Yes, you read that title correctly. One of an author’s allegedly most useful resources — getting someone read an unpublished work to aid with its revising, also known as a beta reader — is unnecessary.
By now, you’re probably yelling at your screen and exiting this essay. If you’re still here, I’ll tell you why I make such a strong statement. (Hint: It’s not AI. What kind of a writer do you take me for?)
Beta readers have long been used as a sounding board for authors. They can offer an opinion on whether or not they enjoyed the story, as well as catch grammatical, spelling, cultural, or technical mistakes. Weeding out non-grammatical errors is a valid reason to use a beta reader, up to a point. I’ve received the help of beta readers in the past, and I thank every one of them for that. I’ve also been a beta reader, and I understand the courage it takes to show someone, in confidence, your unpublished work. It implies — demands, even — a level of trust between the author and the beta reader. That, too, can be a positive thing. Thus I’ll say that, if you enjoy using beta readers, or beta reading for another writer, then by all means, continue doing so. Every writer’s process is different, and whatever improves your work is worth the effort.
So why do I suggest otherwise?
Once you’ve been writing for a time, and gotten a few publishing credits to your name, you don’t need beta readers. If you’re worried about grammatical and spelling errors, well, there’s a reason you should read over your manuscript after the final revision is complete. The more of this work that you can do for yourself, the better you’ll be at catching mistakes in your next manuscript. Afterward, you use spell check on your word processor, and then you let a copy editor catch any other errors, should the piece get accepted for publication; that is their job, after all (AI be damned). That’s it. I know we wrangle over our manuscripts being perfect, and one should put in an effort, but you’re not going to catch everything. Neither will a beta reader.
As writers, it’s our hope (wish?) that another person reads our work. Preferably after it’s been published, but sometimes the desire to share something you’ve spent months, or even years, working on is hard to resist. You’re dying to know what…