What will you be reading tonight? Readers navigate a maze of possibilities in order to find just the right, comfortable read. It’s rather like selecting a TV show for the evening – the search can take longer than the show.
Some readers when settling down with a book for the evening have no such choice to make. These are beta readers. Every author must have beta readers. Each must serve a specific purpose, whether it is to read for proof, for consistency, for accuracy, or whatever they do best. Remember, one reader can not do it all; humans are not built that way. We all have different perspectives and skills.
I burden a very small but special core of beta readers. Each has a particular strength. One reader specializes in geography and topography and lives by the map. When my protagonist goes south but should be going north, this reader will notice. He is also good at spotting inconsistencies. If a car is black at the beginning of the novel but turns blue somewhere along the line, he’ll make sure it gets painted its original color.
You need a reader with the ability to visualize the whole of the novel, to sustain an overview. This person literally senses more than sees subtleties that can jar the reader. More often than not these disturbances have an underlying layer that can be remedied. Regardless, the story needs to have a natural flow, a coherence, believable transferences, yet you want to hold the attention of the reader. It should flow like a molasses flood: smooth but sticky.
Of special value is the reader who notices repetition, whether of words, phrasing, or thoughts. This takes a particular kind of brain. Did I employ the same introductory clause two paragraphs before? Strike it out! Are there sixteen “that”s in one page? Strike them out! Did my protagonist had the exact same thought in the previous chapter? Change his mind.
I do not ask a reader to proof. No one can scour the book for correct comma placement and still enjoy it. I farm out proofing. Any one who spends their evening doing that should be paid.
Finally, you must have a reader who appreciates your work and will praise it, regardless of merit. Writing a novel is a long and painstaking task. Whatever may be right or wrong with the project, you need someone who will always appreciate it––and you.