First of all, if you have a good beta reader who you feel benefits your writing, disregard this post.
OK, for the rest of you, lets go over what a beta reader is. Beta readers are people, usually authors who read your work, chapter by chapter and offer suggestions about your story. A lot of first time authors feel they are a necessary step in the publishing process. I felt the same way when I was new to the business. The problem I have with with are as follows (if you stick around till the end I’ll offer you an alternative that I feel will benefit your writing much more than a beta reader:
Let’s go over what you actually need really quick, You need someone who will get back to you in a timely manner, someone with experience (in your genre), and someone who will help you grow as an author and improve your craft. The solution? You probably guessed it. Editors. They come in all shapes and sizes. I know my first book could have benefitted from a structural edit and chances are yours can too. Studying story is something I never really thought about until I’d published multiple titles. Sounds silly but it’s true. Once I stopped believing that because I consumed stories I understood them, my story telling improved. And the people to help you in this regard are professionals not other new authors. I also understand that money can be incredibly tight when you’re starting out, while I encourage multiple edits with different types of editors there are other ways to improve. The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne (an experienced editor) is an excellent resource that I highly recommend. They also have a story grid podcast where Tim Grahl writes fiction and Shawn goes over it with him. It’s filmed live so Tim has no idea what’s going to happen until it starts.
What are your experiences with beta readers? I know VS Holmes had a good experience with her Smoke and Rain beta but other than that I have never seen it work. Let me know in the comments!
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