You Need Beta Readers: a Rebuttal to Dean Wesley Smith

Dean Wesley Smith, an incredibly prolific author, wrote a blog post about how you don’t need beta readers. Should never use them.

He says things like you can’t write a book by committee, and implies using beta readers is a lack of pride and confidence in your own work.

Dean Wesley Smith is wrong. I’m going to explain how.

Beta readers, when used to a specific effect, can make a huge difference in the quality of your book.

I do use beta readers, and I use them for specific tasks. When I engage with beta readers, I’m not trying to write “by committee.” I’m not inviting them into my revision process to help me shape the plot of my book.

It’s one reason I don’t use other authors as beta readers, which I discuss in my book. Bless their hearts, but authors can’t help but give advice based on how they would have written a scene.

I seek out readers, and I give them specific instructions:

  • Are the plot twists believable?
  • Are the characters’ motivations clear?
  • Do some parts drag, or are they too fast?

And so on. I want answers to specific questions. I’m not asking them to help me find a good ending to my book. Not asking them to shape my characters’ motivations, only to let me know if they feel flat on the page.

Then, it’s my job to take those broad suggestions and find solutions to problems.

This is MY book. I own the story, not anyone else. I don’t have to take anyone’s advice about what the story should look like.

But, if a couple of those beta readers tell me my plot twist isn’t believable, then I need to look at that. I probably haven’t properly foreshadowed the reveal.

Also, I like to engage beta readers who know more about certain subjects than I do. I’m not a gun guy, but there are guns in my books. So I have some awesome ex-military beta readers in my stable who tell me when I get the details wrong.

So, are beta readers worthwhile? Of course they are. Only someone who thinks he can never be wrong about anything, can never miss a plot hole, or can get all the details right on the first try would say otherwise.

In conclusion: if you want to use beta readers, go right ahead. But, I will agree with one thing DWS says: don’t let them write your book for you or corrupt your story. It’s your story. Be confident in it.

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