I am in one of those necessary lulls in the development of a novel, that time when I give copies of my precious work to beta readers and wait for responses. My current major project is called The Old Man From Denmark, and I have eight friends reading the first draft. It is hard for those who have never ventured into preparing a work of literature to comprehend the value of these readers. I will try to put it into perspective.
I chose these readers for their various strengths. One is an editor of extreme skill who can catch minuscule mistakes that most people would overlook. One is a younger person with a strong interest in literature, and his interests run toward works that are off the beaten path and are more popular for younger readers. Another has a great skill of seeing the larger picture of what I am trying to achieve, but has a good eye for details that don't quite fit or need refinement. Four of them are women with varying interests and levels of expertise. One is a member of the clergy. Another is a member of a small all-women book club. One is my wife. The fourth woman is a great lover of good literature, and she knows the requirements and quality needed for a good final version. The final member of my team is an expert on German history, which is necessary for this work.
I sent out my work via Dropbox about six weeks ago. Three have finished, and another reports that she is nearing the end of the book. I need to check with the others to see where they are along the continuum. I would not be surprised if one or two readers are unable to complete the work within my desired time frame, which explains the need for as many readers as I have.
Here's why these people are so valuable. They catch my mistakes. They see my novel through eyes other than mine. It can be easy for an author to picture things in his or her mind and feel comfortable with that vision in the written words. Those beta readers can see the novel in a much different way. They report those different perspectives to me, and I use that input to shape my revisions. My expert on German history caught several small errors. I caught an inconsistency in the early life of my main character. Several caught a reaction to certain events that didn't make sense, and they made me aware of that. That reaction will be changed, and I know the novel will be stronger.
Beta readers are the refiners of a novel. They keep me on track, and begin the molding process. I tip my hat to them. I am eager to receive the input from my other readers, and The Old Man From Denmark will take the necessary steps forward.