6 Wishes Beta Readers Want You To Know

6 Wishes Beta Readers Want You to Know

We love our alpha and beta readers. Where would we be without them? I asked a few larger writing groups (Fiction Writing is the size of a city, just over 93,000 members) what the most common problems they saw when they alpha or beta read. I learned a lot from their answers and now I’m going to share them with you.

Believe it or not, a lot of writers often don’t know the difference between what a beta and an alpha reader is, so let’s clarify that one before we begin.

Alpha Reader

An alpha reader (aka the first reader) is usually someone close to you, such as a friend or family member. You would send them your manuscript in the earliest drafts, and long before you would send it to a beta. Their job is to guide further revisions by picking out problems in your draft. They tell you what works and what doesn’t, hopefully in the nicest way possible. They look at big-picture problems, such as plot, character, and structure. You may redraft several times after their feedback.

Beta Reader

After you’ve redrafted the appropriate number of times (until you cannot pick out any problems and have addressed the ones alpha readers pointed out) and self-edited, you send it off to a beta reader. You usually send it to betas right before your final draft, and it’ll be their input that you include in your (hopefully) final draft. They look at the big, polished picture with specific criteria in mind for feedback. They often look for what isn’t going to work for the reader and why it won’t work. Beta readers vary in skill set.

  • Note- the third phase is an ARC. ARC stands for Advanced Review Copy. These readers mainly write a review on it. At this phase, the manuscript is a published book and the writer isn’t looking for feedback to make changes.

The moment you’ve been waiting for…

6 Wishes from your betas.

Photo by Steven Williams

Self-Edits

I cannot stress the importance of self-edits enough, and as one of the top answers, neither can your betas. Now, we’ve all heard the adage “you’re too close to your writing”, but some writers take this to mean they don’t have to self-edit. As lovely as having a magic elf do the boring parts (and free at that), it doesn’t work that way. In our current world, it’s important now more than ever to self-edit.

  • Check out The Writer and their awesome tips for self-editing.

Under self-edits, here are the common problems:

  1. Dialogue punctuation
  2. Run on sentences
  3. Shifting verb tenses
  4. Passive voice
  5. Grammar
  6. Prose
  7. Too many adverbs

The author wanting Beta readers after they have finished 1 chapter or less.
They need to understand no one can properly Beta read an unfinished manuscript.
Also, the first draft is not a finished novel. It is the author telling themselves the story. No novel is finshed until it had been rewritten rewritten, rewritten ect, ect, ect over and over again until the author has the novel they started to write. When they can no longer change a word, then, maybe, its ready for Beta readers. But usually not.
I suggest all authors put the novel away while they write another novel. When that novel is as perfect as the author can make it, then the author can go back to first novel and reread it. If they still can’t change a word, then they ask for Beta readers.

-Bernadette C.

Characters

Going back to another set of posts I wrote, it’s important to know your characters. Go back to the beginning and write biographies for each of your main characters. Figure out their personality and make their pasts the reason for their flaws and strengths. Each of them will be different based on where they came from and what their childhoods were like.

Under characters, here are the main problems:

  1. Unrealistic character behavior
  2. Perfect characters
  3. Identical characters

I beta read a lot of romance, or at least stories with a romance sub. One thing I see too much are lovers who really need to have it out over something major, but instead the author decides to let them have a peaceful and loving bonding session or date. Like, no, that needs to come AFTER you’ve cleared the air, if you manage to clear the air without hating each other. Basically, any unrealistic behavior makes me twitch. There was at least one time I mentioned this to the author and they shrugged it off. deep sigh

-Fatima S.

POV

There are several points of views you can choose from, and you don’t have to stick to just one. What you should do is avoid head-hopping. Never, ever, ever switch POV in the middle of a scene. This means your characters won’t know what other characters think. They could make an educated guess, but unless they’re mind readers, stick to your initial character. Always use a scene break or chapter break when changing POV.

Dialogue

Photo by 수안 최

Have you heard of talking head syndrome? This is what your betas mean when referencing dialogue problems (aside from dialogue punctuation). You have a whole lot of dialogue and very few movements. This is a good time to show character quirks. That being said, avoid stage direction dialogue. Find your balance. Check out my post on dialogue and body language.

Story Issues

This is a broad category, but so important, as each of these will make or break your story.

In most of beta reading I did, the problem was that the action started too early or too late. We can get the personality of a mc in few pages, no need to write 3 chapter of introduction. On the other hand, too much action without context seem pointless, and it can be very confusing especially when many characters are evolved 

– Laurence Beaudry. Visit her at her blog.
  1. Pacing (big one. Refer to my Dramatic Structure post for help)
  2. Plot manipulation
  3. Structure (Dramatic Structure post again)
  4. Over-explaining (not trusting your readers)
  5. Cliches
  6. Lack of creativity (there may not be a whole lot of original ideas out there, but you can certainly add your own flavor)
  7. Not doing enough research on the topic (this was a BIG one)

{A problem is} action that happens because the writer needs it to happen for the plot and not because it is the logical progression of the character’s motivation.

-Vanessa W. Connect with her at Storm Dance Publication

Last But Not Least…

Arguing With Your Beta

I know we know our stories. We’ve worked hard on them. They’re our babies, and for someone to just not get them…it’s enough to close down the feedback department and go on the defensive. You don’t have to take every piece of advice your beta, or even alpha, reader gives to you, but you’d be smart to at least consider all of it.

While it’s possible that your beta missed the point you were trying to make, it’s also possible you, as the writer, weren’t clear. Or overly clear. Or it just doesn’t fit the rest of the story. There are a million reasons you could argue with your beta, but they didn’t read your entire piece just to argue with you. They honestly want to see you and your book do well. It helps to evaluate your level of skill compared to theirs. Maybe you have more. Maybe they have more.

Either way, thank them and move on. You have a book to finish.

Almost all of these should be fixed before it reaches the beta reader. They wish to give you the best feedback they possibly can, but can only do that if the piece has a nice, shiny finish on it. They want to make sure you can give your work one last coat before sending it out to the world.

  • With all that said, it’s important for beta or alphas readers to let a writer know if they are unable to finish a manuscript. A note saying “I think you wanted an alpha reader” should suffice. I think if writers self-edit and follow the rest of the tips, they will see a decline in beta readers who do not finish.

Comment down below if you enjoyed this little study and want to see more of them. Happy reading and writing!

K. L. Reeder is an aspiring author. She studies Creative Writing at SNHU, with a minor in Psychology. She resides in central PA with her toddler son and little dog.
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