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Beta Readers: Do You Have Them?

imageOne of the most surprising things I heard at this summer’s RWA Conference was from a panel of published YA authors who said they did not have any teenagers as beta readers.  I still think about this because, though I do have critique partners and beta readers, I don’t haven any teenagers reading my books…yet.  

Yes, there are a significant amount of adults who read YA–including me–and adult beta readers are great for giving feedback on how that audience will see the book.  However, I don’t want to rely on adults alone when my primary audience would be younger.  A younger beta reader might bring something up an adult would never think of because they aren’t immersed in that culture anymore.  I don’t mean slang and fashion because we want our books to have a timeless quality, but I want to make sure my characters act and think like authentic teens.

The problem an author runs into here is the same problem they have with adult beta readers, and that is: “Who can I trust with my book?”  I love hearing stories of authors with teenage children who are a wealth of information and inspiration.  I also love hearing about teenagers who writers and trade with their friends.  I’m not lucky enough to be in either of these situations, but I do have teenagers in my extended family who I might begin with.  It’s just a matter of being brave enough to ask. 🙂

Whatever you write–do you have beta readers?  If so, are they close to you?

Michelle Joyce Bond

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16 thoughts on “Beta Readers: Do You Have Them?

  1. My second novel is not YA, but there’s a 15-year-old boy in it so I had my teenage son be one of my beta readers. He turned out to be very useful. In fact, his insights were so spot on I’ll use him again in the future!

  2. Sometimes I recruit my older brother as a beta reader, though it doesn’t always work as intended.

    My brother is accustomed to reading prose where your energy tends to bounce around and grab the basic idea of a sentence or paragraph and move through very quickly. I write in a style that makes it impossible to skip words, and so he’ll miss important information, ask me a question, and I keep pointing to the words he missed.

    I’m not familiar with the YA-Romance genre. However, a given author would likely beta-test her work with her peers, because she has talked, discussed, theorized with those peers and understands how that peer absorbs her story. It provides a more accurate reference because the writer understands how that reader reads. If a discrepancy arises between writer and reader, it becomes easier to isolate whether a given issue is in the writing or the reading.

    My brother and I are stylistically antithetical, but he’s still a useful review because I understand where he’s coming from.

    I think a lack of teenage-beta readers is symptomatic of circumstance. Unless a given author knows a teenage creative that shares regular discussion about reading and writing, it would be difficult to find a beta reader from that age group. The feedback becomes ambiguous without knowing the underlying logic sitting beneath that feedback; though that feedback is still quite useful.

    1. Hey Gibble! These are excellent points–thank you! You’re totally right–I would need to pick a teen who was interested in the work and communicate what I was looking for clearly; otherwise, I probably would not get very good feedback! I love how you point out comprehension issues as well–especially those arising from readers who a accustomed to reading different genres etc. Some good food for thought. 🙂

  3. For my first book my beta readers were people I knew and lived close enough by that we could chat over what was working or what wasn’t working over dinner. For the second, I sent it to people who I knew enjoyed the genre a/o my writing, but they didn’t have to live close by. In fact I intentionally picked people who didn’t live close by as I thought the lack of face to face contact would make them less inclined to sugarcoat what didn’t work and why. In both cases their feedback helped me transform a ‘good’ story into something I was proud of.

    1. Excellent point! I went through a similar process and had two critique partners from across the country on the last book. It’s harder for some reason for me with beta readers. I guess I’m more willing to trust someone I don’t know who shares their work with me. We’ll see what the next book brings. 🙂

  4. I was trying to think about how one would be able to cultivate a cadre of teenaged beta readers if one did not actually have ready access to any. How about teaming up with local high school? There are so many clubs (probably library/reading ones) that you might easily get a chance to be a guest speaker and offer the opportunity. So basically – librarians are your friends. (are they even called Librarians any more? Haven’t they been downgraded to media specialists or something equally neutered?)

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