After I finished writing my second novel, my mother was the first person to read the whole thing through. “What’d you think?” I asked her, hungry for the gratuitous gush of maternal admiration over my skills as a writer and overall perfection as a daughter.
“Hmm,” she said, pausing to consider. “I think your end needs a twist. And I liked the first novel you wrote better.”
Welcome to the big, beautiful world of Beta Readers. Beta Readers are those who offer to read your work (often for free) to provide basic and unbiased (questionable) feedback on whether or not your manuscript is any good. They often comment on the general impressions or emotions elicited from the book without going in-depth into plot, setting, characterization, sentence structure, etc. (This is what you need a Developmental Editor for).
The problem is that many of the these unpaid Beta Readers are direct relatives or loved ones who are beaming over the mere fact that you wrote something, anything, and therefore shower you with praise, while asking if a character could be named after them, and not necessarily providing any useful information at all about how to improve the manuscript.
Luckily, my family believes in tough love.
Granted, a Beta Reader is only intended to give feedback from the standpoint of an “average” reader and not an editor, I think many writers get unsound advice from their Beta Readers and then believe they've done their due diligence in seeking out feedback before attempting to find an agent or self-publish. I see a lot of talk on social media about writers in search of Beta Readers, or alternatively, claiming they don’t need editors because they have a few Beta Readers.
No writer, no matter how skilled or talented, should go without equally skilled and talented readers/editors or else they are selling their work short. And also their Amazon ranking.
After I graduated from my MFA in Creative Writing, we pulled together a group of fellow grads who were both talented writers and readers in order to create a workshop that met bi-monthly to share work and provide writing feedback. Armed with our newly-minted MFA degrees, we were eager to flex our muscles as readers and provide some accountability to one another. This forum was far more helpful than banal it was good or you wrote all this yourself? type feedback that often comes from Beta Readers.
So writers, do yourself a [big] favor and find some smart, trusted readers, strong editors, or a skilled writing group when it comes time to get feedback on your manuscript draft. You owe it to your work to do it justice!