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Beta Readers

Until last week I’d never heard of beta readers before. Beta testers for games, yes, but beta readers? Now that was a new concept! (for me, anyway)

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Not entirely, of course. I had thought about asking some friends – friends who I know can be brutally honest with me – to read Rise of the Sparrows once it’s finished before I go any further, but actual beta readers? The concept is so simple and makes so much sense I don’t know how I’ve never heard of it before now, but there it is.

So, my question to you! Have you used beta readers before, or have you been a beta reader yourself? What are the most important things to look out for, and who do you ask? Do you ask people you know or do you go over forums, or another way yet?

Likewise, I’d love to be a beta reader myself but just a warning – I’m ruthless. Which is what you’d want. I also don’t really have the time so I shouldn’t even be offering, but I might be willing to make an exception here and there 🙂

~Sarina

Published inA Writer's MusingsUncategorized

6 Comments

  1. In the past, I’ve tried getting people to read my first novel, but people have either been too busy to read too far into it or they simply don’t have the heart to tell me, even in an email, that it’s crap.

    But I’d be okay with people telling me that I write crap because I know I write crap. I simply need to find an audience for my crap.

    As for being a beta reader, I’m not sure I’ve ever done that. I’ve read chapters that people have sent to me and offered comments and suggestions, but I’ve never combed through a full novel that someone else has written.

    If you’d like, though, I’d be glad to read through Rise of the Sparrows and give you my honest opinion on it. I can be brutal at times, but I try to add some humor to the brutality. You know, because it’s easier to take a hit when everyone finds something about it that they can laugh at. The only hitch is that because I’m in the middle of revising my first novel again, I wouldn’t be able to take on anything else until next week, at the earliest. But still, the offer is there.

    • Thank you! Rise of the Sparrows is nowhere near being finished yet (I just breached the half-way point earlier today!) but once I’ve gone through a few edits I’ll be asking properly 🙂 It’s nice to know there’s interest for it at all! Likewise, if you need a beta reader, let me know 🙂

      How long did you wait before you asked for your beta readers? Had you gone through the edits already or did you ask before that?

      I understand, to an extend, that it’s difficult to honestly tell someone that you don’t like something they’ve done, but they shouldn’t offer to test it if they aren’t prepared to be brutally honest. Hearing that everything is perfect is nice but it can’t be true, and it’s not what we’re asking for. Unless all of your beta readers give the same positive feedback, which is unlikely.

      • I started trying to have other people read my manuscript after the first revision. Looking back, that was a huge mistake because I didn’t have the right people around me at the time (only people telling me how good my work was). I was still learning the writing process and I pretty much trained myself how to write a novel while writing it. My writing instructor, bless her heart, was so kind and so encouraging that she likely didn’t have the heart to tell me that there was so much more I needed to do to improve what I’d written, even after the first revision. That probably didn’t help when I gave it to other people to read. I mean, when I go back to the first revision, I can see how terrible it is. Even I almost don’t want to tell me that. Almost. Haha.

        Also, I started querying agents with that first revision, so that was a huge mistake too. But now that I’ve sat on my novel for a couple of years and am now on my ninth revision, I think I’m about ready to start querying again or just self-publish (I’m still not sure an agent would like my work).

        You’d think this was a bad thing that happened, but I’m glad I’ve been sitting on my novel. It’s allowed me time to look back and rewrite parts that I find to be weak and, even today, I’m getting pieces of dialogue that I can’t wait to add in during the revision process. So taking my time with it and continuing to learn hasn’t been a bad thing. I just wish, all along, people would’ve told me what they didn’t like and why rather than smile, encourage me, and then avoid me because they thought I was going to ask about my work. I never did, though. My rule is: If you don’t bring it up, I don’t bring it up. I always tried to be accommodating, but I guess they never wanted to take the risk. Haha.

        Anyway, when you’re ready for me to beta read, all you have to do is ask. 🙂

  2. When I was writing Fiendish I did use beta readers. I didn’t have a good experience 🙁 and sadly none of the ‘outside’ readers I got followed through from beginning to end. I had 2 friends that betaed for me and they both stayed with the project all the way through giving me feedback on content as well as red-penning my grammar issues.

    I had various reasons for people not completing. Some simply stop returning emails, while I had issues with feedback style. I’m fine with constructive criticism, that’s why I’m looking for betas, but I had an issue with one beta reader that didn’t like me ‘questioning’ her feedback. I viewed the relationship as a 2 way street for questions and such, but she thought I should just make every change she suggested without wanting to know why. 🙁 Needless to say that didn’t work. Having failed beta issues can mess with your head in a way (or at least mine) because then I start to wonder if the beta can’t even read it how in the hell do I expect people to buy and read it. Anyway I pushed through and got it done.

    For my next book, I’m not sure if I’ll hit up the outside places again to get that feedback since it’s frustrating to get started with a person only for them to go MIA in the middle. You have to start all over again looking for a new person or people. I understand people don’t have the time they thought they would or things like that, but it’s still a little of a bummer when you never hear from them again.

    On the flip side, I’ve had authors I’ve said I’d beta for do the same thing. We start, I give feedback and then they stop replying. I am honest but never nasty about my feedback. I try to make sure I give both positive and negative (if there is any) feedback but I’ve learned that some people only want the good.

    If you can find a reliable beta (or 2) then great. It is helpful because they can see things that you might have missed, but the trouble is finding someone that will stick through til the end.

    • I’m sorry your experience wasn’t a good one :/ When someone says they’ll read something for you they should stick it out, it’s not fair to the writer to just drop out without explaining why. And as you said, you then invest more time into finding new readers again, which shouldn’t have been necessary. It should be a 2-way street, as you said. There’s no point if reader and writer don’t want to work together, because that’s what this is. I’m glad you pushed through anyway and got it finished. People can be tricky, eh?

      Only wanting good feedback is so silly and defies the purpose of having a beta reader in the first place! I think I will try to find three to five and see how it goes.

      If you need/want a beta reader for Not Broken let me know 🙂

  3. I’ve been a Beta reader before. It was through fiction press &/ Fanfiction and you sign up in a fairly anonymous way, simply ticking boxes in terms of your strengths and weaknesses. With a description about your experience etc. It’s the writer who chooses you, and each of us had ratings and info about our recent projects.

    Broadly speaking there are two categories Betas fall under – one is Structural & for this person, I’d look for a profile of someone who’s a writer themselves. Their job is to find plot holes and challenge you if a character falls out of character as well as check your storyline.

    The second profile is purely spelling and grammar- this person is not there to read your story, but simply to make sure each sentence makes sense. So it doesn’t matter whether your first draft is even finished and certainly they don’t have to do the entire book.

    In both cases, I would highly recommend only sending a few chapters for the Beta process and to use more than one- the Structural person will read on if they choose to, but if you’re serious about wanting a critique then it’s harder to do this for an entire book (though experienced betas can). Being a Beta is a highly taxing role, and we were offering our time free- it can take hours to properly check someone’s work for all spelling & grammar so give credit for any time & feedback you don’t get and before you get started talk about what you’d like- some of us had word count limits due to full time jobs etc but I was still occasionally sent huge files someone would expect me to beta in days. I hope that gives you a balanced perspective there’s certainly pros and cons for both people you know and those you don’t- people you know I’d say are unlikely to make good structural Betas because sometimes you just need someone to tell you something doesn’t make sense! Friends are too nice in my experience. But strangers don’t have to show you any commitment cause it’s not their heart and soul going into a project.

    Personally when I did it my feedback wasn’t about telling the writer to write it a specific way or tell them where they should change something and how, usually my feedback consisted of pointers as to where I lost the plot, typos and grammar and questions about specific sentences eg ‘would that character say that?’ Not ‘that character should say “…”‘

    Wow that was probably more than you asked for! XD I look forward to the point when you’re ready to share! And definitely take a look at Fictionpress, it’s useful for finding lots of Betas to choose from.

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