What is it?
Once your manuscript is complete, it’s time for beta reading. Your beta readers are the interim step between writing and editing. They’ll help you fix any major plot errors, tell you how the story flows, and let you know whether they think the story will be successful. Here at PageCurl, we recommend having between three and five beta readers per book. Why? Because each beta reader is going to focus on different things.
You might have one beta reader who is a grammar ninja. That reader might provide you with what’s known as “red-lines.” These are changes and suggestions in either red pen or Word’s track changes feature. Other beta readers might approach your manuscript from a reader’s standpoint. Does the story flow? Were there parts that were boring or confusing? Still others might do a little bit of both. If you’re writing about something you’re not intimately familiar with, such as the inner workings of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, then it can be helpful to find a beta reader who has experience with that sort of thing. He or she can give you clarity on how accurate you are about sights, sounds, and tastes.
Why do you need it?
Well, the hard truth is that even if you’re a professional editor or a grammar ninja, or you’ve been through your manuscript with a fine-tooth comb so many times you can’t bear to look at it any more, you’re going to miss things. Yes. Really. Why? Because sometimes when you’re writing and editing, you see what you expect to see. If you have a main character named Michelle, you’re probably going to see Michelle every time you see the character’s name. Even if you spell it Michalle one time. Your beta readers might notice that. Or perhaps your main character has a limp in the first three chapters, but then it disappears. Or perhaps your young lovers fall into bed in Chapter Two, but one of them is a virgin in Chapter Four. These are all issues that a good beta reader should notice and point out.
How do you find beta readers?
While it might be tempting to ask your friends to beta read for you, we recommend finding some other authors to beta read for you. While you might have some amazing friends who are talented beta readers, the danger with asking a friend to beta read for you is that they’ll be such a fan of you as a person that they won’t tell you the hard truths that you need to hear to make your writing better. Now, if your friends can be firm with you, then that’s great! Go for it! But make sure they know what they’re getting into. A good beta reader doesn’t give you empty platitudes. A good beta challenges you. A good beta will occasionally ask you what the hell you were thinking with that scene.
When should beta reading happen?
You can send your chapters to beta readers as quickly as you write them, but we recommend sending chapters in chunks. You can even wait until the entire manuscript is complete and send it en masse to your beta readers. It really depends on your beta readers, your publication schedule, and your own writing. If this is your first novel, you might need feedback from beta readers early on to make sure you’re on the right track. If this is your tenth novel, you still need beta readers, but you might want to send them the manuscript after it’s done. There’s no right or wrong answer, except one.
Beta reading should always happen before editing.
Yes. Beta reading should always happen before editing. Once you send your book to the editor, you don’t want to make a lot of changes to it. Why not? Because if you make a lot of changes after your editor has touched the manuscript, you run the risk of introducing new issues into your manuscript. Writing, Beta Reading, Revising, Self-Editing, Professional Editing, Incorping, Proofreading, Publishing. That’s the proper order for things. You can muck around with it a little bit. If you wanted to self-edit before your beta readers get the file, go for it. If you want to add a second self-edit pass after writing and before beta reading, go for it. But always get beta reader feedback (and incorporate it) before you send your manuscript to the editor.
Do you have any questions about beta reading? Let us know in the comments or hit us up on our Facebook page.