Updated: May 13
Last week, we discussed beta readers and how they’re called beta readers and not mind readers for a reason. Mainly because they’re not the latter, only the former.
Most of them aren’t even professionals. With all due respect, they’re normally family or friends who volunteer to read your manuscript out of the goodness and kindness of their hearts.
And goodness and kindness are only worth so much in this regard.
That sounds terrible, I know, but it’s true. Now if it was a combination of goodness, kindness and story-telling (or non-fiction writing) expertise? You’d be set!
No editor necessary for you!
Since that’s probably not the case though, you’re best off letting them know what you’re looking for. Give them a list of considerations to keep in mind as they turn your pages.
In case you missed last week’s post, here’s a great place to start in compiling those questions.
And regardless, there is one more beta reader pitfall you really need to keep in mind: the propensity to not just be a non-mind-reader but a non-reader altogether.
More often than not, people will say they’ll review your manuscript. But then they never do.
Before you get all annoyed with your beta readers for not actually being beta readers like they said they’d be… remember how chances are exceptionally high that you’re not paying them a dime.
You’re asking them to devote hours to something without compensating them through anything but a (hopefully) engaging narrative. And you’re asking them to take notes on it too!
Isn’t that akin to slave labor?
Even if the answer to the first question is, “Stop being melodramatic” and the second is, “Pipe down, pipsqueak. It’s not like they’re getting graded,” you still have to recognize that your beta readers do have lives outside of their promise to you.
They might have real school. Or work. Or school and work. And/or significant others. And/or friends. And/or kids. Not to mention lots and lots of distractions through social media… Netflix and TV… books they don’t have to take notes on…
The potential priorities only go on from there.
As such, consider yourself duly warned: Your beta readers might not beta read your manuscript.
In which case, it (hopefully) has nothing to do with your manuscript. And it (probably) has nothing to do with you.
It’s just what happens when people aren’t properly incentivized to do what you asked.
Considering everything we covered in the last segment, the more beta readers you can get yourself, the better. The more you have, the better your chances that one will truly read what you wrote all the way through and give you worthwhile feedback.
Which brings us to our last point on the slippery subject.
Just because someone does read your manuscript and tells you it’s phenomenal doesn’t mean you’re ready to publish. It means you made one reader happy.
One wonderful, good, kind, non-professional reader.
If you want to present a polished published work to the world, you still should involve an actual editor. That remains true even if you have two or three or a miraculous four beta readers come back with glowing reviews.
Those are good signs, mind you. And enjoy them for all they’re worth! But, like goodness and kindness, they’re only worth so much, especially if you didn’t give them proper guidance to begin with.
So, in short, give your beta readers proper guidance, give them proper grace… and give them proper skepticism if they don’t have a single constructive critique to say.
Especially if they’re family or friends.
Editor’s Note: Read the next post on "Do You Need an Editor?" here.