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Fanmail Q&A – Beta Readers

Dear Pat,

I read your post about book two, and I just wanted to say thanks for letting us know. It’s nice having a real date.

I noticed that you aren’t posting much on facebook or your blog these days, and I hope it’s not a result of people shitting in your cereal. (metaphorically speaking.) I don’t read any blogs other than yours, and I’d hate for you to quit writing stuff online just because of a few dickheads.

I’m actually writing because I was curious about a term you used in your previous blog. You said that you were wondering about who you could still use as beta readers. I hate to sound ignorant, but what’s a “beta reader”? Is it a different name for a copyeditor?

Hugs and kisses,


Heya Simon, thanks for being patient. I appreciate it.

I’ve been offline a little more these days partly because I’m focusing on revisions, but also because my main computer is in pieces in my closet right now. These days I’m getting my internet access the way our neolithic ancestors did, by hanging out in coffeeshops, using the public library, and viciously stealing unsecured wifi from my neighbors late at night.

To tell you the truth, I don’t remember when I began using the term beta reader. I might have picked it up from other writers, or I could have started using it on my own. If I had a better internet connection right now, I’d do a little research into it, but I’ve only got 35 minutes before I have to give up this computer (I’m in the library right now.)  

Wherever I found it, I’m pretty sure I’ve been using the term in one way or another for about 6-7 years .

When I say beta reader, I’m talking about someone who reads an early version of my book and gives me feedback on it. Sort of the same way a beta tester gives a software developer feedback on a nearly-finished game.

I also have people I call alpha readers. They read very early, very rough versions of the book and tell me what they think.

I have gamma readers too. They read my solid, almost-finished drafts.

I don’t go any lower than that, simply because I worry that some of my friends would be insulted if I referred to them as Epsilon readers. Plus, every time Kvothe climbs on top of a building, I know I’d have a slew of them writing “Roof! Oh Roof!” in the margins of my manuscript.

Alpha readers are hard to come by, and I only have a handful. These are people who know the book really well. They tend to be old friends who have been reading my stuff for years, if not decades. Many of them have read all three books. Many of them have role-played in my world, back when they lived closer to me and I had the spare time to run games. 

Brett, the guy who draws illustrations for the blog, is one of these. He read an early version of my book back in 1990’s when we were both students at UWSP.

Sarah is also an alpha, and she’s been helping me recruit another future reader:

This is Sarah reading a beta version of The Wise Man’s Fear a couple months back. She reads it out loud to Oot sometimes.

Click to embiggen

Oot:  “Is that a comma splice Momma?”

Sarah: “They’re all comma splices, sweetie.”

From what I’ve been able to gather, I work differently than a lot of other authors, in that I like to get a lot of feedback on my book while I’m revising. A lot.

Also, generally speaking, I prefer my test readers to be just regular readers, as opposed to other writers. 

Note that this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Brett, for example, is a great writer, and one of my favorite alphas. But generally speaking, I prefer getting feedback from, say, plumbers. Or chemical engineers. Or actors. Or historians.

I have several big reasons for this, but the biggest one is this: after my book is published, the vast majority of people who read it won’t be writers. They’ll be teachers, or fry cooks, or programmers, or soldiers. If I only gathered  feedback from other writers and slowly shaped my book according to what they said, I’d end up with a book designed to please writers. Personally, I find that thought vaguely terrifying.

Anyway, my time’s about up on this computer. Hope this answers your question, Simon.

Hugs and kisses to you too,


Posted in Fanmail Q + A, Oot, Sarah, the craft of writing | By Pat115 Responses
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