With many of us being in the throes of PitchWars at the moment there's a lot of talk going around the twitterverse about beta readers and critique partners. The primary thesis of said discussion is this:
It's hard to find good ones.
Today I'm going to stick to beta readers and we'll tackle critique partners at a future date. They're a lot more complex and, in my opinion, even harder to find in the haystack.
Beta readers--by my definition--can be anyone who is willing to read your entire manuscript for you and give you two basic types of feedback: (1) if it makes sense (2) if they like it. For me, if the feedback they're giving you includes the words "theme, characterization, pace, narrative voice, architecture," or anything of that sort, then what you are talking about is a critique partner and not a beta reader. Like I said, we'll tackle those suckers another time.
To find good beta readers, you've got to know what you're looking for and who you're looking for. Here are some tips to consider.
Some readers read faster than others. How quickly do you need your feedback? If you've just finished a revise and resubmit after six months of toil and the agent is closing to queries at the end of the month, that might not work for an indulgent reader with a house full of company for the holidays, a full time job, and a toddler.
Does the potential beta reader like the kind of books you enjoy or the kind of book you've written? My dad is an avid reader and critical thinker, but he is a war book buff. I'm pretty sure the books I write would give him nightmares and possibly scar him for life. Not a good match for a beta reader for me.
Is the person you're asking to beta a critical thinker? Someone reading your book and saying "it's good" is not very helpful. You want them to think critically about the story you've written, but not in a writer way. In a reader way. The way book bloggers and reviewers and columnists will think about your book. And on a related note, do they think about books differently than you do? Having a perspective that's different from your own is really important. You want the people beta reading your book to see it differently so you can.
Will this person give you honest feedback? My mother would be a terrible beta reader for a lot of reasons (not the least of which being that I've never seen her read a novel in my entire life.) She's also not very good at constructive criticism or confrontation in a helpful way. You don't want beta readers who will be too nice or too mean. Like most things, a middle ground is important.
Sometimes writers are terrible beta readers. If you're looking for someone to give you basic, overarching feedback about whether your story makes sense and is enjoyable to read you may find that some writers may be incapable of providing that level of feedback. They want to talk about theme and narrative voice and line edits. That may not be what you're looking for because you have other people doing that for you.
So these are the skills you're looking for in a beta reader. But where do you find them? And what do you do with them once you have? Next time I'm going to talk about where you can find good beta readers and how to manage them.
Until then, I'll be over here in PitchWars hell waiting for gmail to unfreeze our bloody contest inbox.
Dannie Morin is an author, blogger, and freelance editor. She's currently contemplating seeking help for her social media addiction. In the meantime, you can find her on Blogger, Facebook, Goodreads, & Twitter. If you've got suggestions for a future All the Feels post, contact Dannie via the contact form on her blog. She is repped by Thao Le of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.