For those of you who are NOT writers, a beta reader is someone who reads a draft of your manuscript to tell you where you’ve screwed up and how to make it better. Some even tell you where they laughed out loud, gasped, or wanted to punch a character (thanks Nadine!).
Dictionary.com defines the slang version of beta as:
1. Mostly working, but still under test; usu. used with `in’: `in beta’. In the Real World, systems (hardware or software) software often go through two stages of release testing: Alpha (in-house) and Beta (out-house?). Beta releases are generally made to a group of lucky (or unlucky) trusted customers.
2. Anything that is new and experimental. “His girlfriend is in beta” means that he is still testing for compatibility and reserving judgment.
In the case of a manuscript, the author really hopes that while beta reading may be more tedious than regular reading (since the person is commenting and marking up your document), that the reader still gets some enjoyment from your work.
Sometimes that enjoyment is unintentional.
My friend Nadine and my mother recently read the first draft of Fracture, and they both caught something that I never noticed. In the paragraph below, my MC Biz is explaining fickering to someone.
“I come to wherever I was twenty-four hours earlier. Sometimes it’s class. Every now and then I’m in the bathroom, which is my favorite because then I have a minute to get my shit together before I see anyone. The worst is eating because I always choke.”
While “getting my shit together” is a common phrase, doing so in the bathroom creates a visual I wasn’t going for. If I hadn’t shown this to anyone and figured my work is genius and ready to publish (which IS a perk of self-publishing) readers would be envisioning a whole other side of my MC that I hadn’t intended.
For those of you who’ve beta’d for friends, what’s a funny oops you caught? Or writers, what’s a gaffe that you were embarrassed made it through the first pass?