Thursday, June 16, 2011

Beta Readers and Experts

You need "Alpha Readers".  If you're in a writing group, your group members are among your Alpha Readers, along with anyone else who just has to read your drafts before anyone else does.  For me, Alpha Readers are the Story Monkeys and my wife.

You also need "Beta Readers".  Your Beta Readers are a bigger group.  They may not be exactly the same people every time.  They're less likely to be story or writing experts, and probably won't often give you clear comments about a story arc or how a plot and subplot intersect, for instance.  But before your writing goes out to the general public, it should go out to a restricted public.

The variety of comments you get will surprise you, and that variety is the point: you are trying to get a reaction from a range of tastes, and also tap into a variety of (often hidden) expertises.  I have had Beta Readers come back and test me, or help me out, on points like whether silver can be melted down in a campfire, how blackpowder-powered bullets ricochet and the appropriate make of firearms for shooting coyotes.

After a few rounds with your Beta Readers, you'll have flushed out some of these expertises, and then you'll find you can turn to your Beta Readers during the writing process as experts.  In my experience, people like to be asked questions, as long as you're polite and a friend and the questions aren't burdensome for them to answer.

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