I can’t imagine how maddening it would be to actually publish a book without first hearing from several people whether or not it works. My sister is usually the first one to read my work and as much as I appreciate her feedback, she’s my sister.
I would never have the courage to hit publish without first hearing from other folks, like my writing group, who are not afraid to be brutally honest and have fun tearing apart my paper thin plot maneuvers, my repetitive sentence structure and my abundant spelling and grammar errors. And while they are invaluable—I’m mean really and truly the greatest group ever—they usually read the work in thirty page chunks. It’s difficult to judge if a plot holds together when you don’t read the whole way through.
It’s the beta readers, those trusted few who like to read the work before its one hundred percent, who will muddle through the unpolished pages and give a thumbs up or down and not be shy about it, who are particularly important.
The moment I hit send to get the work in a beta’s hands is the most agonizing. God, how I hate those gut wrenching days after as I wait for the verdict. Is it any good at all? Will they confirm what I’ve suspected all along? That I’ve spent days, weeks, months on a project that is just crap? My family and my writing group are just being nice, I tell myself. They don’t want to hurt my feelings.
I brood during those days of waiting to hear whether the work has failed or if I’ve been at all successful. Hearing positive comments from a beta is the greatest form of relief. Their suggestions and comments, their questions and impressions are so important that I’m not sure I’d ever feel as if I were finished with a project until I heard from a few.
Granted, one has to be capable of accepting critiques for a beta reader to be of any help. If you can’t take the honest assessment, if all you’re looking for is praise, then don’t waste anyone’s time. Write in your bubble and cross your fingers that your work is brilliant without help. And when you’re done with that, I’ve got a ticket for the space shuttle to sell you.
If you’re a writer, and you don’t know what a beta reader is, or don’t have one, you need to get one. And if you’re a reader and you feel as if you can fearlessly give helpful feedback to an author, you should volunteer to be a beta. You have no idea how vital you can be to the process.