Choosing your beta readers



If you’re a writer, and especially a published author, you’ve probably used beta readers. Maybe you’ve even been one. So how do you choose your readers?

I’ve been a writer since childhood and used to allow only a few special people to read my poetry and short stories. I’ve always been extremely shy about showing others my work, so as you can imagine, school, college and writing workshops were close to a nightmare for me! But they were necessary and I found that most teachers, professors and fellow writers were kind but firm about their thoughts, opinions and advice.

A few years ago when I started writing novels to eventually self-publish, I knew I’d need beta readers. I wasn’t in school and I wasn’t involved in writing groups or workshops. I know I should have been and I’m red-faced today to admit I’m still not, but that topic is for another post.

I was fortunate to have intelligent friends who were fast readers and wouldn’t be shy about giving me an honest opinion. One woman helped me tremendously with my proofreading. I thank her to this day. And I always love a male point of view about my women’s fiction, so I ask my husband to read too. Maybe I should join a writer’s group, or create one, but shyness and stubbornness have been winning lately.

I’ve been working on an edgy novella that is a companion to my first self-published novel. I’ve worked hard on this novella. It started as a NaNoWriMo project and has turned into something else, something like I’ve never written before. Paranormal elements, dark and hopeful themes and characters who are not sweet and are messed up and twisted in their own ways. Yet, it’s a simple story of good versus evil and a woman who must choose faith to save her life.

Who in my group of beta readers would I give this to? One of them wasn’t interested in paranormal and another is way too busy these days to read anything other than work stuff. I thought about my aunt who has read a couple of my previous stories and was helpful. I know family members shouldn’t be beta readers, but I was anxious for comments so I went with it. My husband is also reading it.

The other day, my aunt wrote to me that she couldn’t finish it. She couldn’t get past the bad language of the characters and the sex. Now, I don’t write sex books. Never have, never will. But I do write what my characters are and in this case, they are foul-mouthed and promiscuous. I apologized and told her all my other stories are rated G or PG, but this one was different and I should’ve warned her.

So I learned an important lesson that I should’ve already known. Make sure you choose beta readers who will at least enjoy the genre, tone and subject matter of your story. You won’t get useful feedback if they can’t or won’t even finish it. Family members are okay as long as they’re honest. I’m sure strangers who love the kinds of stories you write are the best, so that’s probably what I should work on.

Lesson learned. Now tell me about your beta readers. Any stories or advice you want to share? And if you’re shy, like me, how do you find your readers?

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