I am working on publishing two more books this summer... if all goes well. For one of them I roped friends into joining a focus group as the illustrator and I begin putting pictures to the words so they can give feedback throughout the illustration process. It worked well for my first book and I look forward to the process again for this next one.
One of the members of the focus group for this new book gave me some very valuable feedback on the story itself privately. My story was slanted and needed some balance in its character development. I didn't see it and the editor didn't see it. But it was solid advice and a simple re-write added more depth to the story and might just increase the interest and number of buyers.
So, it got me thinking about "Beta readers" and their value to the process. Beta readers are people who take a careful look at a story before it goes to the editor. After the author has done as much rewriting as he or she feels can be done, the piece is sent to Beta readers who put the story through their own list of "look-fors". Their job is to identify any negatives still hidden from the author. Beta readers offer their particular take on the story, like my brave friend did in the focus group. Beta readers, if given autonomy to be honest, increase the number of prisms through which the story is viewed.
In the article," What are Beta Readers — and How to Find Them" (https://blog.reedsy.com/beta-readers/ . June 25, 2019), Beta readers are encouraged to read with a critical eye, Some of the areas an author might ask feedback on are the content (Does the story skip over information, or is there too much detail, or too heavy and clunky?), pace ( Is it sluggish in some area, or is too much time left out for it to make sense?), setting (Is the "world" around the character described well or are there holes that need patching?), and the character(s) (Is he or she, or it, realistic, or are any of the characters critical to the story flimsy and 2 dimensional?)
Taking on the role of a Beta reader can be daunting and challenging if they are good friends with the author. It might put to the test the strength of a friendship. That would, more often than not, be the fault of the author. There are professional Beta readers available, of course. But in my way of thinking, a really good Beta reader would be a friend who would treat the role like my grandmother. Granny never held back when telling me what I needed to change in my life while at the same time loving me with all she had. (Her biggest complaint was my long hair in the 60s. :-) ) The truth is every time I have asked a friend to read my work, he/she offered very good advise and it certainly improved the product.
OK, all of you natural-born Beta readers out there, let me know who you are and if you are interested in becoming an unpaid critic.