Should You Use Beta Readers?

Five or six years ago I’d never heard the term beta reader. Now almost all authors I know use them as part of their revision process, as do I.

Recently, however, I read a post by Dean Wesley Smith that cautions against relying on beta readers.

A beta reader looks at a complete manuscript and gives the writer comments. This person is not a professional editor or an author, but is someone who reads a lot, ideally in the genre in which the author is writing.

Some authors send beta readers a first draft.

I usually send my novel out only when it’s close to finished. My early drafts are very rough, and I do a lot of my writing in the rewriting phase. I don’t want other people’s views to skew my take on my own story.

The main benefit I’ve found from beta readers is that they let me know when they can’t follow or don’t understand a scene or plot twist. Also, if they don’t understand why a character does something or strongly dislike a character I’d thought readers would resonate with, it cues me to double check to see if enough of what I know about that character has actually gotten out of my head and onto the page.

Some authors use dozens of beta readers and try to incorporate all of their comments. For me, that would be overwhelming, so I’ve never tried it.

In Killing The Sacred Cows Of Publishing: Beta Readers Help You Dean Wesley Smith strongly discourages using multiple readers, as it can easily turn into writing by committee.

Also, and contrary to much of the common advice to indie authors, Smith argues against using beta readers at all, stating: “Grow a backbone and believe in your own writing.” He makes good points about the downsides of the process and also about the fears and lack of confidence that may motivate writers to seek out many opinions.

If you’re using or considering using beta readers, I highly recommend checking out his post.

Until Sunday-

L. M. Lilly

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