Illustrated initials from a German fairytale book (1919 edition)

The Joy and Wonder of Beta Readers

I’m not impatient, not at all.

I’m just sitting here quietly, as my marvelous beta readers are doing their thing. For the uninitiated, beta readers are all of those wonderful people in your life (or on the web, depending on your preference), who are the first people to read through your novel (who are not you, or some version of you).

Those are the people who will ruthlessly point out anything that simply doesn’t work, that jars, that bores them. They are also, hopefully, the people who will tell you exactly why they love your manuscript.

I’m lucky enough to have a few people in my life, who I know will not sugarcoat it, and will tell me exactly where I might have lost the plot a little bit, or where the stakes are unclear. I have the good fortune of having two local writer-friends, each extremely talented in their own right, and each with completely different expectations/interests. In beta-reading context this works brilliantly for me, as each one of them will focus on a different aspect of my novel, and come up with a different way in which I can improve it.

One of my writer-pals is extremely plot-focused, expecting each page to hook her and bind her to my characters, so that she simply can’t put the book down. Because otherwise, she tells me, she certainly will. So no pressure there. Her no-nonsense approach keeps me on my toes.

My other writer friend writes what one would probably categorize as literary fiction, and she looks for the flow of the language, the mood and the tone. She’s the one to let me know where a sentence needs to be more staccato, and where the tone of the sentence lets me down. I listen to her note-full voice messages with fascination, like I’m invited to take a gander inside her head.

If you write, I highly recommend asking as wide a range of beta readers as possible to look through your manuscript, as they will all find different things which interest and confuse them. It’s the first taste of true readership, and you should savour it, for the opportunity it gives you to improve your work in ways which simply wouldn’t be possible on your own.