The Importance of Beta Readers: To Pay or Not to Pay?

As you guys know, I have recently opened The Ribbon Marker Editorial Services, and I offer a variety of services, from book reviewing to content/developmental editing. My current, most used service is beta reading.

For those of you who don’t know what a beta reader is, a beta reader is the first person to take a look at your manuscript who is not a caring loved one. A beta reader is there to represent the reader’s interest and conflicts with your manuscript, such that they give the author a preview of possible problems that readers might have with their story. Their feedback gives authors an opportunity to improve things before their book is for sale and their reputation is on the line. Betas don’t necessarily have to have editing experience, but they do need to know enough about the genre for them to tell you what works in your book, and what doesn’t.

So what makes for a good beta?

A good beta reader is:

  • A reader of the genre  – being a reader of the genre means that the beta has already done the background research of what readers of that genre like, and what they never want to see.
  • Open-minded – in a continuously changing industry, where books straddle genres and sub-genres, you need someone who can see the possibilities for manuscript blurring lines and testing boundaries. Just because your book isn’t a classical contemporary romance, it doesn’t mean it couldn’t spawn a new sub-genre or theme with in that genre.
  • Critical – you don’t want a beta who says “the book was great and I really liked your characters”. You want a beta who will say, “While I like Stacy and Ben, I thought that Ben was too permissive to really be the alpha male that Stacy had hoped for the entire book (and her entire life). Particularly, I feel like he really needs to be more outspoken in their arguments. Ben is a guy who really knows himself, and he wouldn’t let Stacy just steamroll him into letting go of the argument.” Notice, there is a difference between critiquing (insightful but polite analysis), versus fault-finding and being judgmental (rudely listing all the thing wrong in the manuscript and then hatefully questioning the authors attempts).
  • Reliable – you want a beta who will actually:
    1. Read the manuscript
    2. Give constructive criticism
    3. Get back to you in a timely manner
    4. Keep you appraised of their progress
  • Supportive – at the end of the day, you want a beta who wants to help you make your book into the best version of your book that they can, from the reader’s perspective.

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