Surviving the Beta Read

You are there. With a flourish you type in that final period (or more likely correct that final spelling error). You have researched, revised, re-written and you are ready for someone to read your latest novel.

This is called a “Beta Read.”

Official definition according to Wikipedia (okay, not the go-to source, but this is the definition I use):

“An alpha reader or beta reader (also spelled alphareader / betareader, or shortened to alpha / beta), also pre-reader or critiquer), is a non-professional reader who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting. Beta reading is typically done before the story is released for public consumption.[1] Beta readers are not explicitly proofreaders or editors, but can serve in that context.

Elements highlighted by beta readers encompass things such as plot holes, problems with continuity, characterization or believability; the beta reader might also assist the author with fact-checking”

The novel I am working on, “The Blue Clay Pot,” had an alpha reader. She read the absolute first draft and commented on my story line and many details. This was the first time I used an alpha reader and I loved it! There was an entire subplot I got rid of…saving me lots of re-write and adjustment later on in the process.

But now, many months and many revisions later, I am ready for the beta readers.

Let me tell you. When you send it off you are excited. Because you have reached a point of feeling almost finished. Almost to that publishable level. You LOVE your story and you can’t help but feel that the beta reader will love it too. In fact, you fantasize about her reading it straight through and making absolutely no red marks, no stickies, no comments other than “I love this part.”

And then your manuscript returns. With track changes if you have a digital reader or with the aforementioned red marks and stickies if your particular reader prefers the old school style of a printed copy in a binder. And yes, I am old school.

And there it is. A comment on the VERY FIRST LINE! What? you silently (or maybe even loudly) scream. I have to change my very first line? And WHAT? The second line too?

After your initial buzz through, all the while chanting, I cannot re-write this whole novel. I can’t make those changes, that will mess up everything I was going for, you set everything aside and go and find some chocolate.

Depending what time of day it is, you might sleep on it, go for a walk, read a trashy romance or binge watch Netflix.

And then, the epiphany. Your beta reader has a good point. Most of what she suggested is pretty accurate. Not everything, we all have our own opinions, but there are so many valid points and the changes really won’t be that hard and your story will be sooooo much better.

And that is when you get back to work.

(Note: I use more than one beta reader. If a comment I absolutely don’t agree with pops up more than once…it’s really time for me to listen.)