Lessons Learned From Beta Reading

Hello, Friends! Today I’m not going to talk to you about any of my books. Instead, I’m going to prattle on about an important part of the writing process: the beta reader.

Beta readers read and critique polished manuscripts—basically, an early reader of your manuscript. 

I’ve beta read over one-hundred manuscripts across multiple genres. It can be a great experience, giving important information to the reader—or it can be a nightmare.

Not only have I beta read a ton, but I’ve also had all of my works beta read—so I know what it’s like receiving feedback. Sometimes it sucks. Like, I’ve cried reading some of the critiques…but I’ve never mistreated a reader.

Below I’m going to go over some lessons learned I’ve experienced over the years. 

Asking for a beta reader when you need an alpha reader

By the way—I have done this. I have seen the way!

You need a beta reader when your work is polished. You need an alpha reader when your work is at a point where it needs editing. The problem is, some people don’t know that their manuscript requires work. I hate taking on beta reads only to find errors because I’m not one that can overlook them, so I sink HOURS more into a project.

How you can avoid this: If this is your first time having people read your work, always ask for an alpha reader.

Unsolicited requests for reads

It may sound like a great plan to simply ask someone to read for you. This person LOVES sci-fi—I write sci-fi! I’ll let them read my work for free!

Why might this be annoying: Some people don’t like giving feedback -or- they have a pile of books to go through -or- they’re busy -or- they hate saying no…so many reasons.

How to get a beta reader: There are places where beta readers linger. Facebook groups for beta readers are FULL of people wanting to read for someone! Also, Twitter. If someone’s profile says Beta Reader, approach them. People’s websites will advise if they beta read. If you know someone of a similar genre is looking, you can offer an exchange.

Hurt feelings

When you read as much as I do…you give a lot of criticism. I try to give it constructively, but people have varying levels of tolerance to your thoughts.

Most of the criticism I’ve given, I really shouldn’t have to. If someone is constantly correcting your tags, you should have had it proofread first. A true beta reader should not be editing, though I find myself doing this quite often.

Now, when I do find real issues, like plot holes and missing information(during edits, many people forget to add details back in), I type it in my notes and move on. It makes me feel terrible when the author gets distraught or is argumentative. I’ve had people say they’re going to abandon their manuscripts over very little things. DON’T DO THAT!

Beta readers can often spot a problem, but don’t give the best advice on how to fix it

I did NOT come up with that quote, but I find that it rings true. I wish I could credit who did come up with it.

Basically, they’re like drug dogs sniffing out the problems….but that’s all a drug dog can really do. You might get an excellent beta reader that knows exactly how to fix an issue…but it’s rare. And some genres are easier to fix than others.

A beta reader is only one opinion

Do NOT make major changes you don’t feel good about UNLESS you have several people telling you there is a problem. One opinion is just that, one opinion.

For a full-length novel, I recommend five beta readers. Right now, I have three dedicated readers because I’m having a hard time finding a permanent and reliable 4 and 5.

Your beta readers should be your target audience

You don’t want a grimdark fantasy reader to read your romance novel. TRUST ME!!! They will not be your target audience! They’re going to tell you shit like: while your happily ever after is cute, maybe at the end the woman could cut open the man’s stomach and eat his entrails… I mean, that’s an exaggeration, but you get the point. 

Being too critical

I give criticism, but I never comment on someone’s ability to write and if they should write. I might say, “You really need to run this by an actual editor that can give you better feedback than I can.” I NEVER say, “You shouldn’t quit your day job. You’re never going to be a real author.”

EVERY BOOK STARTS OUT AS AN UNPOLISHED TURD! It may be rough, but I can’t speak to its potential.

Manuscript THEFT!

Okay, this is a real issue. I know people who have had their manuscripts stolen, and with how publishing works now, it’s easy to steal.

Some people choose to get an actual copyright for their work first. Technically, the work is copyrighted when written, but you cannot sue without going through the process of obtaining the copyright. It’s also really easy to prove when you’ve written your work, so some don’t worry about getting the copyright in advance. It’s not like many of us can afford to take these issues to court, which means even if your work is stolen, you might not be able to do anything about it.

Others choose to watermark their work. It’s not hard, and it can assist in making it harder to steal, but not impossible.

I would argue that choosing your readers carefully is the most critical step in ensuring your work’s safety. When I was finding them on FB, I would make sure the readers had profiles that extended years back with normal, human stuff in them. People who steal usually don’t do so if you can find out who they are so you can sue them. I never use Twitter because of the anonymity. I do think that paying a reputable company for beta reading services is a smart move if you can do it.

Have a list of questions lined up for the reader

It makes it so much easier to beta read when I know specific feedback is being requested. 

So, there it is…my advice and pearls of wisdom. Some people will argue with a few of these points, and that’s fine, but they’re certainly not going to change my mind.

If you have good advice or lessons learned from beta reading, it’s great to share with those getting their feet wet. It could save the writer a lot of time, and the reader a lot of frustration.

Until next time!

Lark

One thought on “Lessons Learned From Beta Reading

  1. Pingback: Dialogue tags and all the bad advice…. | Lark Anderson – Author, Friend, Nerd…

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