Ever been to website or app store and something you wanted to download said it was the “beta version?” You probably know this means that this version is a trial run. The developers think the software is ready for the public, but they expect some issues to arise and will address them before releasing the “official” version. People who utilize the software in the beta phase are called beta testers.
Well, as you’ve probably guessed by now, beta readers are beta testers for content. Most commonly, beta readers are fans of a genre who read novels or short stories in that genre and provide feedback to an author. But other kinds of content benefit from beta reading as well, such as instruction manuals, how-to articles, and handbooks. In these scenarios, it is easy to see why beta readers are so important. If you create an instruction manual on how to put together and use a complicated device, you want someone from your intended audience (maybe it’s your average Joe, or maybe the product is specifically designed for techies) to give the manual a trial run to make sure it accomplishes its goal: helping the reader understand how to do something.
But I’m going to focus now on beta readers in the traditional publishing setting. The first question I’m going to answer is why you need a beta reader. The answer? You don’t. Honestly. You don’t need one. But it’s a really, really good idea. In fact, ideally, you’d have multiple beta readers from each of the different market segments you’re hoping your book will appeal to.
For example, let’s say you’ve written a science fiction book and your intended audience is young adult and adult. You want to find both male and female readers of science fiction at various ages in your target audience. This way, you’re likely to get a variety of perspectives from each segment of your target market.
So back to the question of why. You want beta readers to read your book for the same reason software developers want beta testers to test their software. Beta testers are looking for bugs, just like beta readers are looking for problems. You want someone, a real reader, not a fellow writer or a professional editor, but the people you’re targeting to buy your book, to look for plot holes and inconsistencies. You also want someone to tell you which of your characters they like and which of them they couldn’t care less about. Beta readers will tell you where the story drags on and gets boring, or where something happens way too fast. They’ll tell you if the twist ending was actually quite predictable or whether the conclusion was satisfying. These pieces of information all give you ideas (that you can take or leave) on where and how to improve your story.
Beta readers provide the kind of real-world feedback you can expect to get. But instead of getting that feedback in online and in-print reviews, you get it when you still have a chance to do something about it.
If you’d like to tap into an extensive network of beta readers for a variety of content types, please reach out! I’d love to connect you and your content with its intended audience.