Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Why Beta-readers Are Essential to Your Novel

After close to three years of writing and rewriting, and editing my first dark fantasy novel, I have finally reached the point where I can say, “I am done”.  Done with the story, that is.  Because then comes sending out your story to trusted beta-readers.  In my case, friends who are well-read in the fantasy genre, and whom I can count on to be brutally honest. 

From my research, I discovered that what you want in a beta-reader is someone who will be an actual reader, an audience.  What you do not want is someone who will tell you how you can 'fix' your book and then lay out how it should be changed.

“But,” I told myself, “isn’t this what I want?  Someone to suggest what can make my book better?”

At some point, yes, but not on the initial reading, because you want your beta-reader to read your story the way your potential audience would.  Your potential audience is not going to dissect the book as they read.  They are going to find a comfy place to sit, open the book, and—hopefully—disappear into the world you have created. 

Think about it (I know I had to!).  As you read a book you come across characters you love, hate, are indifferent to, or keep forgetting.  You either believe those characters' struggles or roll your eyes at how absurd the situations are.  By the time you are done reading the book, you are either left wondering what will happen next or not care at all.  It’s always either “Screw the sequel” or “I can’t wait to find out what happens next”. 

These emotions are very much apart of reading.  And to be honest, this was something I was not truly aware of until I came across this.

Ask your beta-readers to jot down those moments (page number, dog-ear, etc) of “wtf” while they are reading, but don’t bog them down with the task of checking your grammar and spelling because it will take away from their reading experience.  You, as the writer, need to find out if they connected with your story or not.

This does not mean that you should hand them your unrevised and unedited first draft and expect them to somehow enjoy their reading experience, because they won’t.  Fyi, my first few drafts are awful!  What you want to give your beta-readers is your best work possible.  You want to respect them so they don't run away screaming.

If, however, you need someone to read what you have written as you go along (as I do) then find someone who you trust and ask them to be burdened with the glorious purpose of reading your unrefined chapters.  Oh my poor husband, the things he has read in those many rough chapters where I am trying to get an idea out…and the things he has read and will not let me forget even though I wish he would!

Just don't let your beta-readers channel their inner Loki and take over your story. 

So this is the set-up I have decided to use, and that I feel works for me.  But maybe as I journey ever further down the road of “what comes next” and learn more, I will change my mind.  Do your own research and figure out what works for you and what you want from your beta-readers.    

By the way, and I am sure this goes without saying, always thank your beta-readers and never take them for granted.  They are a vital part to seeing your book come to fruition.   <3

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