Discussion Time (1/15): Reviewer versus Beta Reader

Are you really a reviewer?

 Beta readers are not explicitly proofreaders or editors, but can serve in that context. Elements highlighted by beta readers encompass things such as plot holes, problems with continuity, characterisation or believability; in fiction and non-fiction, the beta might also assist the author with fact-checking. – Wikipedia

Reviewer: a person who writes critical appraisals of books, plays, movies, etc., for publication. – dictionary.reference.com

This is something that got me thinking earlier. Is there really a difference between a beta-reader and a reviewer? If there is, do independent authors depend on early reviewers to act like beta-readers? I know there’s been at least one author whom I’ve, according to the definitions above, acted like a beta-reader and this person has changed some of their text because of my review.

An essential part of reviewing is, I think, pointing out plot holes, problems with continuity, etc. Maybe we don’t go as in depth as a beta reader would, but all these things affect the rating that we give a book,so isn’t it essentially the same thing?

I think I mean this question more on a small scale. Obviously someone like Stephen King probably wouldn’t care if a person wrote a reviewing saying “I saw this, and it doesn’t make sense in the book”, whereas someone who depends on word of mouth reviews and such to get their books out there might immediately go “Oh, shite! Let me fix that!” if they see it and its a legit issue.

For those of you that review indie works, what do you think? Do you feel like you straddle the beta-reviewer line?

For those of you who solely review traditionally published works, I’d still like to hear what you think!

PS: I have absolutely no issues with providing the reviews and straddling the beta-reading line with indie authors. I’m just poking at definitions and word usage ^_^

Talk to me!



23 thoughts on “Discussion Time (1/15): Reviewer versus Beta Reader

  1. I agree with a lot of what Melanie has said in her previous posts.

    I write and when I decide I want to publish something I really rely on my beta readers. As a reader, I expect the book to be as good as possible, with as few flaws as possible. I assume that’s the same for all other readers. As a writer, I want a reviewer to find as little as possible wrong with the story. If they don’t like the story it will come down to it’s not their cup of tea, not bad writing. I always treat a beta-reader differently than a reviewer (but always with respect). When I beta-read I go about things differently than when I do a review too.

    A reviewer is someone I’ll probably never have contact with outside of the review. I may or may not know them, and I’ve found the majority of them I don’t wind up knowing.

    My beta readers on the other hand are my team-mates. They know how my brain works and they know what I’m expecting from my writing, and they know my strengths and weaknesses. And they do their work before I send the story off to my editor (who is fantastic) and rips things apart even more and catches what my beta-readers and I didn’t. But there’s a massive encouragement system within that beta reading process too. They help the author get to where they want to go.

    A reviewer doesn’t get to do that, especially on that level, not even with indie books from what I’ve found. I don’t think that they should be expected to. I think that blurring the line can be harmful to the whole review process in the long run, for both writers and readers. It’s asking the readers for a lot and in some cases can force the enjoyment out of reading.

    Ultimately as a book reviewer I know that I have no power over the author, but I do expect a finished product. As a beta reader I’d expect something I can work with, but by no means perfection. In beta-reading mode, I’m there for the author and their story.

    (ok that got long! but this is such a great topic!)

    1. I will say it definitely takes enjoyment out of it for me. There’s been some stuff I read that had an excellent base but it needed a lot more editing in various ways. Actually makes me angry sometimes bc I can see the potential and know what it could be… but isnt.

      1. I completely know what you mean! When I go to read a book, I go to read it as a reader, but sometimes I wind up having to read it as a beta-reader. And that’s such a let down, especially when it winds up having great potential but not meeting it like you said. I’ve seen that happen to quite a few of my friends, they almost stop reading (especially indie books) all together because of that, and that’s such a shame.

        1. There’s been at least one time, where I got three like this in a row, that I considered stopping. However, fact is, there’s something cool about it when you hit on a real gem, and as you write the review, you sit back thinking “Yeah, this one’s going somewhere. And I got to see it first!”

  2. I think the main difference between a beta reader and a reviewer isn’t so much what they talk about but rather on what channel they do it. Reviews are most likely public, whereas beta readers give their opinion in private messages and conversations with the author. At least that is how I feel about it, because I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with going about plot holes and so on in a review 😀

  3. This is quite the interesting concept that you bring to light, Lilyn. I find it particularly interesting being an aspiring author because there are so many other people who are supposed to be grabbing and clarifying plot holes and other such things LONG before the betareader even gets their hands on the book.

    First the alpha readers look through the book, generally people whom you’re close to. Then your critique partner(s) read the book and tear it to shreds, meaning that the book shouldn’t have plot holes or large discrepancies by the time a betareader (much less a reviewer) get a hold of the book. To me, if a betareader (or especially a reviewer) finds something in the book that seems wrong, or doesn’t make sense, I think it reflects that the writer might not have been quite as prepared to publish as they believed themselves to be.

    That being said, in terms of actual ‘roles’ in the book reading process. A reviewer has more of a job of judging the book as it is as opposed to saying what should’ve changed. Surely, they’re allowed their opinions on what they’d like to be changed, but I believe their commentary is more so meant to explain to other readers whether or not the book is good enough to read and why.

    Betareaders, on the other hand, are the last line of defense(minus possibly an editor) before a writer publishes a book. They’re the ones that go through and look for whether the book is ‘interesting’. They don’t know the world or background or characters intimately (or at all) as the alpha readers and the critique partners do. They’re reading from a purely unbiased POV. They’re the ones that tell the writer whether the book is interesting and ready to be published or whether there’s just something missing to make it a good read.

    Well, I’ve already rambled. So, I shall reign myself in here, but I hope that helps. (And I hope I didn’t just spew info at you that you already knew :p) *really wants to start doing discussions* ^.^

    1. So why do you think some reviewers end up doing beta-reading, then? Do you think its reviewers overstepping their bounds or authors publishing way before they’re actually ready to publish?

      I’m glad you’re participating!

      1. I don’t think it’s a matter of reviewers overstepping. After all, reviewers are simply stating their opinions on the book so they can let others know whether the book’s good/worth reading or not.

        That being said, if a reviewer finds something wrong with the book such as a plot hole or inconsistency, I believe that falls back on the author. All too often, authors just want their book out there, or they’re (naturally) biased towards it and so they miss things/skip steps.

        If an author were spending the appropriate amount of time(how ever much time that may be since it varies by author) editing their book and getting feedback before publishing, a reviewer shouldn’t have any plot holes or inconsistencies to point out. They shouldn’t be there in the first place for the reviewer to catch.

        1. I wonder if some authors just don’t feel they have the support system out there to do some of those basic steps ahead of time. I gotta imagine its extremely hard to put your work out there regardless.

          1. Mm. I understand your side of it because I was very worried about putting my work out there. It’s scary. I mean, your writing, your story, it’s a piece of you and people will be judging that. And yet, that’s the same thing you’re doing when you publish a book. Wouldn’t you rather make sure your book is ready when you officially publish for the world to see by letting a few people tear it apart ahead of time? Either way you’re showing your work.

            In regards to a support system… that’s a tricky one. Most writers (not all) are extremely helpful! I’ve met some amazing, supportive, and helpful writers since I joined the blog-o-sphere. Yes, they can be harsh, but it’s that harsh voice that helps take us out of the bias of our story. It helps make it a better story. They don’t mean to attack you. They’re trying to help you and if you can’t take a little constructive criticism, how do you expect to handle reviews?

            Now I will say that I’ve heard some horror stories. Some critique partners are terrible. They don’t have the eloquence required to be gentle and harsh with their criticism and come off degrading. Those people exist. They suck and they are soul-crushers, but for every one of those, there are 100 more helpful, caring, eloquent critique partners out there who want to help you and want to improve your story.

            >.> … I’m rambling again, but what it comes down to: is courage. It takes courage to share a story with someone. So, why would it take more courage to share your story with a critique partner and betareader who want to help you and improve your story than it would to publish your novel for a bunch of people who don’t know who have no desire to improve your story?

              1. Haha! I’m glad I’m not boring you. :p And I’m happy you can understand on some level, which everyone technically can

                After all, it may not be novels or pictures that someone puts out for critique, but music, public speaking, or even meeting new people. Everything takes courage. And we do what we can to give ourselves the best shot. In regards to novels, that just happens to involve a lot more steps before we throw them out to the world. :/

                  1. Which I think is acceptable. To be honest, since I started writing reviews for my own blog, I’ve noticed just how critical I am of books compared to when I was just reading them for myself. I’ve given two 2star reviews myself in the past few months. (Though that wasn’t for plot holes or inconsistencies, but rather because of boring, underdeveloped, and cliche-ridden plot lines. :/)

                    And perhaps some of my criticisms come from writing my own novel and discovering what resources are out there for writers. I mean, with alpha readers, critique partners, beta readers, and even writing groups, there really isn’t any reason the book should have plot holes or inconsistencies when it’s published.

                    Think of it this way: You’re given a month to work on a class project. You’re given resources, examples, the whole shebang, but you don’t use them and hand in a half-a**ed project on the due date. Are people going to go easy on the project?

  4. Interesting! In my opinion, a reviewer is not a beta reader, and indie authors who treat them that way are doing it wrong. Because indie authors are working outside the experienced apparatus of a publishing house, they absolutely need to “do their homework” before publishing anything. That includes recruiting multiple beta readers, hiring a professional editor, and reacting to and implementing the feedback from those folks BEFORE they publish any book.

    A beta reader’s job is to help authors improve their book and remove obvious mistakes before that book is published. A book reviewer’s job is to help inform those who share their tastes and trust their judgment what they enjoyed about a book, what they didn’t, and why they felt that way. And since all reviewers like different things, rewriting your book based on a single review is never going to get you anywhere. The next reviewer may love what the previous one hated!

  5. You have a great point here and I do think that some Indie authors do use early reviewers as beta readers in a way. I have had a few change things as well after I pointed it out.

    I personally feel like I straddle the line. Usually, I will tell the author of problems via email before I post it in my review. I feel like it’s better to give them a chance to explain something I may of missed or to edit it if needed.

    Great topic!

    1. At least some of the indie authors are willing to listen. As long as they’ll acknowledge found errors, I’ll continue to quietly point them out. The ones that laugh it off though…grr.

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