The Korean War memoir I’ve been working on is almost ready for beta readers! What’s a beta reader? B is for beta, the B Team. Once you have self-edited your book, the next step is to find some volunteers to be your B Team – the test team to read your manuscript and tell you what they think so you can fix it up and get it ready for the A Team, which is your professional editor. You don’t want to waste money paying an editor to hack through a manuscript that needs a lot more work, and you need to make sure you will hit the mark with your targeted readers.
The ideal beta reader is someone who likes the genre you are writing and has read a lot of that genre. Hopefully, he or she is also good at spelling and grammar, but that’s not as important since your editor will cover that ground. Beta readers should also be unafraid to tell you what they think (nicely), but that depends on if they perceive you are open to the truth. Authors who have a thin skin will not learn how to make their writing better. Beta readers and editors should focus on how to help your book be better, not on babying your ego.
Actually, I have already given some chapters of this memoir to a couple friends who wanted to read them. One didn’t tell me until afterwards that she didn’t like reading about war! The other is used to reading NYT bestseller war books written by journalists, historians, or expensive ghostwriters, so had to shift his thinking a bit. I have one man’s down-to-earth personal stories of hell on the ground, no Hollywood sheen. Either way, I have already learned I need to get rid of some mission details that a fellow combat vet might like but would make the average reader’s eyes start to glaze. There’s a happy medium to be found, and fortunately my veteran friend is okay with me deleting more of the notes he so painstakingly wrote and rewrote. Not everyone’s ego is that accommodating to their ghostwriter/editor.
Authors should give their beta readers a set of instructions. How detailed those instructions are depends on if their betas are writers or are otherwise interested in spending time thinking about your writing. If you have someone willing to go indepth, here is a post from Joel Friedman’s blog called “Questions for your beta readers” by editor Jodie Renner. Most everyday (nonwriter) readers will likely do better not being overwhelmed by things to look for. I put a new page called Beta Readers in the Resources section of my blog. There you’ll find the “Short list of questions for your beta readers.