Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Secret World of Beta Reading!

I left a comment on a friends blog the other day. It was an excerpt of his unpublished novel, a novel that I've read and completely enjoyed. I said something about how awesome it was to be a beta reader and his response hit the nail on the head. 

Being a beta-reader is like knowing a great secret that no one else knows. Kinda like a secret society.

It really is just how he says it is. It's marvelous to read these books that no one else gets to read (yet) It's like a sinfully delicious secret you have all to yourself. You get to experience these other worlds that are completely unknown to everyone else. 

I've been a beta reader for a few different people now, and I've also used beta readers before. I'll share some knowledge that I've learned along the way. 

First, don't ever send a beta a rough draft. A rough draft is exactly that, ROUGH. I suggest doing at least one thorough edit to iron out any consistency issues you can find. Clean up your punctuation and grammar the best you can (of course) and make sure you've made your story the strongest you can. You don't want to have to send the same book to the same beta readers over and over again. Their time is precious, just like yours. Don't waste it. 

Second, keep in touch with your quality beta readers. A quality beta reader is hard to find. Sure, many people will offer to read your story for you, but few actually will keep to their word and fewer still will return your manuscript to you in a timely fashion. And if all they're going to offer you at the end of it all is a vague "That was good." or even worse "That was bad." Why bother at all? A quality beta reader will be able to tell you not only what doesn't work with your story, but also what does work. And if they're really good, they'll tell you why it does or doesn't work. Why mess with a good thing, right? You don't want someone who will only point out your weaknesses. It's important to know where the strong points in your novel are, too. 

Third, to find a good beta reader, you must be a good beta reader. It's a give and take kind of thing. Over the years I've developed friendships with people who respect me enough to not pull any punches. I trust these people to be honest and tell me where my story falters. And I've also been honest with them when it's my turn to read their manuscripts. It's not a one way street. You can't expect to find a dozen beta readers if you're not willing to ever be one yourself. 

Last, don't ever offer to beta read if you don't plan on following through. Sure, sometimes life does get in the way, and I completely accept that. But if you aren't 100% sure that you can keep your commitment (barring disaster) then please, don't even offer. There is nothing more maddening than sending out your manuscript to people and NEVER hearing back from them. And if you do offer, and can't finish your commitment, send what notes you did manage to make before your life turned itself upside down. At least this way the author sees an attempt was made. 

If you're a writer, I encourage you to be also a beta reader. You can learn a lot about your own stories by ripping apart someone else's. 

1 comment:

  1. Your friend makes a lot of sense, he's AMAZING!!! LOL ;)

    I agree with everything you said. Chosing a Beta-reader is difficult, and we shouldn't settle for the person who just says yes. There are a lot of trust issues involved as well as demographic too.

    I especially agree with the last paragraph, There is a famous quoteby Aesops, it goes: 'Better be wise by the misfortunes of others than by your own.'

    Another great post, Mariah :D