Many writers are afraid to let their creations out of their death grip to give to others to read (not counting agents). Will they like it? Will they be disappointed? Will they say lots of horrible things about it?
I am no exception to this fear. I give all my stuff to my dad to read for two reasons: having been an editor for about 20 years, he always has good criticism and he’s my dad so it’s almost a given that he’ll give me praise. When it comes to everyone else, however, my unspoken response to their kind offer to be a beta reader for me is, “You can pry it from my cold dead fingers!” Naturally, that is not something that I say. Not to their face anyway. I smile and nod while giving a noncomittal response.
Do I need beta readers? Yes. Has being published twice given me courage to hand out my work? A little (and I believe I’ve taken the negative criticism rather well). Does this mean I’ll hand out my manuscript? No. I’m sticking with my over-my-rotting-corpse stance.
But beta readers are very important for writers as they give essential feedback on how your work is going to be received (or not received depending on its quality). You have to trust that what they tell you isn’t personal and that they’re not going to steal your work. If you get negative criticism then that means there’s something in your story that you need to change. They’re not creating the off aspect in your story – they’re merely bringing it to your attention as something that does not work.
Should you pick anyone to be your beta reader though? You trust your best friend not to trash your work and to give an honest opinion, but maybe you write romance and that friend isn’t a romance reader. That person doesn’t read romance novels so they are not part of your audience. Their opinion is valid but it’s not going to be as helpful as the view of someone from your targeted audience.
Sift through the people you know and look for a person with your target audience in mind. Writing horror but have no horror-loving acquaintances? Move your search online. This requires more trust but the likelihood of finding someone who fits your audience is higher.
Good luck letting go of your fear and your work!