So there’s a post that’s been going around presenting an argument against beta readers. This is something I’ve been thinking about recently, for a variety of reasons, and so obviously I have Opinions on both the post specifically and beta readers in general.
To get the basic stuff out of the way first, I deeply dislike (though am hardly surprised by) the sneering, arm’s-length-pinched-nose way the article talks about the term “beta readers” in particular. As far as I know, the concept of betas comes out of fandom (who cribbed it off software development), so old dudes choosing to single it out for ridicule above-and-beyond other, similar concepts (e.g. crit circles) gets my back up.
That being said…
Yeah. I kinda agree with the premise. Sort of. I agree with it in the sense that getting a good beta reader is hard, meaning most people end up with bad ones, and I’d argue that a bad beta is worse than no beta at all. Obviously (and as the article points out) this isn’t something limited to beta readers: I have a friend, for example, who’s lamented to me in the past that they stopped attending their local writer’s group because it basically turned into the group’s president hosting vicious teardown sessions of everyone else’s work. This, incidentally, is not the sort of beta/”crit” that’s helpful.
That being said, I have both performed and received beta reads in the past, and I do think they can be useful, under a couple of provisos: