So, you have some writing friends who need a critique for their work? Or maybe you want to improve your own writing (and editing) skills? Beta reading can be helpful in so many ways for both writers and readers.
So… what even is beta reading?
Beta reading just means reading and critiquing a writer’s work before it is published– that might be the 1st or 100th draft. This could be anything from general thoughts to line editing (although line-editing is usually left to a paid editor) but generally involves the writer sending you a template or a list of questions about their work.
Why should I become a beta reader?
Beta reading definitely isn’t just for fun, or just so you can get some free books, but it is certainly rewarding in many ways. A few reasons for becoming a beta reader are:
1.Yes, you do get to read free books. But beyond the free part– Ideas (I mean, some of the books I’ve beta read are just so cool!)! Juicy stories that you get to read before anyone else!
2. If you are a writer (not just a novel-writer, this applies if you do any sort of writing ?) this can be a great way to not only find new ideas and techniques, but to work on your own editing. Honestly, since I’ve been doing more and more beta writing, I’ve felt my own editing skills getting better and better as I focus more closely on what makes the story great and how one can be improved.
3. Helping out writers is cool. I know because I write stories and we need all the help we can get!
4. It’s a great way to make friends; especially if you’re a writer, this is the perfect way to make connections (and, if you beta reader for someone, they will usually return the favour when you need a critique or beta reader).
Ok, sign me up right now…
Becoming a beta reader is extremely easy. There are websites solely dedicated to beta reading, where you can sign up, and your email will be given to authors on the site looking for readers. If you’re on #bookstagram, (you can find me @wanderingthroughlit) it’s also full of writers, and it’s really easy to reach out and get in contact!
I always write that I’m free as a beta writer on all my bios and a lot of writers have connected with me this way. (If you’re reading this and you need beta readers, don’t hesitate to contact).
Now for the most important question:
How to be a good beta writer?
So, you’ve become a beta writer and writers are now relying on you to critique their work- how do you make sure you are as helpful as you can possibly be?
Listen to the writer
This is the number one most important thing– before you start reading and making notes, make sure you know exactly what the writer is wanting. If you are beta-reading a first draft, the author doesn’t need to know about spelling issues, more of an overall feeling (any plot holes, character development, etc).
This works the other way as well; if you are beta-reading a later draft, don’t tell the writer that you think the whole plot is off, or that a main character should be dropped. By this point, that sort of thing is unhelpful (and will probably make the writer cry ?).
Forget your own writer thoughts
Following on from the previous point: if you’re a writer, great! That probably gives you extra insight into how much effort it takes to write a book and the important parts that make a good story. BUT, take off your writing hat and put your reading one on.
What I mean by this is that every writer has a specific voice, so don’t start rewriting the book, or talking about how you would have written it. Remember, the author is writing the book, and they have their own style, voice and purpose. Focus on what you would think of if you were reading it just as a reader; do you connect to the characters? Did you lose interest at any point?
Don’t just say it was ‘good’
This one should be pretty obvious- if a writer is taking the time to send out their manuscript to beta readers, they need some relevant feedback. But also don’t say it was ‘bad’ (don’t completely destroy their dream ?). Try to think about how you really felt when reading it, and offer RELEVANT feedback. Some questions you could ask yourself are:
Who was your favourite/ least favourite character?
Did you grow bored at any point/ which scene interested you the most?
Which was the most emotional scene?
Could you build up a picture of the setting easily?
Was the pacing too fast/ too slow?
Was the ending satisfying?
What books was the work similar to?
Which three words would you use to describe the tone of the story?
Was the dialogue realistic/ unrealistic?
Only read genres you actually enjoy and have experience with
This is so important! I really dislike horror and therefore I don’t read it much, so I don’t really know what makes up a good horror story. If you stick to the genres you enjoy, 1. You’ll actually enjoy beta reading, and 2. You’ll be able to give much better feedback because you will have read a lot of similar books.
Always keep a notebook on hand
Or post-it notes, or a word document. Either way, annotating as you go along is so much easier than trying to round up all your thoughts when you finish the book. You can even highlight if you have a paper copy ?.
This is also really helpful in terms of keeping your feedback coherent and relevant (so you don’t just vomit all your thoughts onto the page in absolutely no order) and usually means the writer can put it to much better use.
Are you a beta reader? Are you considering it? I’d love to hear about your experience or know if you have any other ideas for blog posts. You can let me know by leaving a comment down below or messaging me on any of my social medias.