Beta readers are awesome, and don’t get nearly enough credit. They valiantly take on the rough version and sift it for gold nuggets. Then they take their lives in their hands and go back to the author with the news that Baby has some serious defects. If that isn’t courage, I don’t know what is.
The best beta readers are prospectors and diplomats combined – the ability to say, not ‘this isn’t right’, but ‘here’s how you could make it better’ is surprisingly rare. To put it in terms that actually gets the author excited to make the changes – those ones ought to be on the IUCN Red List.
Beta readers used to only be used for fanfiction, but that’s slowly changing. The days of writers locking themselves into an attic until the book is finished are slowly passing, I think, and authorship as a group effort is becoming more prominent. Personally, I’m all for it – you get better stories when there’s more than one imagination contributing, and better editing as well.
The hard part is finding those other people willing to deal with your despair during writing blocks, frantic energy during world building, complete shut-down of communications during inspired moments, and strops during revision.
Rather brilliantly, according to Wikipedia, beta readers have another name:
the French term, critiquer or the abbreviated, informal version, critter
So here’s to critters – that bunch of patient, talented, long-suffering, wonderful people. The world of literature owes you.