While going through my twitter timeline and perusing blogs, I came across a term that is new to me: Beta readers. Knowing nothing of the concept, I turned to my online source of all facts, both useful and useless, Wikipedia. Here is wiki’s description:
“A beta reader is a person who reads a written work, generally fiction, with what has been described as a ‘critical eye’…”
Initially, I had a sense of beta readers being another term for critique partners/groups. However, as I continued to read, I was made to feel like Betas are the test group – they get the advance screening of your book, much like a test audience for a new movie. They are not reviewers, because based on the betas’ feedback, the Alpha (the author) can go back and make some changes, similar to how a movie director or producer can go back and cut scenes based on audience feedback. I also want to point out that according to Wikipedia, the Alpha is not always aware of who his/her Betas are.
Now, I’m intrigued by the concept. How interesting is it to have a select group of people read your book that fits your target demographic and genre before it is officially published? You can find out if the story works, what characters are great, which ones are hated, if the story flows well, etc. I also have a few concerns. I don’t believe I would sub betas for a professional editor. I would rather use them as an enhancement, or another level to the writing process. I’m also curious if there would be a contract that states who owns the work and clearly defining what their purpose is, much like the agreement I had with my editor. How about a confidentiality agreement? Is there anything in place that legally protects the Alpha (other than the copyright which is immediate) and the Beta? Is it even necessary? If you have critique partners, are the betas even needed? Or does it just delay the publication of your book?
So, now I open the floor for feedback. What do you think? Are betas just another fancy word for critique groups or do you see them as being different? Would you be open to using betas? Why or why not? This post also gives me an opportunity to utilize the poll feature, so click away!