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One of the greatest tools in a writer’s toolbox is the beta reader. I can’t be sure, but I imagine that they’re called beta readers much for the same reason that a game is in beta. Essentially, beta readers read your draft for you and let you know what they think. This can be helpful for identifying plot holes, confusing sections, blatant errors like characters who miraculously changes names, and the occasional misplaced comma.
Beta readers can be more useful than a critique group because, in general, they read and consider a whole work as opposed to a chapter at a time. (Though critique groups are helpful, especially for polishing.)
But beta readers vary in their feedback. Some are craft oriented, some story oriented. Some are more experienced than others. So how do you know who to ask?
I’ve compiled a basic list of possible beta readers. Realize that what you specifically find helpful probably varies from what someone else finds helpful.
1) Other Writers in Your Own Genre
Other writers can be some of the most effective beta readers, because they tend to be more familiar with writing craft and plotting, allowing them to tell you exactly why something isn’t working and offer possible fixes. Other writers in your genre also are familiar with genre tropes and trends, but you may run into issues where their personal preferences for certain tropes color their vision of your story, resulting in suggestions to change the story to what they like.
2) Other Writers in Other Genres
Like writers in your genre, writers in other genre have an understanding of writing craft that helps identify problems and fixes easier. They also can bring in lessons from their genres, helping you craft a better-rounded work. However, people tend to write in the genres they read, and you may find that writers of other genres just aren’t interested in your genre.
3) Readers in Your Genre
Readers in your genre can be helpful because they know and love your genre, and can help you judge whether or not your story appeals to your target audience. They may be able to point out areas that are confusing and voice concerns about arcs and other issues, but they may not be able to articulate what, exactly, isn’t working.
4) Friends and Family
Approach this section last. It’s really hit or miss whether or not they’ll be that helpful. The issue with friends and family is that, sometimes, they’re just so pleased that you’ve written a book, and they love it because they love you, and they may not want to give you criticism because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. That’s not always the case, however. My mother and sister are some are the first people I approach with a new novel because they’re both writers themselves. (When I finished my first novel, I was so pleased, but my mother pursed her lips and gave me an article about characterization.)
The nice thing is that after awhile you’ll learn who is helpful and who isn’t, and why, allowing you to select the best people for your purposes.
Anything to add, Squiders? Any pointers you’ve come across?