This post is a long-winded way of saying: a book isn't made by a lonesome artist labouring away behind the keyboard. It takes a team. The beta readers are an important part of that team. And I want you as my beta reader!
You don't have to be a grammar-whizz or literary professor to be a beta reader. I am specifically looking for anyone who enjoys sci-fi (or is not averse to it) and can give honest feedback about what they liked about a story or novel and what confused them or didn't work for them.
What's in it for you? First of all, that warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you help an aspiring writer on their journey to become a published author. Second, you get to read stories and novels before they are available to the general public. And you'll get a free copy of any published novel that you beta read. I'll also acknowledge you in the published book (unless you prefer to remain anonymous or pseudonymous).
If you're interested and want to do me the huge favour of beta reading my work, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would really appreciate it!
What does a beta reader do?
Just as with software, books go through beta testing before they are released. A beta reader, much like a beta tester in the world of software engineering, reads the manuscript before it gets published. This can reveal problems with the manuscript that need to be fixed.
It is not about checking the spelling and grammar or making sure the punctuation is correct. At the end, a professional proof-reader will catch such mistakes. The beta reader considers the overall experience: are there any holes in the plot, is the reader confused, do the characters and scenes feel natural, does the manuscript captivate the reader?
So to be a beta reader, you don't need to be well-versed in grammar or have a cabinet full of spelling-bee trophies. The most important property to have is that you like reading. If you are a reader, you're more than likely able to point out what you liked about a manuscript, and what didn't work for you.
Where does the beta reader fit into the process?
You may think that writing a short story or novel is about the author typing away at their keyboard, slapping a 'The End' at the end (duh) and done. Ship it.
In reality, that is just the start of the process. There are many more steps involved. Usually, it goes something like this:
The author sits down and writes away. The goal is to get the story out of the authors head and into a manuscript from start to end. It does not have to be the most brilliant prose. In fact, it will likely be full of mistakes and awkward phrasing.
After a bit of time away from the story, the author reads the first draft from start to end and makes notes about holes in the plot and other big picture issues. Maybe an alpha reader has seen the manuscript and has some input as well.
With this input, the author sets to work to expand certain parts that are confusing or need clarification or introduction, fixes holes in the plot, moves chapters around to improve the general flow or maybe even remove passages that don't work.
An author may choose to involve a developmental editor when working on the second draft. That is, someone who has a nose for what readers want in a novel and can help structure the novel to make the story the most compelling it can be.
Now the author goes down to the sentence level, improving the prose and polishing the dialogue. The author replaces overused words or weak phrasing, cuts out fluff and fixes punctuation and grammar.
The third draft then is what the author believes is the best they can do. They can't improve it, it's done. Which isn't to say it is actually done, but we'll get to that.
In any case, this is where the beta readers come in. The author by now has read and refactored the manuscript so many times that they can't objectively read it. The beta readers provide a fresh perspective and may point out sections that work and don't work. They'll be reading it like a reader would.
This usually results in feedback, issues that need to be fixed or improved.
Then it's time to send of the manuscript, in its fourth draft now, to the line editor. This may be the same editor that worked on the second draft, but often it is a different editor. Some editors are generalists, but many editors specialize in one or two specific stages.
The line editor scrutinizes all sentences, and either improves, or gives helpful hints on how to improve, the phrasing and dialogue.
Finally, the proofreader (another discipline in the editors' profession) goes through the manuscript with a fine comb to fix any spelling, grammar or punctuation issues.
Your mileage may vary
All authors go through a process similar to the one outlined above. Even the most seasoned author needs editors and beta readers to make a novel shine.
The exact process may vary some. For example, some authors prefer more drafts, for others two drafts is sufficient. Also, the number and nature of the editing passes may vary, and there may be loops, multiple iterations of the same cycle. The exact order may vary as well.
Editors don't work for free. An author can work with a publisher (if they can find a publisher). The publisher pays the editors, and recovers the investment by taking a large cut of the book sales. In this day and age, many authors choose to self-publish. That means the author gets to keep all of the book sales, but they do have to pay for the editors themselves.
Will you be my beta reader?
So, now that you know a bit more about how a book is made, and you know what a beta readers role in the process is, I'll end this post the way I started it, by asking: will you be my beta reader?
If your answer is yes: many, many thanks in advance! And please drop me a line email@example.com.