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Beta Readers—Are They Useful?

I have a rough draft of new novel completed (yea!), and people are offering (wanting!) to read it. One offer is from a somewhat well-know writer who will give me a good blurb if he likes it. And the other offer is from a fan/editor who will give me good feedback if it needs work. Great news for me on both.

The novel is completed, a fully developed story, and I’m a little nervous about sending it out. What I didn’t do this time was have beta readers review the story as I was writing, offering their input on the story development. When I was writing The Sex Club, I sent the first 100 pages to a story consultant and got great feedback from her. When I was writing Secrets to Die For, I sent the first hundred pages to several beta readers—because a lot of people seemed to think it was necessary to getting published—and the comments from them were so contradictory, they were useless to me.

One reader said, “I love the date/time references at the beginning of every chapter because it adds to the sense of urgency.” Another said, “I found the date/time references annoying.” One reader loved the cliffhangers at the end of chapters. Another hated them. One reader didn’t like that the mother was a drug addict, which was the underlying premise for the opening of the story.

When you have beta readers offering completely different ideas about what they like and don’t like, ultimately, you have decide how you want your story to go. In another blog discussion, several writers said they often ignore what their writing group suggests because it’s not how they see the story.

I write rather unusual crime stories, so maybe that’s a factor. Maybe beta readers are more useful in some genres than others. I’m thinking about this now because I’m outlining my next novel and wondering if I should get some feedback.

What do you think? Are beta readers useful? Has a beta reader ever improved or saved your story?

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