Once upon a time ago, I had no clue what a beta reader was. What the hell are they? I never even heard of the term, until I entered the literary world.
According to Wikipedia, a beta reader is a non-professional reader who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting. Beta reading is typically done before the story is released to the public. Beta readers are not proofreaders or editors, but can serve in that context.
Elements highlighted by beta readers encompass things such as plot holes, problems with characterization or believability.
I personally think the beta reader’s job is to make sure the story flows, check for plot issues, characterization, believability, spelling and grammar errors. However, it’s not their job to edit your manuscript. What I mean by this is a beta reader is not supposed to carefully read line by line to specifically check for goof-ups.
Since last Friday, I’d talked to both a self-published and a traditionally published author regarding what a beta reader’s job is. I had also approached a beta reader/proof reader/editor and asked her what she thought about this issue as well. Basically, in a nutshell, all of them told me beta readers are invaluable writer’s aids, but they aren’t editors. Here’s what a beta reader’s job is:
A beta reader’s job is to:
1.) Make sure your story flows nicely.
2.) If there are plot holes, tell you about them.
3.) Point out spelling and grammar errors when he or she spots them.
4.) The believability of the tale. Is it cheesy? Stupid? Too far-fetched?
5.) Characterization. Are the characters relatable? Are they three dimensional? Are they boring cardboard cutouts with no individuality? Are they clones?
6.) Bring it to your attention if you’ve missed something, like in the same scene your character is wearing shorts, and then all of a sudden he has on a ghillie suit and you didn’t explain why.
Anyway, if you’re an author or plan to be, it’s imperative to have a beta reader or critique partner. You want your story to rock, and the only way to accomplish that goal is to polish your tale as much as you can. With the help of another set of eyes and a mutual understanding of what is expected from both parties, you’ll be well on your way to a kickass novel.