There are a variety of steps when it comes to writing, and depending on the author and the story, it can take hours to years before that story is complete. The first step, of course, is the writing phase, which consists of putting words on the page. After that comes editing, which can go through multiple drafts and versions.
Once the author has finished editing the story and has it at a place that they are fairly content with how it reads, it may be sent to a professional editor, or it might be sent to beta readers—it depends on what the author wants to do. Beta readers, like editors, will read the story and look for ways to improve it. They may look for plot holes or character mistakes or issues with grammar and punctuation, but unlike an editor, they might not be professionally trained.
Beta readers are an important step in the writing process because they help the author perfect the story before it is published. For me, most of my beta readers are individuals who have read my work before and know what to expect, and I trust that they will let me know if something has gone awry in the story. Beta readers are important because as readers, they have insight into stories that reflect what the reading public wants to see. Editors have that ability too, but I trust editors and beta readers for different reasons.
How does one become a beta reader? Well, I don’t think there’s any trick to it. I chose my beta readers because they are dedicated fans and have read all (or the vast majority) of my work. Beta readers can also be reviewers (I have one who is). It just depends on what the author is looking for.
The most important part about being a beta reader is having constructive criticism and getting back to the author in a timely fashion. We’re all busy people, I totally understand that, but remember that the author is biting her nails waiting for you to get back to her with suggestions on how to improve the story. And the way to do that is to tell the author what you liked best about the story, what was confusing or unclear, and perhaps suggest ways to improve it.
The author may not take all of your advice or suggestions for the next round of editing, but I speak from experience when I say we deeply appreciate the time you took to read it and comment. For me, if the reader doesn’t understand what I’m trying to say in my story, then I’ve failed. I want the reader to enjoy what I’ve written and be inspired and/or moved by it.
The relationship between the author and beta reader is a close one. It involves lots and lots of questions and a little bit of nerves. You’re seeing work that probably isn’t close to perfect, so the author might be afraid of how you’re going to react. But the goal is to find ways to improve the story and make it better, and it’s a big responsibility to be part of that process.
Are any of you beta readers? What has been your experience with the process or author relationship?