Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Looking for a few good beta readers / The traits of a good beta reader

Earlier this week, Michele Shaw posted an excellent article about beta readers on her blog. If you haven’t read it, please check it out.

Beta readers are given the task of examining an author’s work in process and offering constructive advice concerning plot, prose, structure, and virtually every aspect of a manuscript. They do this for no pay, few accolades, and often little more than the satisfaction that they kept an author from looking like a total moron.

Good beta readers are like the ground crew that checks out a commercial jet before it takes off. The passengers usually don’t even see them, but, the fact that the plane is able to take off and land without losing a wing or running out of gas means that they did their job.

In case you are wondering, readers equate to passengers in that analogy.


No, you can’t be the pilot.

This is my blog, so I am the pilot, dammit. Get your own jet.

Sorry. I was rambling. I’m a rambler.

I have had the good fortune of interacting with several fantastic beta readers. Here is my list of traits they all share:

1. Brutal honesty.

This is why it is difficult for friends to beta read. If a passage makes you want to set fire to the manuscript and bury the remains in a haunted pet cemetery so the thing can rise as an evil doppelganger thus giving you the chance to kill it again, then the author needs to know that. It can be sugar coated or dipped in vinegar, but that is information they need. 
2. Fresh ideas.

Sometimes an interesting idea makes it into a manuscript but is never fully explored. A good beta reader can pick up on an orphan idea and give the author a nudge to feed and water it until it grows into big plot lizard that eats the weak story threads and poops out 24 karat gold rubix cubes! It’s a fact.
3. Ability to see both the big picture and the details.

Picking out an author’s tendency to overuse the phrase “he smirked” is an example of good detail observation. Pointing out that a character is always smiling and giddy despite the majority of a story involving them being in a state of utter despair is a great big picture observation. A beta reader who can point out both of those things is worth his or her height in Guinness.
Yes, height.
4. Understanding of the genre and writing style of a given work.

A reader who enjoys historical fiction probably shouldn’t beta read a futuristic sci-fi tale. A fan of gothic horror might like a romance book, but the odds of that are not great. A good beta reader knows what they like and can offer great advice for someone writing a book in a genre they enjoy. 
Think you have what it takes to be a beta reader, lil' buckaroo? Prove it.

I am looking for several beta readers to test drive a horror/urban fantasy short story I am working on for an upcoming anthology. If you are into vampires and werewolves who act like monsters instead of lovesick emo adolescents and you want the chance to help make a soon to be published story as good as it can be, send me a message.


Keep in mind, I am my own biggest fan so I already know how awesome I am. If my head were any bigger, it would require a signal light for passing planes. I need someone who is not afraid to tell me what sucks about the story so I can make it better.

I also need some Cheezits, because Cheezits are fantastic, but you let me worry about those.

Now that my pitch is out of the way, are there any beta readers out there who want to share their thoughts and experiences in beta reading?

How about authors, have you had any shockingly good or horrifyingly bad beta readers?

Also, do Schnauzers make good beta readers? If so, I know a guy.


  1. I'm a memeber of an online writing group where we critique 3K for each other every month. I also had five beta-readers for my full novel and have beta-read four novels in return. It's a lof work, but done right, the results are invaluable. My ms woulnd't be half of what it is now without their input and (sometimes) brutal honesty. And I try to give the same when I beta & critique for others.

  2. I had a an "eh" experience with beta reading, but that was because I failed to take genre into account. Make sure that your reader likes what you write about, or you start to get questions like "Wait. Why is he afraid o the full moon?"

  3. Thanks, Danielle. I look forward to your feedback. I had several excellent beta readers for my first novel once I assured them they wouldn't hurt my feelings and I NEEDED the critical evaluations.

    Monica, the answer to that question (Why is he afraid of the full moon?) is obvious regardless of genre: He doesn't like cheese. >:)