What's a Beta Reader, and Why Do I Need One?

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Title: What's a Beta Reader, and Why Do I Need One? (on essay itself), "What's a Beta Reader, and Why Do I Want One" (on the website's table of contents)
Creator: shannono
Date(s): November 2000
Medium: online
External Links: What's a Beta Reader, and Why Do I Need One?
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What's a Beta Reader, and Why Do I Need One? is an essay by shannono.

It was posted to the X-Files website Working Stiffs in January 2001. A closely-related essay is How Do I Keep My Beta Readers Happy?.

Some Topics Discussed

  • practical tips for finding a beta
  • all writers should have betaed for someone
  • fan networking


I'm a writer, not a beta!

In my opinion, the beta pipeline also works in reverse. That is, every writer should also be a beta at some point. Why? Because critical reading of another writer's work helps you see the flaws in your own writing more clearly. It also exposes you to a wider variety of writing styles and practices; you can look inside another writer's thought processes and see how they construct their stories. This practice has been used for many years; it's the main purpose of community writing groups, where writers critique each other's work.

Many writers avoid beta reading because they don't like it, and that's fine; this is a hobby, after all. But if it's simply that you're uncomfortable with your skills as a beta, you should give it a try, at least. You can suggest that the writer get at least one other, more experienced beta, to supplement your work. You might also ask the writer to reciprocate by critiquing your beta. Be sure you're clear to begin with on what she wants in the way of beta, of course. But do at least try it; you might discover you have a talent for it.

Make friends and ask them to beta. How? Sending feedback is a good place to start. No, don't write and say, "I love your story. Will you beta read mine?" What I mean is, send good, thoughtful feedback to several authors, and it's likely that at least one or two will grow into actual correspondences. Then after you've exchanged some messages with one writer, tell her that you're writing a story and looking for a beta reader, and ask if she has any suggestions. This will most likely work better than asking for a beta directly.