Mystery Mondays: Val Tobin on the value of Beta Readers

This week on Mystery Mondays, I’m thrilled to host author Val Tobin.  Val has a great process for working with beta readers and editors.  Over to Val…

The Value of Beta Readers

by Val Tobin

I recently came across some writers who don’t use beta readers or who limit their beta readers to one trusted person. This puzzles me. I value my beta readers. Not only do I have a core group I can send my manuscript to, but I always recruit one or two new readers each time.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King mentions he writes for an ideal reader: his wife. She’s the first one to read his work when he’s ready to open the office door and share his creation with another human being. He values her feedback and wouldn’t consider not having her input on the raw material.

In my case, my ideal reader is my mother. She’s always the first beta to read my manuscript. I don’t pass it along to anyone else until she’s read it through. While Mom isn’t a professional writer, she’s an avid reader, a creative personality, and a talented artist. When she gives me feedback, I listen carefully.

Some might wonder if she’s biased – I’m her kid, after all – but anyone who knows her knows she speaks her mind. Once the story has passed through the trial-by-Mom fire and survived, I can hand it out to other betas.

This list typically includes a professional novel writer or two; a friend with a PhD in psychology who used to be a prison guard, a parole officer, and an air force pilot (not in that order); a couple of avid readers; my sister, who has a degree in human biology; and any experts I might enlist.

The experts vary depending on what I’ve written, and they might read just a small section that pertains to their area of expertise. For example, The Experiencers includes a scene with a hypnotherapy session, so I asked a hypnotherapist to read that particular chapter and provide feedback. I wanted to make sure the scene was credible.

While I welcome and appreciate feedback from my betas, this isn’t writing by committee. Some of their suggestions don’t fit my story goals. What I look for in the high-level feedback is where readers get bored or where they sense something off. This lack could be in missing or extraneous scenes, incorrect pacing, faulty characterization, too sparse or too verbose description, vague setting, or off-key tone, but most readers won’t recognize that – they’ll simply point out the part that stalled them, and I’ll take it from there.

If multiple betas point out the same issue, then I will change it. This is why it’s important to me to have more than one beta reader. Sometimes one person might have an issue with something that others deem to be a strength. For example, a sex scene in A Ring of Truth was described as gratuitous by two betas but considered necessary by four others when I asked them specifically about the scene.

In my own mind, the scene was necessary. It served as a way to traumatize a character who had been cavalier about sex up until this point. The situation forced him to evaluate how he views women and relationships, but the revelations didn’t all come in a flood as soon as the scene occurred. He had to grow into the epiphanies. The trauma provided the impetus to change.

Could I have toned it down? Faded to black and still created the trauma? Sure, but it wouldn’t have had the same impact. When writing the scene, I tried to strike a balance between graphic and too subtle, but it had to provide at least a small visceral hit or the point would be lost.

In this instance, the scene remained as is until my editor got to it. He asked me to shorten it and I did. Someone reading with the eye of a professional editor carries more weight, and when he provided valid reasons to reduce the word count there, I made the modifications. The betas alerted me to the possible issue, I evaluated their feedback and made a judgement call, and my editor provided the professional-level feedback required to give it the final polish.

After its release, one reader who reviewed A Ring of Truth nailed the purpose of all the sex scenes in the story when he/she wrote “Sex is a weapon, a tool and a healing.” It’s gratifying when readers get it.

In my opinion, this illustrates exactly why beta readers are invaluable. They don’t exist to tell a writer what to do but to help a writer polish a story. When you’re the creator of the story, you’re too close to it. Readers will point out inconsistencies you miss. They provide an invaluable service, and those who volunteer are thrilled to be part of the process.

Who is Val Tobin?

val-tobin-author-profile-1000x667Val studied general arts at the University of Waterloo, then went to DeVry Toronto to get a diploma in Computer Information Systems. She worked in the computer industry as a software and Web developer for over ten years, during which time she started to get serious about energy work and the paranormal and occult.

In October 2004, Val became a certified Reiki Master/Teacher. She acquired ATP® certification in March 2008, in Kona, Hawaii from Doreen Virtue, PhD.

Val started work on a bachelor of science in parapsychic science from the American Institute of Holistic Theology in March of 2007 and received her degree in September 2010. After obtaining her master’s degree in parapsychology at AIHT, Val has set her sights on the PhD, which she’ll pursue as time and finances permit.

At the end of October 2008, Val returned to Kona, Hawaii to complete the Advanced ATP® training and in April 2010 to take the Spiritual Writing workshop and the Mediumship Certification class. Val wrote freelance for content site Suite101 and was Topic Editor for Paganism/Wicca and Webmaster Resources at Suite.

A published author, she contributed a story to Doreen Virtue’s Hay House book Angel Words. Her novels are available from various retailers in both e-book and paperback.

The Valiant Chronicles

box set 1x3 28nov2017Three Exciting Novels in one box set from Award-Winning Author Val Tobin:

The Experiencers

Not killing her might be the death of him.

Black-ops Assassin Michael Valiant questions his agency’s motives when he’s ordered to silence a group of UFO enthusiasts who look less like terrorists than they do housewives and nerds. Michael finds himself running for his life and dragging his intended target along with him.

Can he save them both, or will the Agency and the aliens find them first?

A Ring of Truth

Some heroes come disguised as monsters.

To ensure her daughter’s safety, Carolyn Fairchild has surrendered to the Agency and the aliens. In retaliation, Michael Valiant, Agency assassin, has gone rogue. He’s made his way to the Northwest Territories to find the alien base in the Valley of the Headless Men. But time is running out, and the abductees are scheduled to be terminated. Who will survive the rampage?


Nothing says bad day like waking up dead.

Who killed Jayden McQueen? Why? How?

In her quest to find answers, Jayden sets in motion events that propel humanity towards a future already written. But just because events appear inevitable doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight them. Does it?

Earthbound is #23 on the 50 Best Indie Books 2017 Award list from ReadFreely.

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