This author’s unending quest for ‘beta’ readers and why they aren’t supposed to love the book

It’s only in the last few months I’ve learned what a ‘beta’ reader is. Every author I’ve spoken to magically has them. But I nodded along sagely whenever beta readers were spoken of, as if I knew what people were talking about. I found out beta readers are the silent secret weapon against the possibility of sending a bad book out into the world.

Before I submitted my first manuscript to the magnificent New Writers’ Scheme for a critique via the Romantic Novelists’ Association, I had managed to rope in just two last minute beta readers. It turns out beta readers are not a luxury but an absolute necessity in any author’s arsenal. 

My first victim who read the whole thing was published novelist Carrie Elks who went through my manuscript with a magnifying glass-like quality and spotted all the errors I’d never have seen myself, including one mortifying race between two of my main characters to ‘get it on’ a bit too quickly. Cringe.

The second ‘beta reader’ was my lovely mum. And here’s why you should never ask your mum to beta-read. 

She happily accepted the challenge until I gave her a list of caveats about how she was supposed to enjoy the book. In short, she wasn’t supposed to enjoy the book. At all.  If she found herself enjoying it, then she was doing it all wrong. Reading my book wasn’t supposed to be an enjoyable past time. Here are a few of the mad ravings I uttered at her in advance:

‘It’s your job to hate my book.’

‘Consider this unpaid employment to find anything and everything that is awful about this book.’

‘Look for things you don’t enjoy.’

‘Look for things that don’t make sense.’

‘What don’t you like about my characters?’ 

Etc. etc. You get the gist. My poor mum. And then while she was reading it I gave her no peace. ‘Have you finished it yet? Why are you going out when you could be in finishing my book? What do you think so far? Which bit are you at? Can you please hurry up and tell me what’s wrong with it?’

We were on a family holiday together when she finished it and I put her on the spot. ‘So, what did you think? What notes have you made?’

‘None. I thought it was fantastic.’

It was a lovely, blatantly untruthful, thing to say. And that’s why mums shouldn’t be beta readers.

So, if you find yourself being roped in as a beta reader then do. not. hold. back.  It is your duty to shoot editorial bullets of fire into the manuscript. Beta readers are superheroes—the first line of defence against sending a bad book into the world. We need you! Now I’m off to find some more. As Carrie Elks will confirm, I pay in wine. 

Lorna xx

(Photo by Simson Petrol on Unsplash).