Why You Need Beta Readers

I belong to a wonderful critique group.

We meet every other Friday in a local bookstore/coffeeshop, where we order drinks and snacks, chat for a few minutes, and then dive into critiquing each other’s work. Each writer in the group (there are six of us total) has the option to bring in up to six pages of her work for feedback. I’ve gotten incredibly valuable comments on my current work-in-progress from this group. They’ve critiqued my characters, my setting, and my word choices, among other things, and along the way they’ve asked pointed questions that have driven me to dig deeper into my story.

Why, you might ask, if I have such a great venue for getting feedback on my work, would I send my completed draft off to a group of beta readers? This photo of a flock of snow geese, taken by my husband in Washington State’s Skagit Valley, will help me answer.

This flock is made of of thousands of individual birds, each of which adds depth and complexity to the whole. My critique group, in seeing only six pages of writing at a time, is looking at the “birds” of my novel: the individual moments that, added one to another, make up the gestalt of my story. Each of these moments is important, and detailed feedback on them is necessary. But I also need feedback on how – or even whether – these “story birds” connect as a flock. Does each moment build on the one that came before? Do my characters behave consistently throughout the novel, and do they change over time? Do the promises I make at the beginning of the manuscript pay off at the end? These are some of the questions I hope my beta readers will answer.

Feedback is necessary to a writer, both on a micro and a macro level. I feel fortunate to have both levels covered, the first by my critique group and the second by my beta readers. Many thanks to both!

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