08-18-18 – Best Selling Canadian Romance Author Donna Alward

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Difference Between Beta Reads and ARCs

by Madelle Morgan

I 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 definitionA 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 definitionAn 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 feedbackthe beta readprior 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?

About Madelle

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.
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Subscribe to Madelle’s blog to be alerted to the release of Seduced by the ScreenwriterHollywood in Muskoka series, Book 2, in December, 2017 at 99 cents for a limited time.

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Madelle's romantic thriller Diamond Hunter is available on Amazon.

DIAMOND HUNTER: When diamond smuggling leads to murder, diamonds aren’t this girl’s best friend.

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.


Judith Ashley said...

Madelle, You have such a clear and concise way of defining/explaining the difference between Beta Readers, Editors and ARC recipients. I've recently read a couple of ARCs. One specifically stated it was an 'uncorrected' ARC and I did notice typos, etc.. in it. I also wondered why anyone would send out an uncorrected ARC to reviewers. Hmmm!

Madelle Morgan said...

Judith, I personally only send out the copy-edited version for reviews. I want reviews based on the best version of my novel, not one with typos, missing words, etc. Those flaws distract attention from the story and may result in low star ratings from annoyed detail-oriented reviewers. :(

However, despite best efforts, errors do slip through, and I welcome that feedback from readers. Fortunately indie publishing means it's easy to swiftly upload a corrected version to distribution platforms.


Diana McCollum said...

Uncorrected ARCs are distributed by publishers to get advance 'story' reviews. In advance of publication. As you said Madelle, it's easy for self pubs to upload a new version, if their reviewers mention grammar or spelling.

Once a publisher has published a book, there is no re-uploading of it. And once a house published book is published, and available to buy, the publishers have lost the edge of having reviews up and available on the day of publication. So they don't wait till it's published to ask for reviews.

They strive to have reviews up. Most bloggers and review sites know that it is the "story, plot, characters" that are being reviewed. Not typo's and grammar. As a reviewer for Romance Junkies review site, I can tell you there are very few errors in some books, and absolutely none in others. The same goes for self pubs, very few that I've reviewed have NO errors. I don't mention the errors in my review. But if there are many errors, I WILL send the self pubed author an email and mention what all I found.

I enjoyed your blog post.

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Good post, Madelle. As you pointed out, it is vital that the author clarifies what she expects from a beta reader to avoid confusion.

Sarah Raplee said...

Great advice, Madelle!

Maggie Lynch said...

Interesting distinction between Beta readers and ARCs. I think that some authors use the ARC read early in the process to help (or replace) developmental editing or line editing. Personally, I think that's a mistake, though I understand they are trying to get out of paying a professional to do those things.

The way I define/use the two systems is a little different.

I only seek Beta readers when I'm writing in a genre that is new to me. For example, when I started the YA Fantasy series, I sought out young women (age 14-16) who read a lot of YA fantasy. I am very much older than that demographic and I wanted to be sure I was hitting the market. However, I did not send them the copy until the same time in my process as I would send out ARCs. I didn't want to muddle their feedback with typos or grammar issues. I wanted them to focus on my questions: what they liked, didn't like, if they would buy it or recommend to their friends. The nice thing about teen readers, is they don't beat around the bush and respond with lots of exclamation points to anything they say--good or bad.

However, I don't seek out Beta readers on my romances where I know my audience, or my nonfiction where I'm using my knowledge expertise in the topic to write the book.

My ARCs are sent out after they have been through ALL professional editing processes: developmental; line; and proofreading. Prior to having an ARC team, I would have simply loaded them because they are in my mind "ready to publish." I can't imagine sending something sub-par to ARC readers. If I'm depending on them to do reviews, I want them to have the best possible copy at that point and to focus on their experience of the book.

Do ARC readers still find typos? Yes, and I am thankful to them for that. In my last release, they discovered 11 typos or misplaced quotes, or commas that were missed in a 280 page novel. I didn't ask them to look for them, but some readers just notice it. So, I'm happy to make those corrections. However, I try to focus my ARC team on providing specific feedback that I HOPE will help them to write the review. I ask them to answer questions about their relationship (positive or negative) to a specific character, pacing, if they cried (I always want my fiction readers to cry at least once), if they loved the ending. IF anything seemed not to fit (e.g., unrealistic for the circumstances or hero/heroine were making stupid choices) I have found asking these questions helps them to focus on what they like and that then results in a better review.