line: beta readers are an invaluable resource for writers. As Laurinda Wallace says, “I place a lot of trust in their judgment of what makes a good story. Their input has made every book better.”