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Everything You Need to Know About Beta Reading – What Do Beta Readers Do?

Over the last few weeks we’ve looked at how and when to assemble your beta squad, but that only helps you if you’re the writer. Today I’d like to consider the other side, and talk about how to be a beta reader.

I’ve been on both sides of this process now and have seen what worked when I was the author, and also what worked and what I needed when I was the beta reader. I hope the information below will help clarify questions you might have, or make sense of everything if this is your first time beta reading 🙂

If you’re the writer and need a few questions answered, hang on in there – I’ll be back for you in two weeks ^-^

I know it can be difficult to tell someone that you didn’t like something they created – maybe you even hated it, or maybe your author’s grammar is terrible when you know for a fact that your author prides herself on her grammar skills – but it’s essential that you do. The first and only thing we need from you is honesty. I know it’s not always easy, but think of it this way: If you’ve spotted something and aren’t sure how to say that it doesn’t work for you or you think that an entire view point should be cut, it’s all the more important that we know about it. Because those things are big, and there’s a good chance that other betas feel the same way. Or maybe they don’t know how to phrase their concerns either, and therefore no one says anything? You could be the beta who saves our WIP, friend!

We can take your criticism. That’s why we recruited you, after all 🙂

While it’s vital to be honest, there’s no reason to be rude. Comments such as ‘No, no, NO!’ or ‘This is awful. The hell were you thinking?’ are unnecessary. We are aware that not every reader is going to enjoy our book, and if the majority of your feedback looks like the two examples above I think your writer has the right to suggest you stop. We don’t want you to force yourself through a book you don’t like – and if most of your feedback is ‘NO! CHANGE IT!’ I think it’s fair to assume that you’re not enjoying yourself. No one book is for everyone, and if my book isn’t for you you’re allowed to walk away (but please say something, so I don’t wonder what happened to you. I won’t take it personally.)

You don’t have to sugarcoat everything you don’t agree with or every bit of incorrect grammar, but manners go a long way!

You know you were asked to check for character development, but your writer keeps spelling a specific word wrong each time he uses it. Should you point it out? Your writer didn’t ask for it, but it seems important enough to say something. Or maybe you feel strongly about Deran and Tyler’s relationship, but does your writer need to know about the parts you love? Is it helpful if some of your feedback isn’t about things that need changing, but things you enjoy?

Ohmygodyesplease! The best thing to do when you’re not sure is to just ask. Beta reading is a partnership between you, dear reader, and your writer. They should be available to answer questions if you need something clarified. If your writer is unavailable, include it.

You can’t go wrong by including information, only by leaving potentially important information gone unsaid.

There’s nothing more encouraging than when I receive feedback like this:

or this:

Beta reading doesn’t have to be formal. If you love what you’ve read and are excited about where the story is going, please share it with your writer! There’s nothing that builds us up quite like the examples above. It’s one thing to say ‘I liked that scene between Rose and Henry’ and quite another to go ‘YASSSSS! OMG YES!’

Some of the feedback we receive is going to be negative, sometimes disheartening. Receiving a little love note here and there is going to make our day like nothing else can.

I can’t speak for all writers, but I like to include a small list of things to look for when I send my initial email with the WIP. Chances are that some of my betas will be new to this and might not know what to look for, so a list is useful! If your writer didn’t tell you what they need from you, don’t be afraid to ask. There’s a good chance that there’s something specific your writer is after – personally, I know I have a problem with repetition, my fight scenes could be stronger, and it turns out I under-describe settings (I’m worried I’ll do more telling than showing), so it’s useful for my betas to know to look for these things.

Easier said than done, I know, but sometimes we simply can’t finish what we started. Something might have come up in your personal life, for example, and you don’t need to add more stress to yourself. You’re not the only beta we have, so don’t worry. Your leaving doesn’t force us to start over again.

By the time a writer reaches out to betas, the draft has already undergone several revisions. We don’t expect you to be an editor, we just need you to point out things as you spot them. Don’t worry if you didn’t flag up anything in chapter 12. That’s not a sign that you’re not pointing out enough mistakes, but rather that you’re enjoying the book! There’s something good to be said for a beta reader getting too lost in the story to notice mistakes. It might not help us improve that scene, but it does tell us that it’s engaging – and that’s precisely the kind of feedback we need. So sit back with a cuppa tea, get your reading groove on, and do what you do best!

Of course, if you’d rather sit down with a check list and analyse every chapter in detail you’re welcome to do that, too. Just don’t put too much pressure on yourself and remember to enjoy yourself, too.

What if you don’t do well enough? What if you don’t catch mistakes? What if the writer ends up being displeased with your services and sets his dragons on you? Don’t worry, there’s no such thing as useless feedback. If it stood out to you, it’s good enough! That’s all we want from you – things that stood out. Those can be positive (“I LOVED how the relationship between Anna and Derek developed!”) or negative (“I just can’t connect with Cynthia. I feel like I should because we’re similar, but I just can’t put myself in her shoes.”) or even just “You keep confusing ‘save’ and ‘safe’ – you may want to read up on that.” but either way, it’s all useful.

The last thing we want is for you to get stressed over this!

I know some writers stray from that general rule, but don’t expect to get paid. Beta readers do what they do for free, to do the author a favour, and because they love books. Shaping a draft into something even better – knowing that you’ve played a part in making a book the best it can be – is exciting, and might even be the reason you’re considering it! I know how time-consuming beta reading is for everyone involved, so you can believe me when I say that I immensely appreciate what you do.

Having said that, some writers do offer small rewards to treat their betas. I know some writers offer Amazon vouchers, for example, or a free print copy of their book once it’s published. I offer a discount on all my editing services to my betas.

But just be aware that the common thing is no pay. It’s up to the writer whether she wants to offer a reward, but there’s no obligation. Please don’t offer to beta read expecting a voucher or any other reward. If your writer gives you something in return, it’ll be specified.

Now it’s over to you! If you’re the writer – What do you need from your betas? Do you have any more advice for someone who’s new to this, or someone who’s had a bad experience? If you’re the beta – Do you have any more questions? Get yourself a tea/coffee, maybe some cookies, and ask away! 🙂

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Published inA Writer's Musings


    • sarinalangerwriter sarinalangerwriter

      Goodness! I haven’t done one of these for a long time! Thank you so much for nominating me, I’m so happy you find my series useful <3 That's exactly what I set out to do ^-^

      I don't usually do tags like this one on here, but since your questions are all book-related I'll see if I can't fit it in 🙂 I do appreciate you tagging me and don't want to seem ungrateful 🙂

      Thanks again! <3

      • @breakerofthings @breakerofthings

        No worries either way – it was my pleasure to nominate you and your privilege to decline if you wish :0)

  1. Another great post Sarina!! This series is brilliant!

    • sarinalangerwriter sarinalangerwriter

      Thank you, Faith! I’m so happy it proves useful! <3

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