What Makes a Good Beta Reader?

If you’ve ever wondered what a Beta Reader is, look no further. Here’s a great summary that will get you started. To begin, let’s look at the boring technical definition from Wikipedia:

A Beta reader is a non-professional reader who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting. Beta reading is typically done before the story is released for public consumption. Beta readers are not explicitly proofreaders or editors, but can serve in that context. Elements highlighted by beta readers encompass things such as plot holes, problems with continuity, characterization or believability; in fiction and non-fiction, the beta might also assist the author with fact-checking.

Fascinating, right? Blah. Let’s break it down into less technical terms.

A Good Beta Reader

  • May or may not be familiar with the subject matter
  • Enjoys reading a good story
  • Can tell the difference between something that is missing and something that was intentionally omitted and will be revealed later—but still makes a comment just in case the author forgot it
  • Reads the story without getting caught up in the spelling and grammar in order to provide high-level plot feedback
    • Might catch grammatical errors and suggests edits
    • Might spelling errors and suggests edits
  • Provides feedback to author about what works well and what could be improved
  • Serves as the test audience for a book

I’ll add in a few points captured from an article written by Belinda Pollard over at Small Blue Dog, a writing resource blog.

Good Beta Readers

  • Are opinionated, but they know how to express their opinions without killing your dreams.
  • Ideally have never read your manuscript before
  • Are not so close to you that they will find it hard to say things you don’t want to hear (but if they do, can do so without killing your dreams
  • Are very often writers themselves, because fellow writers understand the challenges of creating a book-length manuscript in a way that no one else can

While I don’t expect my Beta Readers to encompass everything that Belinda writes in her article, I do believe an author’s should assemble a competent Beta Reader Team that encompasses as many traits as possible. That way, the Beta Reader team helps the author achieve greater success and the highest quality novel possible.