Diving further into the beta reading process, this time around we’re going to explore the readers themselves. Who makes the better beta reader, fellow writers or straight-up readers? Well, I’m afraid there will be no concrete answer to this question; however, I will share my own observations, because these two groups did bring different input to the table during the beta process.
For starters, I had three fellow writers (two who finished) and four readers — a good mix all said and done, and I highly recommend a good mix between the lot. In particular, I noticed that the straight-up readers tended to finish the manuscript faster; two were scary fast and have already been sniffing around for the sequel (I need to get on that). Readers brought up some great points up, some of which were shared by the writers, but for the most part were very light on their comments and not as critical. I like to say they rolled with the punches. They were patient and waited until the end to draw conclusions, much like one would do with a published novel — to a point.
Writers are no stranger to the editing process, and for many of us, it’s hard to shut off that side of our brain when reading anything, no matter its publishing status. I know I struggled with doing that after agreeing to a trade and tried desperately to tame my inner content/copy editor. As writers sometimes it is easy to be bogged down by stylistic choices or try to impose our own tastes on others, which doesn’t always do justice to another writer’s manuscript. And despite asking for no edits since I have a professional editor lined up who is highly familiar with Chicago Manual of Style, writers were keen to ignore that instruction. Sometimes the writers would become so consumed with editing they’d then miss story elements.
While there was frustration with that last part, it was good to have that critical eye as the writers were more prone to point out annoying overuse of certain words or would catch other things that dealt with plot, structure or characters — things the straight-up readers would sometimes (not always) let slide that I wouldn’t want to reach print. They also provided more detailed information than the readers did, balancing the beta reading process.
Knowledge of the genre also played an important role. Here I firmly have to say it is better to have more genre readers than non-genre readers, because genre readers know the market and are your target readers: They will zone in on issues that don’t mesh with your genre. For instance, my one male reader, who was familiar with the genre, noted that my firearm designations at times were too close to existing weapon designations and could spark confusion. As a space opera, my manuscript doesn’t follow hard science, so some comments from non-genre readers, while well-intended, were not fully applicable.
Which brings us to Part III of this series: How do you weed through all the beta reading process’s feedback? I hope to have it up in the next week or two, so stay tuned!