Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Value of Beta-Readers

You’ve finished your manuscript. Written your query letter and synopsis. Compiled a list of agents and/or editors. Ready to hit ‘send’? STOP! Have you sent your manuscript off to any beta-readers? 

Many of us ask others to read our work as we go. Our critique groups might read one thousand words at a time or a chapter here and there. And that’s all well and good, but the problem with relying on this method is that no one really looks at the big picture.

How does the plot hold up over the course of the book? Any gaping plot holes? Character descriptions that change between chapter one and chapter twelve? Any time warp issues? When do they put the book down and why? I want my readers to stay up late reading because they can’t put the book down. If they do, I want to know exactly where in the book it happened. 

I recently finished my novel and sent it off to eight beta readers. The first two discovered a major issue immediately. I had done a “find and replace” when I changed a character’s name. Unfortunately, I forgot to specify that I wanted to replace “whole words only”. Every single instance where the word ‘Tray’ appeared in the book changed. So ‘betrayal’ became ‘beAxel” and ‘she picked up her tray’ became ‘she picked up her Axel’. 

I have to laugh about it now, but my immediate reaction was panic because I’d already sent a query letter off to an agent. And guess what? Those first pages I sent her contain that error. It was definitely a live and learn moment. Will I do that again? Nope.

 Other issues my beta-readers have found include things like: one minute the character is commenting on how beautiful the clouds are at dawn and two hours later she’s eating dinner.  Or a character walks into a room, and two paragraphs later he walks into the room again. Argh.

As the author, it’s too easy for me to miss some of these. I read what I thought I wrote. Even when I slow myself down, I don’t always catch the little things. 

I ask my beta-readers to not worry about line-by-line editing. I want their perspective on the big picture. Once I’m satisfied my team has found all the major issues and I’ve corrected them, then I’ll be ready to hit “send”.

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