Columns > Published on September 15th, 2022

Why We Need Beta Readers Who Point Out Mistakes and Flaws In Our Books

Being a novelist is hard. You have to conceptualize a story, then write the whole dang book, then revise it until it shines. And most of the time, you’re working on your own — especially before finding an agent, you’re working for yourself and guiding yourself and hoping and praying that you’re doing a good enough job on your own.

Enter beta readers and critique partners.

Beta readers are generally understood to be readers who take in the book after it’s in pretty decent shape and give feedback to help improve it, while critique partners are writers with whom you swap work; sometimes you may even treat them as pseudo-business partners, brainstorming with them and talking through various story problems.

Though they can’t write the book for you or with you, beta readers and critique partners are absolutely crucial to the writing process. From hyping me up when I’m feeling despondent to being the sounding board who tells me, “Yeah, that plot twist is EPIC,” it’s beta readers and critique partners who often give me the encouragement that I need to keep writing.

But there’s one aspect I want to talk about today that’s pretty hard to come by — and harder to do. It’s the beta reader who gives you hard feedback. Whether that looks like pointing out errors (from plot holes to poorly researched facts), making a note of story machinations that don’t work, or even nudging you to say, “Hey, this is somewhat problematic,” beta readers who have the ability and courage to point out negatives are a lifesaver for sure.

Beta readers who have the ability and courage to point out negatives are a lifesaver for sure.

In the book I’m working on now, that I hope to whip into query-ready shape soon, my beta readers pointed out a few things that weren’t working. One of them was a potentially problematic storyline, where one of my main characters did something that would have been pretty unforgivable to readers — and to the person whose trust the character broke.

I was so grateful to the reader who pointed this out.

As a disgustingly conflict-avoidant person myself, I really struggle to say what isn’t working in someone else’s work — it’s something I’m working on, something I take into account every time I read another writer’s work and try to fix it.

It’d be really nice to live in a world where writers are perfect, and we churn out beautiful books with no mistakes, typos, or potentially problematic storylines on our own.

But the truth is we’re just humans. And like all other humans, we have the potential to mess up. Whether that mess-up takes the shape of a gaping plot hole or mischaracterization (like that time I wrote a whole book with an evil mother character without exploring why, exactly, she was so evil), or something darker and more problematic, we need others around us to point out the things we can’t see.

I would love to live in a world where I’ve never messed up; I would feel much better about myself in that world, to be honest. Not just because I hate my own frailty, but because not everyone is forgiving. But the truth is, humans are flawed. We all do things that hurt others, whether we mean to or not.

I’m immensely grateful for the friends who point out my mistakes, and who offer me grace and mercy as I seek to improve myself as a person.

As a writer, I’m equally grateful for the readers who point out where I’m flawed, and then, two lines later, say they’re crying tears of joy over something I wrote. The readers who offer grace to me, the writer.

It’s something I wish for every writer, really: readers who will do the hard work of pointing out what’s wrong, and also let you know why they still love your work. 

Get Writing Alone and With Others by Pat Schneider at Bookshop and Amazon

Get The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown at Bookshop and Amazon

About the author

Karis Rogerson is a mid-20s aspiring author who lives in Brooklyn and works at a cafe—so totally that person they warn you about when you declare your English major. In addition to embracing the cliched nature of her life, she spends her days reading, binge-watching cop shows (Olivia Benson is her favorite character) and fangirling about all things literary, New York and selfie-related. You can find her other writing on her website and maybe someday you’ll be able to buy her novels.

Similar Columns

Explore other columns from across the blog.

Book Brawl: Geek Love vs. Water for Elephants

In Book Brawl, two books that are somehow related will get in the ring and fight it out for the coveted honor of being declared literary champion. Two books enter. One book leaves. This month,...

The 10 Best Sci-Fi Books That Should Be Box Office Blockbusters

It seems as if Hollywood is entirely bereft of fresh material. Next year, three different live-action Snow White films will be released in the States. Disney is still terrorizing audiences with t...

Books Without Borders: Life after Liquidation

Though many true book enthusiasts, particularly in the Northwest where locally owned retailers are more common than paperback novels with Fabio on the cover, would never have set foot in a mega-c...

From Silk Purses to Sows’ Ears

Photo via Moviegoers whose taste in cinema consists entirely of keeping up with the Joneses, or if they’re confident in their ignorance, being the Joneses - the middlebrow, the ...

Cliche, the Literary Default

Original Photo by Gerhard Lipold As writers, we’re constantly told to avoid the cliché. MFA programs in particular indoctrinate an almost Pavlovian shock response against it; workshops in...

A Recap Of... The Wicked Universe

Out of Oz marks Gregory Maguire’s fourth and final book in the series beginning with his brilliant, beloved Wicked. Maguire’s Wicked universe is richly complex, politically contentious, and fille...

Learning | Free Lesson — LitReactor | 2024-05

Try Reedsy's novel writing masterclass — 100% free

Sign up for a free video lesson and learn how to make readers care about your main character.

Reedsy Marketplace UI

1 million authors trust the professionals on Reedsy. Come meet them.