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  • Writer's pictureBrooke Campbell

Betas Make it Betta

I’m deep in (hopefully!) final revisions of Mac’s second chance with her mate Kate. I struggled so much writing this book, changing points of view, voice, and plot more times than I care to count. With so many versions in my head, I lose track of what the current version contains. And I invariably reach a point where I just can’t look at the manuscript another second and am desperate for a fresh set of eyes on it.

Enter Beta Readers.

The way I understand beta readers, they are (usually) nonprofessional volunteers who read & comment on a completed manuscript in all its unedited glory. Once an author receives the betas' feedback, they do final revisions and submit the manuscript, in my case to my publisher for editing. Maybe other authors do it differently, depending upon if they are self-published or traditionally, but this is how I use beta readers. I like to have at least three readers, and I ask each of them the same questions. Having three, or more, gives me a really good overview of what parts need work and what can stand on its own.

Beta readers are vital to authors. They don’t edit, unless they happen to also be editors and just can’t help themselves. Generally speaking, rather than saying if a word is misspelled, or if a comma is needed or not, beta readers help determine if the work over the past few months (or year) was worth the time. They inform about threads that weren’t tied up, if the plot makes any sense or has holes, if characters are superficial or well-rounded, whether or not the story is enjoyable.

For me, there’s nothing like having someone reading my manuscript and telling me what they honestly think about it. I love seeing their genuine reactions in their comments and learning how I might make the story better. It’s a mutually trusting relationship. I trust them with the product of my sweat and tears, and they trust that their honest feedback won’t come back to haunt them.

That’s not to say that my feelings haven’t been hurt or that I haven’t been upset. Honestly, there are times when having folks reading my writing is incredibly hard. Writing is such a personal thing. After all, it’s just my imagination and my computer—often pouring out my feelings and deepest thoughts. So, receiving criticism, even if I asked for it, can hit a sore spot. Especially because not everyone I’ve asked to beta read has been kind. Early on, I really floundered around, having no idea who or how to do this. And, well, beggars can’t be choosers.

I’ve learned that both the writer and the beta readers have work to do. The author needs to work on separating from the work so feelings aren’t wrapped up in it. And beta readers, in addition to taking the time out of their lives to dedicate to close reading, also need to work on delivering their comments in a constructive way, not just pointing out things they don’t like with no context.

Over three manuscripts I’ve gotten better at choosing beta readers and asking for what I need. If what I receive isn’t helpful at all or if either of us decides it isn’t working for any reason, I simply don’t ask them to serve as a beta reader again. But when I find one that is willing to answer the questions I pose and offer criticism couched with details or suggestions, assuming the reader is willing to continue working with me, well, that’s magic. As a beta reader myself, I’ve been on both sides of the process. I can say that the excitement of having a hand in a published work isn’t just the author’s.

I am deeply grateful for the people who have set aside their precious time and committed to be my beta readers. Without them, my books would not be what they are. You know who you are—thank you, thank you, thank you! And if you enjoy my books and are interested in becoming a beta reader yourself, please drop me an email! I’m always open to new readers!

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