BETA THAN YOU
BETA ROUND THE BUSH
BETA THE DEVIL YOU KNOW
For a blog post on beta readers it seems appropriate to have a range of options for the title. It’s the sort of thing that a beta reader might have an opinion on.
Which is the entire crux [nub, heart, essence, most important point, central point, main point, essential part, core, centre, nucleus, kernel, bottom line] of beta readers. Opinions.
Opinions are what beta readers provide. Somewhat humorously there are people who charge for this service. I don’t know what they offer that unpaid beta readers don’t provide, because I have never felt the urge to pay anyone for a second opinion (unless they are a doctor and that rash is just not healing).
Opinions are the core of what beta readers provide – hence the collective noun, an Asshole of Beta Readers.
Editors, formatters, book cover designers, these are services I expect to pay for if I am self-publishing (or the publisher will pay for). But why not beta reading?
It comes down to what I am getting for my money; expertise is the main thing.
I expect that an editor, a cover designer, or anyone else being paid for a service in relation to a book, is doing something that I cannot do myself. More importantly, I expect that they will add value to the project. They will do some sorcery with Photoshop. They understand the subtle nuances of grammar and know their prepositions from their propositions. They can make a book layout work in any device.
These are all things that are worthy of payment due to expertise and a saleable service.
Beta readers on the other hand read books and give opinions. I’ve had beta readers say the kinds of things about my books that I would normally expect from my mum (not, “Oh God, you gave me nightmares!”) but the “I’m very proud of you, well done!” variety of response.
I’ve had other beta readers who completely missed the point of a key element of a character. Things that were pretty clearly laid out and while I could have included a handy diagram and bullet point list – to really make it clear, this writing thing is about suggestion, implication and not giving all the details because when a reader reads, they put their own perception goggles on and view the story through their filters.
The result is I am left wondering if they were on the kind of medication that has a warning on the label advising you not to operate machinery, drive or beta read while under its effects.
Because their output is opinions, beta readers are not objective. An editor may not give a monkey’s pancreas that your main character is a gender-fluid, nihilist philosopher alien who is in love with a trombone. There are simply there to make sure you make words good.
A beta reader will either enjoy the story or they will reject it because it doesn’t fit with their gender-static, life-affirming, brass instrument phobic world view.
Mostly, I don’t bother with beta readers. Sometimes a publisher will use them, which is their prerogative. The bit that grates like bone dust in my synovial fluid, is when the opinion of a beta reader is taken as so important that the story must be changed to change the bits that they did not like.
On the flipside of this is the creepy reader who reads a horror novel and sends you fan mail about an implied act of sexual assault from a scene in the book. While you wrote it as a ‘most-goddamned-awful-thing-I-can-imagine’ they write to tell you about how much they liked it. I mean, really liked it.
At least the creepy fan with a rape fantasy paid to read the book.