Beta readers are not part of the writing process, but they are part of the process of creating a book. Have a couple people you know can be objective and help you. Typically you don’t want family or friends to do this because they love you and won’t want to hurt your feelings. You want someone who can be critical, who can be honest, but not be an asshole in the process. I have selected a couple people for the beta run of RUIN. One of them is a writer friend who read DESOLATION and said “hey, it was great, but this is where it could have been better,” and then she pointed out a few parts that just didn’t work for her and that she would have done better. To be honest, if I had her beta read DESOLATION it probably would have been much better for those pointers. This is good. This is the point where you have other eyes look at your work and point things out you might not have noticed. It is ok if they notice things you don’t because you are close to the project, and have bias views. Plus, you are going to miss stuff no matter how much you proof.
Remember to tell them they are only looking for inconsistencies in the story, not the grammar and spelling, that’s what an editor is for. When the beta reader is done, then comes the hard part. You need to act like a grown up and look at their suggestions objectively. Remember, they are a reader. It is so much better to hear things you don’t want to before the book is published so that you can fix them. So, we’ve had them read it, critique it, and now we need to fix what we agree with and toss what we think they are just wrong about. Hopefully there isn’t a ton, and it is easy to fix, but if there’s a ton to fix, take a deep breath and just go with it! But you have to be objective. Now isn’t the time for your hurt feelings. Remember writing is a business, not a fantasy. If your book is crap because you think it’s perfect and don’t want to take into consideration that you just might have messed up a part, then you will only be hurting yourself, and you will make a bad name for your writing. Now, that isn’t to say that you need to correct everything they tell you doesn’t work, but still be critical. If you like the part a lot ask yourself some questions like: “Why do I like it?”, “Does it add to the storyline?”, “Does it build toward some future event?” then ask them questions: “What part of this scene didn’t you like?”, “Why didn’t you like it?”, and so on. I’m sure they will tell you why. It might not even be the scene itself, it might be the wording, or it seemed out of place for the characters. Don’t think of your beta reader as the enemy, they are helping you make your book the best it can be, and that’s what you want! Take your answers into consideration when deciding to cut or alter something you aren’t sure about. Your answers will tell you whether you should cut it or leave it.
I don’t know how many beta readers other authors have, but I have selected two. I will send the first person (the one I think will catch the most errors) the book first. When they are done, hopefully there won’t be much for the second person to catch. Make your corrections then send it off to the next person. Once they are done, make corrections, and then proof it a few times. This is the point where you can decide if you want a third beta reader, or if it is ready for an editor.
Remember an editor is important. In fact, if you can afford it, two would be awesome. Publishing houses have a team of editors, and your book goes through a few hands to catch all the errors before publication. Why is this? Because editors are human, not robots, and humans make errors. Maybe there is a lot on their plate, and they might miss a few things. However, I think once you have proofed it enough, one editor will be sufficient if you don’t have the cash for two. Another good tip is to find a friend who is good with editing, and let them have a crack first. Notice I say first because they aren’t trained as professional editors. Never skip the professional edit.
I’m pretty sure we could go on and on about beta readers in this writing help segment. The main thing to remember is not to get offended. Beta readers are the first readers. Like all good projects, you need to have a test run to see what people think of your work before you release it to the wolves.