How to be a good beta reader

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If you’re an author and have other writing friends, chances are you’ll be asked to do beta reading for some of them. I have to admit, it’s pretty cool to be one of the first people to read someone’s work. It’s kind of brag worthy, ya know? Especially when that person becomes all famous! Heh

In my opinion, there are two kinds of beta readers. The first type is someone who strictly reads the story. They let the author know about things like plot holes, unanswered questions and unbelievable dialog. Two dimensional characters and other continuity problems are something else readers can inform the author of and of course whether or not they enjoyed the story.

The second kind of beta reader does a little more in depth  job.  This tends to be the kind of beta reading I do. I will take their manuscript into word and put on the track changes and comments features. As I read, I’ll make changes or suggestions on word order, whether or not dialog tags are needed and if things make sense, along with the other things a reader would point out (stated in the paragraph above).  For example, I recently read the first eight chapters of a friend’s work in progress. It was a great story so far, but it’s written in first person and her main character is blind. I went through and made comments in spots where the main character wouldn’t know certain things because he can’t see.  This way obviously takes more time and a closer look into the manuscript, which brings me to the next point.

If you offer to be someone’s beta reader, find out what kind of timeline they are looking for. If you know you’re going to be very busy with other projects, don’t offer to read unless they don’t care when it comes back to them. While I’m sure they understand these things take time, they also have to know when they’re going to be able to move ahead with the project and possibly make changes based on your suggestions and comments.

Above all, be honest with your author. If the opening line doesn’t catch your attention, say so.  If the formatting is funky, making it hard to read, let them know.  Perhaps a chapter would work better if it was moved to a different part of the story. Maybe there’s a character who doesn’t seem to work well with the plot. It may not be easy to let someone know their writing needs a little polishing, but they will more than likely thank you in the long run.

Finally, remember being a beta reader isn’t just about finding “problems”. Let the author know what you did like as well! I love to leave little comments about comical lines and things that made my eyes go wide (“People don’t eat horseys!”). They want to know if you enjoyed the story and I think the little comments help them know if they’ve hit the mark they were hoping to. As someone who writes humor, I’m always worried readers won’t get my jokes. It’s nice to see when they do!

It may seem like a daunting task to be someone’s beta reader, but think about the great service you’re providing them with and that you get to read the story before the masses.  You can further help the author by rating and reviewing their book later on Amazon and Goodreads before it’s available to the public, which will help generate interest in their work.

Happy beta reading!

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6 responses »

  1. I very seldom beta anymore because I've had authors be very rude over my comments. I normally do pretty in depth betas, and I point out the parts that work as well as the ones that don't. I also try to keep my comments very constructive, helpful and tactful, and to complete the beta as quickly as I can.

    I think it's important for writers to realize that the beta reader is taking a sizable chunk of their time to do them a favor, for which they are seldom compensated, unless beta reads are reciprocated.

  2. You are correct. It does take a lot of times and I'm sorry people were rude to you. While people don't like to hear their writing needs work, no one's perfect and I'd rather have a beta reader suggest I change/fix something than have it go public and get a huge mass of people complaining about the same issue!

  3. Haha, that horsey comment made me laugh so hard when I saw it. I think it was “You're supposed to ride the horsey, not eat it!” And the bacon comment, so random.

    More beta readers should add those little comical lines. They really do make a person stop and smile.

  4. Heh your stuff totally prepared me to read A Dance with Dragons as they are constantly eating the horses that die in the cold! Meanies! 😀

  5. I don't think I could ever be rude to a beta. Sure I get annoyed seeing all that red at times but mostly I rant to hubby or a close friend. I get it out of my system so I can appreciate what's being said and how it will help my story.

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