Apr 13, 2012

The Role of a Beta-Reader

I finished writing my work-in-progress last week. Typing The End after the last sentence felt spectacular. I had every intention of shelving that manuscript and letting it sit for a couple of weeks. That way I would be able to read it with “fresh eyes” from beginning to end, and have a better chance of seeing any plot holes, bad grammar, and words that are out of place.

Only . . . I couldn’t let it sit. I don’t know about you, but I fall in love with my characters, and their plights, and with the unique ways they solve their dilemmas. After being with them for three or four months, leaving them behind left me lonely. Does that sound weird? So I started reading it from the beginning without the promised time lapse.

At the end of last week, Jolene Perry gave out the name of her secret reader for anyone who needed to have a manuscript read. Christina quickly consented to read BUCKET LIST OF HOPE for me. Of course, I wasn’t the only one to latch onto that great opportunity. And it was Easter weekend, too, so I never expected to have an email Wednesday morning with a critiqued manuscript attached. Whoa, Christina is super fast!   

I scrolled through the pages quickly, just to get an idea of how badly I did. There were minor errors—stupid things, really, that my eyes just wouldn’t catch because my brain said they weren’t there.

This is why we desperately need readers. I don’t know if they are classified beta-readers, or new best friends—I just know that without a dispassionate person taking her time and completely reading a story, I wouldn’t have known about the innumerable tiny holes that filled my manuscript that made the story leak like a sieve. I’m not talking about the extra words here and there that happen when we change a sentence around. I’m talking about the reasoning side of a story. The “whys” and “hows” of the plot are as important as the characters personalities and dialogue.

 Christina didn’t tell me it was a bad story. No, she said she really enjoyed it. And then she started asking questions. Here are a few . . .

So Stephanie was an actual suicide? She how long was she dead for? It must have been for a while then because the guy at work found her sometime, planned the other deaths and then followed through. So he went in and found her and changed her into a nice nightgown and laid her on her bed? Or was she already dressed like that? Was the line on David's neck from the knife that he pulled at Hope?? That and the timing was a little confusing. How long between the events. Just days? Thursday David was killed-Hope was bit by the dog and was with Dustin-Friday and Saturday she was with the rafting company and Sunday went to dinner with Seth. As I'm rethinking I guess it was just a matter of days but it would have been a big plan to pull off for the murderer between killing David, delivering the pictures, killing the other two, and then coming after Hope. All within Thursday to Thursday?? And he left the anonymous threats?

And with those questions I started patching the holes. But that didn’t stop Christina from thinking up more questions. Here are some more of her thoughts . . .

The only other thing I have thought of is the car accident with the truck. Was that just a freak accident or was the truck after her and she missed it by being an aware driver? I figured it was just another twist because the truck was white, something we were on the look out for. Also why was Seth being so weird when he stepped out of the office when she heard a noise? Is that just to make us look at him with suspicion??

They weren't her only questions. Christina had more, and they made me think. They were necessary to make the story better. And this is what makes a beta-reader invaluable to every author.

Do you have a beta-reader? Or two? That’s good, but not too many, though. You know the old saying about too many cooks in the kitchen makes for a bad stew. Well, it’s the same for a book. You give your manuscript to six different people they will give you six different suggestions for every situation. 

I think my book is almost done!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thanks Debra, good advice. Good luck on the book!

  3. great advice, Debra! thanks!

  4. Congrats on completing your manuscript and finding a person that can ask the right questions to help you edit and polish it.

  5. Congrats. And yes you are so right. We do need those proofers.


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