You did it! You finished your novel. Months of sweat, passion and dedication are now condensed into the pages before you.
What’s the next step? Should you send your manuscript to your publisher? Pass out photocopied manuscripts to everyone who’ll take one?
Before the next step, consider submitting your novel to a beta reader — not an alien scanner from Star Trek, but a third-party person who provides much-needed feedback for authors ready to shop a finished novel. Think of a beta reader as an extra level of quality control.
As Mark Coker writes in Publishers Weekly , “Beta readers help authors find the problems in their books before it’s too late — the types of issues that can make the difference between bestsellers and poor sellers.”
Competent beta readers serve as an extra, fresh set of eyes that can help transform your book from good to great.
As with any writer’s resource, beta readers must be chosen with attention and careful research. Look for a beta reader who understands your type of genre and, of course, has a clear grasp of the writing process. Check out feedback from other authors and beware a beta reader who lacks testimonials or feedback.
Scam artists may look as attractive as a legitimate beta reader so be sure to do your homework. Some better-known beta readers can be found at GoodReads , World Literary Café , Scribophile , and Critique Circle .
Expect qualified beta readers to provide comments and questions like these:
- “Please explain this detail..”
- “What are you trying to convey in this passage?”
- “Why would [Character X] behave this way?”
- “Isn’t [a detail in one chapter] inconsistent with [detail in previous chapter]?”
- “This detail [person, place, thing] seems to be incorrect. Can you explain?”
All things considered, beta readers who offer more destructive than constructive criticism should also be avoided.
Beta readers have limitations – some may be inexperienced or charge inappropriate prices. And as with submissions, there is always the possibility that an unethical reader could steal your work if you fail to keep a digital trail throughout the process.
However, don’t let a few horror stories stop you from seeking out a proper beta reader. As Coker rightly adds:
“Sending your book to several people for a beta reader round can help you solicit honest and critical feedback from multiple sources whom you trust. You want pointed feedback on your writing style, dialogue, pacing, plot, story arc, and character development — and on the readers’ satisfaction with the ending.”
A neutral beta reader is an invaluable piece of the editing process, not necessarily for editorial rigor, but for impressions. Characters, details, chapters, subplots — everything is on the table, but from the perspective of a reader, these elements are not distinct. Instead, a beta reader can present a general problem without describing it in technical terms — leaving it up to you to find the perfect solution.