The other day, I was chatting with my writing partner and she mentioned that another beta reader found some issues with her chapter she had to work on still. The gears in my mind instantly started turning. What was the issue? How big was it? How come I didn’t notice it? Does that make me an unobservant beta? Maybe I’m letting down other writers too? And of course, these questions were followed by a short-lasting depression.
But then I thought about my own manuscript. I currently have two alpha readers. When I receive back their comments the only similar change is their corrections to my punctuation. Everything else is different. One might question the realism of certain actions or dialogue. The other doesn’t notice anything about the realism and instead has issues with telling instead of showing. One may zero in on extraneous words and the other combats clichés. It made me realize this: although we’d love to think we can be everything to everyone, we simply cannot. As writers ourselves, we naturally focus on our own problem areas when beta reading. Or the opposite - our strong points. It’s those areas in between that may go unnoticed. Honestly, there’s just too much to look for. Besides what I mentioned above, there’s back story dumps, “to-do lists” (as I call step-by-step action with no internal thought/dialogue breaks), adverbs, grammar…the list goes on. Then there’s the issues that aren’t noticeable until after you’ve finished the entire book like character development, plot holes, and loose threads. I read a piece once where the story came full circle with no growth in the MC or change in circumstances. Sure there was lots of action and the writing sucked me in, but when all was said and done I felt cheated. The story almost seemed pointless, but I would have never known that until I got to the end.
Just imagine all the hidden issues that could be missed in your manuscript with just one beta readthrough. This is why it is so important to have several readers, consisting of alphas: to keep you motivated and fine tune your draft as you go, and betas: to catch anything your alphas haven’t, and to review for pacing, etc.
So how many betas do you use, and what has been your experience with similar/different catches?