Professional book editor in the UK explains why aspiring authors should always hire beta readers for your novel, whether you pay them or not!
Book editors, proofreaders, beta readers, sensitivity readers, literary agents, publishers — a lot of people have to read your novel before it’s ready for the general public. Each one provides something different that will get your novel ready for publication, so it’s important not to skip any of them.
Today, we’ll be talking about beta readers and perhaps the most exciting step in the journey of writing and publishing a novel: getting an audience to read your story!
First of All, What is a Beta Reader?
Imagine going to an ice cream shop.
There are two dozen flavours to choose from, and they all look delicious. You could choose one flavour and buy a large sundae, but what if you don’t like the one you choose?
Well, all the joy of going to an ice cream shop goes out the window and you’re left with a melting scoop of disappointment and despair.
Okay, that’s a bit dramatic. You can just ask for a sample of a few different flavours, and then you’ll know which one you like!
Why did this blog post start with a tangent about ice cream? Is it because I want ice cream? Well, yes, but it’s also a metaphor for beta readers!
You wouldn’t buy an ice cream without first getting a little sample to make sure you like it. Or maybe you would, I don’t know. But you shouldn’t publish a novel without first giving it to some beta readers to see if they like it.
A beta reader is someone who reads your novel before it’s published and gives you feedback. They take the ice cream sample that is your novel and say whether it’s too sweet or a little bland. They tell you what they like and don’t like, so you can fix your ice cream (i.e., your novel) before you serve them a big bowl of it (i.e., publish your novel).
Is this metaphor melting into goop? Probably. I should have hired a beta reader.
Let’s leave the ice cream in the freezer and talk about beta readers.
Beta readers are not the same as book editors or proofreaders. On the contrary, book editors and proofreaders look at your novel through the lens of a writer to fix mistakes, whereas beta readers look at your novel through the lens of a reader to look at the story as a whole.
Is the writing too dense or flowery? Are the characters flat and uninteresting? Is the story interesting enough to keep reading after chapter two?
These are the types of questions a beta reader can answer for you. It’s a trial run that will give you an idea of audience reception. Finally, your audience will get to read the novel you worked on so hard!
Why are Beta Readers Important? What do they do for Your Novel?
Another way to think of beta readers is like a mirror by your front door. Sure, you can leave the house without glancing at it, but what if you have lettuce stuck between your teeth or your hair is messy? To be safe and ensure that you’re looking good, it’s best to check your mirror before you leave.
And if you’re trying to publish a book, it’s a good idea to get a few beta readers to look at your novel to make sure there isn’t any lettuce stuck between the proverbial teeth of your book.
Beta readers give you a chance to see if your novel will resonate with audiences before you actually send it out into the world. If your book doesn’t resonate, beta readers give you a chance to fix it. They’ll give you a different perspective on your novel.
When you write, especially if it’s a larger project you’ve been working on hard for months and months, it can be hard to see the forest for all the trees.
It’s hard to put away your opinion as the author and view the story as the audience would. You’re attached to your story. You love it, and perhaps you can’t see all its faults.
Alternatively, maybe you hate everything you write, and you’re blind to how great your writing really is.
Either way, it’s common for writers to get too into their own heads. They can’t see what their writing actually is, they only see what they think it is.
So, getting an outside opinion (or many) will help you to see the forest again and look at your story more objectively. Beta readers will provide this perspective, so giving your novel to beta readers is an important step in the writing process, thus - don’t skip it!