You’ve worked through the last thrilling climax. You’ve typed, “THE END.” You’ve put your opus away for a couple of weeks and thought about something else. You’ve pulled it out again, read it through, shouted, “OMG, this really sucks,” fixed all the problems you noticed, and pronounced it cured. Perfected. Ready for prime time.
Do you give in to your itch to fire it off to your agent? Or, having no agent, to fire off queries to a list of prospective agents, promising them a completed manuscript? Or, scorning the traditional publishing route, offer it to your eager public as an e-book, with no further tweaking?
No. Ten out of ten successful writers advise against this. You must give it to at least one friend or acquaintance, three would be better, people who normally read, and best of all who read in your genre. Otherwise you risk going out the door with literary spinach on your teeth.
What are they supposed to tell you about your book, other than that it’s great, riveting and compelling, absolutely the best thing they’ve read all year? (They are, after all, your friends. Otherwise you’d have to pay them to read it.)
First of all, your beta reader is not for doing line-editing or correcting your grammar and spelling. If you can’t spell or parse an English sentence by this time, you should probably take up the accordion. What you want to ask your beta readers to do is make note of any egregious howlers they may notice and any questions that arise in their minds about your book. Perhaps you have placed Seattle on the shores of Lake Michigan. Perhaps you have changed the heroine’s hair and eye color between Chapter Three and Chapter Four. Perhaps some parts seem to lack energy, are in fact stupefyingly boring. Perhaps you have left gaping plot holes.
We get very close to our work, sometimes so close that it’s hard for us to see obvious things. We change things, too, as we go along, and we don’t always readjust the other things that are affected by our changes. Some of us have verbal tics that need pointing out. I once read an otherwise excellent suspense novel in which the author wrote, “He nodded,” and “She nodded,” something like five thousand and seventy-two times in the course of the book. By the hundredth instance I began to be irritated. When at last the writer said, “It was his turn to nod,” I cried, “No! No, it isn’t! Everybody stop nodding, already!” Unfortunately I wasn’t a beta reader. The thing was already in print.
Luckily I had beta readers for THE EDGE OF RUIN who pointed out to me that they could see no reason why the murderer committed the second murder. I was able to fix that before it went out. Plot holes are my personal weakness. If you know what yours are, you can get your beta readers to watch out for them. Then, when your book goes out the door, it will be the very best it can be.