This post, by K.M. Weiland, originally appeared on Wordplay in November of 2012.
What qualifies someone as a beta reader?
The term itself tells us this person is someone who reads an early draft of a story. But they’re so much more than just that. I like to think of beta readers as sort of junior grade editors. They’re not full-fledged, bona-fide, paid-and-professional types with half-glasses pushed down their noses and red pens behind their ears. But that doesn’t mean they’re any less savvy—or any less important.
Something that was reinforced to me over and over again during my years-long journey with my fantasy novel Dreamlander (coming December 2) was the importance of beta readers. I was blessed to have the input of nearly twenty editors, critique partners, and beta readers. They educated, encouraged, occasionally humbled, and always helped me. Without them, the book would never have made it past the pile-of-pages stage.
Two Types of Beta Readers
Most of my beta readers are writers in their own right. Their knowledge of the craft augments and reinforces my own. When we start talking about POVs, voice, dangling participles, and plot points, we’re all speaking the same language. They’re riding right alongside me in their own sometimes bumpy writing journeys. They know what it’s like to be a writer, and our shared experiences and knowledge create a solid foundation of trust in our relationships as givers and receivers of literary criticism.
But there’s another category of beta reader that is just as valuable as my fellow writer. And that, of course, is the non-writer.
Why Are Non-Writing Beta Readers So Valuable?
Non-writers can’t bring technical knowledge of the craft to the table, but they bring something else: their objective experience as readers.
Most readers aren’t writers. They’re not gonna know the technicalities of the craft. They may not even recognize or care about some of the gaffes that would have our fellow writers gasping in horror. But they know what they like, and they know what they don’t like. The very fact that they aren’t writers keeps their opinions from getting tangled up in the technicalities.