Four Reasons You Should Work with Beta Readers & Four Reasons to Consider Paying Them
Spend time in an any active author group on social media and you’ll bear witness to the on-going editing debate. One side says it’s imperative, the other side says it’s a nice to have if you can afford it, a small faction of rebel authors insist it's not necessary at all. As an editor, you can probably guess which side of the fence I sit on, but you might be surprised to hear that as a writer, I totally get why editing feels like one of those nice-to-haves.
While I don’t necessarily condone skipping professional editing, there are some things you can do to help ensure your book is the best it can be (on whatever budget you have). One of those things is to use a couple of exceptional beta readers.
If you’ve never used a beta reader, here are some reasons to consider it:
Want to know if the fight scene you’ve just finished makes sense? Or if you’ve written enough of the setting to allow the reader to picture the utopia you have in your mind? Beta readers are excellent at identifying areas that aren’t quite fleshed out enough or those areas where too much detail bogs things downl.
This is one of the best reasons to use beta readers. You’ll find out immediately if you main character has the reader on his/her side. You’ll find out if the romantic interest is swoon-worthy. Or if the side kick is entertaining. And if the villain/antagonists is, well, anti-something enough. If the beta reader feedback is filled with things like “I want to be her when I grow up,” or “I couldn’t wait to hear how Mr. Bad Guy got it in the end,” then you’ve likely got a good cast of characters.
Spelling & Grammar
While it’s true that beta readers aren’t editors, many of them are eagle-eyed perfectionists who can spot a spelling error or missing comma at a hundred paces. Not all beta readers will point out these kinds of errors unless they are egregious, but if you happen to luck out with someone who likes finding these kinds of mistakes, your book will be all the better for it.
Pacing and Resolution
This is another area where beta readers are magnificent at highlighting exactly what you need to know. If you’ve left a subplot unresolved, or lingered too long in one area, or sped through another, they’ll tell you.
Now, I am going to suggest someting that will stop the above-mentioned debate on editing and start a whole new discussion that will put me in what many will see as one of those rebel factions. But here it goes...if you are considering using beta readers, here’s four reasons you may want to hire/pay them
Often beta reading comes in the form of a you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours kind of arrangement. Which means, you’ll have to give up a portion of your precious writing time to read and give feedback to another writer. If you would prefer to keep your focus on your own writing, or if your time is limited by things like a day job, family, health issues, and one of a million other real-life reasons, hiring a beta reader who has no expectation of you “returning the favor” might be something you’ll want to consider.
Plenty of authors I have engaged with on social media, many of whom think you should never have to pay for a beta reader, swear there are a never-ending supply of readers out there willing to give you an opinion. I’m not sure I agree with them, as one of the most common questions I see posted in the author-type groups I’m a part of is: “Where do I find beta-readers?” But even if there is an infinite pool of willing readers, how do you know if they can give you the kind of feedback you need? Just like one-liner reviews that say, “I like it” or “I hated it,” one-liner, non-detailed feedback doesn’t really help you, even if you have ten beta readers.
Hiring a beta reader allows you to see what kind of feedback they provide, and in many cases, allows you to specifically request certain areas for feedback. So if your second chapter feels off to you, or you’re worried about a supporting character coming off as superficial, you’ll be able to specify those areas for special attention, and know that you’ll get usable feedback for revisions.
Have you ever sent a book out for a beta read or review and settled in to wait patiently for feedback? And then found yourself waiting, waiting, waiting, and yes, more waiting, only to never hear from said reader again? It's frustrating and aggravating, and very much the norm. Hire a beta reader, and you’ll be more likely to see the feedback you need, and in the time frame you need it.
They Talk the Talk
This really goes hand in hand with skill-level, but if you hire a beta reader, chances are they have some idea of the type of feedback you are looking for. They’ll be able to articulate their opinions on things like plot and character development. And if you ask them to give you feedback on POV or dialogue, they’ll likely understand and be able to give you the kind of feedback that makes revisions just that much easier.
If you can find outstanding beta readers just by putting out the call, my hat is off to you. It means you have grown your audience, built your list, and probably invest in professional editing and cover design if you have readers calmouring to read each and every book you put out. (In fact, you are exactly the kind of author we want in our Badass Storytellers group on FB, you should come join us!). But if you are looking for some beta readers who can give you feedback that means your next revision will be leaps and bounds better than your last, then I humbly suggest that you hire a few. We offer beta reading services, but we are far from the only ones. Whatever you do, get this kind of feedback. Your book's success may very well depend on it.