by Madelle MorganI was spurred to write this post because another author expressed deep unhappiness that one of her beta readers posted a poor rating and review on Amazon based on the pre-edited beta version of her novel.
It's well known that authors expect (hope?) that readers and bloggers will write reviews in exchange for free advance reader copies (ARCs). However, authors certainly do not want beta readers to post reviews of an unpolished version of the novel!
So what is a beta reader? I suspect the label was adapted from beta tester. The process of beta testing is part of software development.
Beta Test - Merriam-Webster definition: A field test of the beta version of a product (such as software) especially by testers outside the company developing it that is conducted prior to commercial release.
Beta tests of software have the goal of finding bugs; i.e., things that don't work well. In the beta stage, the hope is not to have to start from scratch, but rather to find and fix problems.
Indie authors have adopted the concept of a quality check of their products (novels) before publication. They have been immersed in the book through successive drafts and many changes. It's difficult to step back and identify problems. These authors seek fresh eyes, aka beta readers.
Beta Reader - Wikipedia definition: An alpha reader or beta reader is a non-professional reader who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of (improving) 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 believeability. The beta reader might also assist the author with fact-checking.
Novel Development Process
Crafting a novel is an iterative and lonely process. Authors ask themselves, does the book meet my fans' expectations? Is the story captivating? Are the characters believable? Doubts can creep in as we hunch in our writing caves for weeks or months rewriting successive drafts. For confirmation that the book is on track, during the development stage authors may work with critique partners or pay for a professional developmental edit.
After the novel is substantially complete, authors usually proceed to hire a copy editor, line editor and/or proofreader. Increasingly, however, some indie authors first ask trusted readers for feedback—the beta read—prior to polishing and copy editing.
Beta reads of a novel generally fall after substantial completion, but before polishing and copy editing. That is, the plot and characters are set, but aspects such as character development, goals, motivations and conflicts, and other details may still need polishing. Scenes may need to be added or rewritten to clarify confusion or build tension. Story questions may need to be answered.
The stages of writing a novel could look something like this:
1. Development draft(s)
2. Developmental editing by a professional or critique partners
3. Beta draft - substantially complete
4. Beta readers
5. Polished draft
6. Copy editing by a professional
7. Final version
8. Formatting of final version
9. ARCs sent out to bloggers and fans for reviews
10. Publication & distribution on retail platforms
Expectations of Beta Readers
I carefully selected and asked two authors, two detailed-oriented friends, and two subject matter experts to be beta readers of my December 2017 release. I was happy to receive high quality feedback from three. The others bailed, but that's okay. Hopefully they'll buy the finished book!
It's very important that an author outline to beta volunteers what feedback she wants. In my case, the objective was not for them to find typos, spelling mistakes and grammar issues. That's my copy editor's job. I asked individual beta readers for specific feedback that required, respectively, knowledge of the craft of writing or screenwriting or police procedures. I asked them to point out weaknesses in the characters' emotional journeys and GMCs. I asked them to indicate where in the story they laughed and where they teared up... and was sometimes surprised!
Example of Beta Feedback
You may have read an excerpt of Seduced by the Screenwriter in my August 2017 post. The heroine is a former police diver with PTSD. Here's an example of feedback on that scene from a beta reader.
Not sure about Catrina playing Prudence Maxwell, a young woman who's been sold by her father to pay off his gambling debts. The subject matter hits pretty close to the world of the (PTSD trauma).
When I wrote that scene I never made the connection to Catrina's traumatic dive. Funny how the subconscious works! I rewrote the scene to empower Catrina. Instead of being a submissive victim of a forced marriage per Chett's script, she turns the tables and transforms it into her bad girl fantasy.
Authors, what are your expectations of beta readers?
Madelle Morgan is a Canadian author who writes romance set in Canada.
Caught on Camera is a Hollywood wedding romance set in Muskoka, Canada—summer playground of the rich and famous. It's Book 1 of the Hollywood in Muskoka series.
Subscribe to Madelle’s blog to be alerted to the release of Seduced by the Screenwriter, Hollywood in Muskoka series, Book 2, in December, 2017 at 99 cents for a limited time.
Madelle's romantic thriller Diamond Hunter is available on Amazon.
Colorado geologist Petra Paris must clear her father of fraud charges by collecting fresh rock samples at an open pit diamond mine in Canada’s far north. When someone tries to frame her with stolen uncut diamonds, Petra needs protection. Local pilot Seth Cooper, an undercover cop with the Diamond Protection Unit, needs access to the mine complex. They strike a deal to have Seth pose as her boyfriend so he can overnight on site to investigate the smuggling operation.
In their bedroom under the midnight sun, Petra fights magnetic desire to sample Seth’s rock-hard body. The prospect of intimacy hot enough to heat up the Arctic is a deadly distraction. She needs to focus on her mission. Besides, Seth is commitment-phobic: his job put his ex-wife in danger.
With cops closing in, escape blocked and millions in stolen diamonds at stake, desperate smugglers ramp up to murder. The isolated mine site becomes a death trap. Seth must expose the villains before Petra becomes the next victim.