beta readers: how to teach your fish to read

Spoiler: This post does not include directions to teach a fish to read. But that would be SOOOO awesome. Does anyone do that?!

Beta readers. What are they? They are the pre-readers who look at manuscripts before they turn into books. Non-professionals. So, me.  I've been a beta reader for one friend on two manuscripts, and I'm just starting a new manuscript for someone else.

So, where do the fish come in?

The fish, of course, is spelled with two t's: Betta. A good proofreader might have caught that, but maybe not a pre-reader. We aren't professionals, and our job isn't to correct grammar and spelling. (Although I still do, because I'm a control freak.) We are supposed to make suggestions that improve the story, enhance the setting, or ask questions to expose plot holes.

I was so lucky to have a bunch of beta readers for The Senator's Youngest Daughter. I'm sort of considering everyone who reads it to be a beta reader, in fact, since it was my first novel-length work.

Being invited into someone's newly minted story is so exciting! The writer is full of comments like "it isn't perfect yet" and looking terrified when they hand it to you. Meanwhile, as the reader, I have that gleeful "Mommy, can I have that candy?" look in my eye because I'm so excited! This person is trusting me with a special part of themselves -- their brain-child, the product of all their creativity, the sum of effort over months/years.

My kitchen is under reno right now (YAY!), and everything is unpolished. You can see the whole thing starting to come together, but the counter's not on and the floor is all covered up, and the cabinets have no handles... you can imagine what it will be but it isn't all there yet.

I think that's why I like being a beta reader. Even if there's a gap instead of a dishwasher, I can mentally put the dishwasher in its place. Even if there's some questions left unanswered, I can still enjoy the story. I'll probably make an incoherent note at the end like this: Wj did she lev the bus at time fur? and the author will have to Facebook message me at 12:06 am (because that's when we write) and ask me to translate. 

And I'll be like, I don't know, but ask your fish. He can always read my handwriting.