Wednesday 17 April 2013

Are Beta Readers Doing Their Job?

What is a Beta Reader anyway?

"a beta reader is a person who reads a written work, generally fiction, with what has been described as a critical eye, with the aim of improving grammar, spelling, characterization, and general style of a story prior to its release to the general public." -Wikipedia

The last several self-published books I've read had quite a few mistakes in them. I'm not really talking grammar. Every book is going to have those. I'm talking some major mistakes. Even main character names misspelled and I'm not a typo kind of person. I'm talking about plot points not connecting, major questions asked but not answered. World building and leaving out whole parts of the story/world. The overall story is in question. 

I've dabbled in beta reading--just a tiny bit. I was surprised how fast the author wanted my notes back. In a few days. Seriously. I was honestly wondering how on earth I could be thorough with such a short time frame. Not to mention that I had to fit this into my already busy schedule. What did this author wanted me to look for? How did they want their notes? I wasn't given any instructions on I wasn't being paid! Is this the norm for all beta readers? 

I also know that there are some good one's out there that really know what they're doing. They are quick, thorough, and honest. Flip the coin and I'm sure you get those beta readers that seem to take forever and their notes are meager. I'm a fan of self published books. I personally think you can find some great gems and books that are full of the new content I'm craving. 

I follow quite a few authors on Twitter. They are always tweeting about writing. On more than one occasion these authors have mentioned that they just sent the book out to their beta reader's and should have the book up ready for purchase on Amazon within a few days. How in the world is that even possible?! That isn't enough time to read and critique the manuscript. That isn't enough time for the author to "fix" what needs fixing. Or am I wrong? 

It would be my hope that to get a good beta reader you'd have to give good instructions. Include a deadline, instructions on how you want your notes, and what specifically you need help with. This way your beta will be able to give you just what you want. I know I would have appreciated it.

All of these  things lead me to wonder if beta reader's are doing their job? Or are they just there to stroke the author's ego? Is it really just to say, "OMG I LOVED IT SO MUCH!!!" Are they truly being critical? Are they taking the time they need to be thorough? Or are the author's just expecting a read through and a little encouragement?

Are you a beta reader? Tell us your experience?
Are you an author? Tell us what you expect from your beta's?
Or are you a reader and have asked these same questions? 

Let me know what you think. 

Here are a few posts that I love about beta reading::


  1. I’m a reader but I’ve asked myself what is it that beta readers really do. Like you said, there are a lot of mistakes in books that are self-published, things so simple as names misspelled and plot issues that don’t come along well in the end, and when you have people who read your work prior to the publishing process, I expect for some of those problems to be, somehow, fixed.

  2. I think a beta reader is a broader read not to catch typos but the broader plot and character development problems. Though if I saw a typo, I would mark it. Those are the type of things I look for when I beta read. And I generally want 4 to 6 weeks to do it and I commit to getting it done. My problem as the author getting a beta read is not getting a firm commitment on when it'll be done. Like I've waiting months and months for the notes. From now on, I'll be more careful on who I use as beta readers and get a firm deadline for it to be completed.

    Sad you're seeing some unpolished self-published books. It's really important the author not be in such a rush to publication and put out a bad product.

  3. Hi Mary,

    This is a great post! Thank you for putting into writing what many of us have had as thoughts in our heads. I love to support indie authors and self-publishing, but I too have been surprised at how often I come across unpolished pieces that have technically been published. It is so important that authors take the time to really polish and tighten-up their writing. They've obviously worked incredibly hard yet leaving syntactical, grammatical, or errors of story flow in the published work detracts from the reader's enjoyment. Remember, first impressions are very difficult to change.

    I am a newbie with being a beta reader. I do love it and always hope my positive intentions of feedback are recognized by the author. I would not be doing he or she any favors if I just praised the book while knowing there are a few mistakes, that if fixed, take the book possibly to another level of quality writing. I, too, commit a date to the author by which they will have received my feedback.

    As a book blogger, I truly want to help spread the word about great writers and their works. However, I will not spread the word about mediocre or poorly written stories.

    Beth :-)

  4. I think a beta reader is placed in an interesting position, as they are expected to offer their opinions, critique and helpful advice about an author's work. While I've never been an author's beta reader, I can imagine that the position calls for dedication, attention to detail and an ability to be frank YET constructive. I do think, however, that there should be enough time for the beta to read and then for the author to work with the beta's comments.


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