How Beta Readers Help Polish a Maunscript

woman reading book

Another invitation to be a Beta reader came in my email. Because of this Speedbo challenge I had to pass on it. *sigh* This is something I love to do. So I’ll take a few minutes to share with you what it is all about.

What is a Beta Reader

I’ve had the privilege of being a Beta Reader a few times. Before my experience I had no idea what a Beta reader did or why they were important. Beta Readers are the final line of defense against typos and grammar fopas. The last opportunity to question flow and any other oddity in your manuscript.

As a Beta Reader I received a PDF file in my email of a completed manuscript ready to go to press. It’s the Beta Readers job to find misspelled words, duplicate words, punctuation, wrong character names, duplicate sentences and paragraphs. Examples of these are John said when it should be Joel. Tom sat nearby when it should be Tim.

How it works

A Beta Reader examines every word from the title, the acknowledgement, the body of work to The End. Anything that seems odd or unclear, forgotten words, incorrect punctuation or grammar is noted on a separate sheet- a copy correction template. Each correction starts with a page #, paragraph and line #   followed by specific verbiage.

I’ll use an example from earlier.

Page 142 paragraph 3 line 6

It reads: John said.

Should read: Joel said.

In this case the character John is Joel’s missing brother and he is not in this scene at all. So obviously he would not be speaking. Characters with similar names or same first letters are easy to confuse and often missed in initial edits.

What it’s not

A Beta Reader does not rewrite or delete sections. They are not the critiquer. Rather they are the polishers. Critiquers and editors sand and resurface the words and beta readers produce the high shine to take the imperfections out of the varnish.

Beta reading eyes

After my experience as a Beta Reader I have caught glaring mistakes in printed books. One recent example. “I agree.” He agreed. It drew me out of the book and I pondered the redundancy of those words for a few seconds. No author wants a reader drawn out of his story.

One novel had a page with the list of characters at the end of the book. The Korean-American was listed as a Japanese –American. Where were the Beta Readers on that one? Duplicate words are a constant bother to readers such as: with with or she with went with. Probably occurred during editing. The editor or author deletes part of a sentence but not all of it and in the rewrite adds extra words. This is another place that will draw a reader out of a book. Enough of these and the reader may stop reading and consider the author a hack.

How many Beta Readers is enough

Most books have several Beta Readers. I was one of 30 on my projects. Those small errors are usually caught by having multiple Beta Readers. In my case there were two groups. Fifteen read first and the second group went over the manuscript after corrections were made. This creates the cleanest copy possible. The words shine with the natural beauty minus most of the flaws. I say most because there can still be after all those readers a comma or misspelled word that got slipped through the cracks. But hopefully no one or very few readers will ever notice it.

Why be a Beta Reader

It builds your network of contacts. You slowly read through a ready to publish book and your mind absorbs what makes the book publication worthy. You catch mistakes you may be making in your own manuscript and you learn to do line edits.

If you are asked to be a Beta Reader go for it. If you really love the book offer to do a book review when it is available. My experience has shown me I want beta readers on my projects. Any Indie authors out there can only benefit from those extra set of eyes.

Have any of you had experiences with beta readers either as one or using them. I would love to hear about it.

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