Beta Reading

I’ve written before about the phases of writing a book, of which completing a rough draft and typing “the end” is one step. After an author has gone through it a few times, smoothing out the rough and getting it more or less in shape, some authors—I’m one—like to give the book to beta readers before handing of to an editor. The editing process is a topic for another day, but for now what is this beta thing?

Webster gives as one of the definitions of beta, “a nearly complete prototype of a product (such as software).” And indeed its usage for writers comes out of the software development world. The purpose of the beta is to hand the book to readers primarily to answer the question, “Does the story work?” Did I sock it to you emotionally? Were there things that defied belief? Are there gaping plot holes to fill? Some authors trust their baby to what’s known as a developmental editor for similar reasons. I don’t have the resources to do that, but, also, I’m very comfortable giving it to readers for their thoughts.

What the beta is not is editing. If people find typos I’m thrilled but that isn’t my purpose in doing it. It will get a thorough line edit before it goes to publishing. It isn’t even about enriching the language and sentence structure, two other things my editor does for me. If I pull enough emotional strings, my language must be doing its job. Nope, the beta is just, “Does this work.”

This week the Bluestocking Belles are beta reading one another’s stories for our 2021 collection. When we do a group project we’re also asking, “Does the collection work? Do the stories mesh well?” It gives us a chance to enrich the collection by slipping in details that related the tales to one another, and it is good fun.

This week? Beta reading, working on that made to order story you’ll see next month, and more pre-writing background work for The Cost of Money. But first, coffee.

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Caroline Warfield, Author

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