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The Importance of Beta Readers

Amy Leibowitz beta reading own voices

There's been a lot of discussion in author and reader groups about the need for sensitivity reading during the editing process. Good beta readers can help with this process. In my experience, editing will polish the rough edges and fill in the language cracks. But a thorough read-through by knowledgeable betas can help you over the speed bumps.

One of the things I look for both as an editor and as a beta reader are negative tropes. If you're unfamiliar with the term, a trope is a common characteristic. This can be a personality trait or a plot device. Sometimes, the only problem is overuse. Other times, they are stereotypes which develop from or encourage negative views of marginalized people.

Even negative tropes can be less troublesome when a book is an #OwnVoices story. That means it's written about people from a specific group by people of that group. Lesbians writing lesbian fiction, for example. This isn't always true, especially if the trope perpetuates harmful views of a different group of people. However, extra care is needed when writing about a group you don't belong to.

Even as an #OwnVoices writer myself, I rely on my betas. I've written about diverse people in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender, and sexuality. I wrestled recently with the representation of one bisexual character due to commonly held beliefs. Although I've written a dozen other bisexual characters, I didn't want this one person to suddenly become the one people latched onto as "correct."

That's where my beta readers came in. I was able to have a dialog and rewrite some scenes. I've done the same whether the character is similar to me or not. It's important to me not to unfairly represent anyone or encourage others to see my characters as confirmation of their own biases against a group of people.

What areas do you struggle with in terms of representation? How can you lend your experience to someone else who wants to write outside their own group?

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