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Mystery & Drama

Why Not Think of Book Reviewers as Beta Readers?

English: The gothic-revival wine glass pulpit ...

English: The gothic-revival wine glass pulpit and sounding board at St. Matthew’s German Evangelical Church (1872) in Charleston, SC. It survived the fire of 1965. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Who are Beta Readers?

At some point in the development of your novel in progress you will benefit from the observations and opinions of writers like you who are willing to read with a critical eye. They are called Beta readers. Perhaps they form a group that is interested in the craft of writing in general, and in the writing efforts of the members of the group in particular.   Maybe there is no formal group, and the critical comments are given without any knowledge of what is being said by others.  The idea is to provide informed commentary that a writer friend can use or not use at their discretion. In any case, Beta readers are a sounding board.  They inform the author as to what is working and what is not working in a novel in progress. They are indispensable.

Difference Between Reviewers and Beta Readers

Do reviewers perform the same function?  Maybe not exactly. Reviewers are careful not to reveal too much about the novel, for instance. They often keep themselves above the fray, so to speak, and discuss the work in very general terms. But not always. Lots of reviews that appear in Amazon, Goodreads, and on blogs reflect in a very pointed way why a character doesn’t work for them, where in the book they lost interest, or implausible plot developments, for instance. After a lot of reviews are generated, the author may have some very valuable feedback to think about.

Revisions of Published Work

The comments of Beta Readers may come in time for the author to address problem areas well before the novel is even sent off to an editor.  Reviews however appear after publication. In today’s publishing world, especially eBook publishing, and particularly among self published authors,  revisions (even major ones) are not out of the question. Traditional publishers would probably not allow a reprint of a hard copy book, or even an eBook. It would be expensive, and it might reflect poorly on the editor. So we’re talking here mainly about self published books, books that have average sales (like, 100 books) but which have been reviewed twenty or thirty times.  Why not perform some surgery on it, and put out a better version that just might catch fire?

What are your thoughts on revision?

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  1. My personal opinion is that authors should write, revise, and polish their stories to make them as good as the authors are capable of at that point, but once the story is out there, it shouldn’t be significantly altered. (It would be OK to fix typos and factual errors.) If an author learns something from a review, that should be applied to the next book. Leave published works alone so it’s less confusing to the readers and focus on improving your craft in the next book.
    Sandra Ulbrich Almazan recently posted..Science of the Week, 9/6/13My Profile

    1. Hi Sandra, Thanks for your comment. You make very good points here. Authors can get obsessive about their books, and keep picking away at them. There are some good examples of famous authors who just had to put out a revised book, F. Scott Fitzgerald would be one. I do think there are a lot of self publishers out who have not gone through a really thorough vetting and editing process. Often, after their book is out, they keep studying the craft and learn to their dismay that they made some pretty egregious mistakes the first time around, and feel uncomfortable having it out there in it’s present form.
      Larry Crane recently posted..Why Not Think of Book Reviewers as Beta Readers?My Profile

    1. Hi Billy Ray, Thanks for your comment.
      Larry Crane recently posted..Why Not Think of Book Reviewers as Beta Readers?My Profile

  2. I make a point to always include a critical element in the book reviews I write, and more than one author has taken my advice to heart. I’m a miser with five-star reviews as it is 😉 On the other hand, I find my critique partners invaluable. A writer who never gets feedback or only superficial feedback is indeed playing with fire. I’ve seen more than one author proclaim they don’s use betas because they might not understand their vision for the story. Umm, hello reading is a two-way process. Here’s to crappy first drafts and the patient souls who help all of us along the way!
    Jeri recently posted..Book Review: A Real Emotional Girl by Tanya ChernovMy Profile

    1. The most successful writers out there, the stars, have scores of reviews and I suspect are beyond listening closely to what their reviewers are saying. Those of us with a relative handful of reviews should definitely be listening to our reviewers. The thing is, reviews are written on books that were supposedly finished. If one’s book is published, but has received a middling to poor critical response, is it advisable to think in terms of doing more work on it, even to the extent of publishing a revised version? I have made several revisions to my Baghdad eBook, some minor error corrections that I just couldn’t let stand as they were. But, I also revised a couple of the stories more extensively, making them much better in my view. Where do we draw the line on revisions?

  3. I’m a big believer in writing critiques. My experience is that people who don’t like them & insist on flying solo are not really interested in improving their work. That said, who was reading Steinbeck’s work other than his wife before he sent it to his agent? But then we’re not all Steinbeck. So I say, take the knocks and improve your work.
    A.K.Andrew recently posted..5 Books made into Films – Which Version is a Modern Classic?My Profile

    1. Hi AK – I don’t like to submit any of my work without some sort of vetting or critiquing applied to it. But, I think it’s hard to find a critique group that functions the way it really should. They are often dominated by one or two people. I read a harangue against critique groups in somebody’s blog (forget who) just yesterday in which the haranger basically felt that in the case of a novel, it’s doubtful that a critique conducted piecemeal on little snippets of the work was of any value. I’m presently reworking a short play that has a deadline looming that I thought was in pretty good shape until my wife, Jan, read it and said that she really didn’t “get” it.Upon reflection, I can see that it’s probably too complicated and convoluted. So, I’m trying to simplify it now. The title of this blog post of mine asks if reviewers (specifically Amazon or Goodreads reviewers) function in the same way that a critique group might function in assessing a book length work. I don’t know if they do, but to ignore what you’re hearing from reviewers doesn’t make a lot of sense. The big question would be, what do you do with good advice given in a review? It’s too late to fix it in most cases.


      1. Sorry I guess I diverted from the question posed. But in terms of reviews they should definitely be looked at and in terms of them being too late, I guess we can learn by our mistakes for next time. Good subject all the way around. Thanks for the post.
        A.K.Andrew recently posted..5 Books made into Films – Which Version is a Modern Classic?My Profile

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