“A beta reader is someone who agrees to look over a piece of fiction for spelling, grammar, characterization, and continuity errors. Unlike a true editor, a beta reader is typically unpaid, and he or she sees the work at a very rough state. Many authors like to use beta readers to improve the quality of their work before they submit it for professional editing and critique, and beta readers are usually profusely thanked in acknowledgments, in recognition of the time and energy which they invested in the work.” (wiseGEEK, 2013. What is a Beta Reader?)
I have been asked to beta read several books for independent authors. They contacted me after receiving a personal email from me about how their book impacted me, read a review I wrote for another book, or as a favor. When I read, my life and work experience become part of the process. I have held more than one professional job and several career changes, so I am able to pull from an “eclectic” background. Authors will receive honest, in-the-moment feelings about a passage or plot twist, in addition to continuity and writing errors. I want them to see through my eyes. I prefer to keep chapter notes, rather than editing notes on the document. It is a personal choice.
Once I send my reading notes and summary comments to the author, I move on to the next thing. After all, it is not my work. I am not responsible for ensuring the errors and corrected and facts are double-checked. I am merely providing an opinion, based on what I read.
What happens when I see the published book has the same errors I flagged as I was reading four months ago? These were not spelling, punctuation, grammar or even usage errors. No, these were poorly researched “facts” that may have added “drama” to the story, but were simply untrue and easily verified with a Google search. Unfortunately for me, the errors were glaringly blatant because I had first-hand knowledge of the material, having worked in the field.
My first reaction was, “WHAT?!! I TOLD you that was wrong, why didn’t you change it?!,” followed by “Well, it’s not my book so…oh, well <shrugs shoulders>,” to “once this gets into the readers’ hands, they will tear it apart.” (In this case, “readers” are the general public – people who did not receive ARC copies, are not book bloggers or other authors.)
Now, I feel ambivalent because I have been asked to “recommend” the book to people. I cannot, and will not, do it in good conscience. I used the excuse that I was a beta reader and my recommendation would be “biased.” Then, quickly walked away from the discussion.
Author and Author/Reviewer Friends, I know you use beta readers, or at least hope you do. (If you don’t, we need to talk. Right. Now. Seriously.) What happens when the beta readers find something in your plot that is wrong – not something they disagree with – but just plain wrong? Do you rewrite that part? What if is a major plot twist? What if it is something you are counting on, to draw your reader in? Tell me what you would do.
Disclaimer: I am not a professional beta reader and do not receive compensation for pre-reading any material. Beta/ Draft and advance reader copies are sent to me by authors who want my opinions.