In my last blog post I talked about why beta readers are an important part of the writing process. But beta readers come in all varieties and and a bad beta read can hurt your writing and emotional well being. So what is it that makes a good beta reader? I’ve created a list of 10 attributes a good beta reader has, so you can find (and be) the good ones.
- Good Beta readers read a lot. This gives them the experience necessary to critique your writing. This is what makes them qualified to be a beta reader. Would you hire a contractor that had never actually worked construction? Then don’t get a beta reader that doesn’t read.
- Good Beta readers are your target audience. They should have read extensively in the genre AND the age group you are writing. Your target audience is who will be buying your book, so knowing what they think is more important than knowing what your brother-in-law who only reads biographies thinks. (Unless your writing a biography. Then by all means, ask your brother-in-law.)
- Good Beta readers communicate. Beta readers should communicate how long they will need to finish reading for you. Beta reading takes a lot of time. A good beta reader will consider that when they take on a project. You should also communicate your expectations on when you hope it will be done. They can also communicate their own strengths and weaknesses at critiquing. Their communications should be realistic, and for long projects they may also send updates.
- Good Beta readers critique. No one gets better if they only get praise. A beta reader’s job is to point out what isn’t working. This is why your mom may not be the best beta reader. Let her read your story if you want. She’s a great cheerleader, but she’s not a beta reader. You can’t make you story better if no one tells you what isn’t working.
- Good Beta readers are nice. Just because they are pointing out your work’s weaknesses, doesn’t mean they will be mean. Honest and rude are not synonyms. A good beta reader thinks about how to give the critique while remaining polite and kind.
- Good Beta readers point out the good stuff too. It can be hard to read comment after comment on what isn’t working, especially since you’ve already poured your soul into the story. Good betas break up negative feedback with positives. Knowing what is working in your story can help boost your spirits and understand your own strengths.
- Good Beta readers explain themselves. Knowing that something you wrote “just isn’t working” is okay. Knowing why it isn’t working is much better. When a good beta reader finds something that can be improved, they examine it closely, trying to identify the problem for you. This is not the same as offering a solution to the problem (see #8 below).
- Good Beta readers give SOME solutions. After identifying a problem, and explaining why it is a problem, good beta readers may suggest a solution. They may see a solution you haven’t because you are biased, or your brain is fried, or because you have done 5,000 edits and can’t even remember what’s in this last one anymore. They won’t give solutions to every problem they find. That would be micro-managing and trust me, it’s annoying.
- Good Beta readers respect your choices as an artist. While beta readers give you suggestions, they know that you DO NOT have to take their suggestions. This isn’t their story. It’s yours. Suggestions are ideas to add to your brainstorming. Sometimes they fit with your vision. Sometimes they don’t, and you find a way to fix that problem in the story all on your own. A good beta reader respects that it is your choice and will support you whether you take all their advice or not.
- Good Beta readers are part of your writing tribe. Having a support group of people that care about your stories can make a huge difference in the writing process. Beta readers want you to succeed. They are cheering for you and when writing gets hard, because it does, good beta readers are in your corner.
So there is my list. Tell me what you think. Did I miss any important attributes for good beta readers? Have you had any good/bad experiences you’d like to share? Next blog will be the final post on beta readers, stay tuned…