Recently, in the Writers Unite! Facebook group, a member asked a question about the process of finding a responsible beta to review their work. Another member commented that she was reluctant to be a beta reader for fear of being too harsh. This article addresses both of those issues and we hope brings some clarity to the beta reader process. It’s a valuable resource for a writer but needs to be effective.
The Better Beta
By Deborah Ratliff
“Who wants to beta my novel?”
How many times have you seen this question posted in an online writing group? Often, and with good reason, as beta readers provide a valuable service. They are the buffer between your best friend who loves your story and the editor who could tear it apart.
Along with finding a qualified beta, the question of determining the expectations of the relationship between author and beta is important. Confusion over the responsibilities often keeps both the writer from seeking a beta and a potential beta from offering their services.
A beta reader most often will be someone who either reads or writes in your genre or is willing to learn the nuances of the genre to provide proper feedback. They are usually unpaid participants who enjoy helping writers and usually not trained in editing or story development. They provide feedback on plot, characters, narrative, dialogue, and continuity. The beta is judging the readability and plausibility of the story for the general reader.
Choosing a beta or group of betas to read your manuscript can be daunting. As stated above, finding betas in your target audience is ideal, but someone with experience in offering feedback can be equally as effective. Most online writing groups on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and writing groups on the Internet, are ready sources for finding suitable betas. Websites such as Writing.com or Goodreads.com have beta-reader sites, and there are several Facebook groups including Writers Unite! and Beta Readers and Critiques that offer beta readers. If you are familiar with and trust these sites, you should start your search there.
When you request a beta, the question posed at the beginning of the article should be more definitive. Ask, instead, would anyone be willing to beta my 84,000-word fantasy manuscript. By clarifying the genre and length upfront, you will receive responses more attuned to your needs.
Also, ask potential betas about their experience. Have they reviewed manuscripts before in this genre, and what do they like about it? What time frame do they usually take to provide feedback? Once you feel comfortable with one or more betas, provide them with an edited manuscript. The manuscript does not need to be perfect, but respect the beta by giving them a readable one.
One of the ways to achieve your goals of what you as a writer need to know about your manuscript is to send a list of questions to the beta pointing out the areas of interest you have.
Your questions can include the following:
- Did the opening of the book hold your attention? If not, why?
- Was the main character relatable? Did you feel a connection to the character and his plight from the beginning?
- Were the characters believable? If not, what suggestions do you have to make them believable? Were there too many characters to keep track of while reading?
- Were the setting of the story and the descriptions interesting and clear?
- Was the narrative concise and understandable? Was there a good balance between narrative and dialog?
- Did the dialog seem natural and appropriate for the genre and period?
- Were there any confusing passages? If so, why were they confusing? Did the story lag at any point? Explain. Were there any consistencies in the storyline or timeframe?
- Were the tension and conflict in the story, as well as the ending, satisfying?
- Was the story a fit for the genre?
- Were there any obvious grammatical errors? Spelling, punctuation, or grammar. (Remember most betas do not check for these errors but will note what they find if you request it. Do not expect the beta to offer suggestions or corrections. That is the job of your editor.)
The beta reader also has responsibilities. A lot of the author’s time and soul has gone into the creation of the manuscript sent.
Beta readers should do the following:
- There are several areas of review that a beta should follow when reviewing a manuscript. If the author supplies questions, address those, as well as any discrepancies found. (See link at the end of the article for a comprehensive list of beta reader duties.)
- Be honest. Beta reviews are not the time to spew platitudes. If something is wrong, bring it to the author’s attention.
- Be specific. Vague feedback is ineffective. Give a thorough explanation of what you felt was wrong.
- Meet the deadline agreed to between the author and beta. If you cannot meet the author’s needs, do not accept the assignment.
- Be respectful. Pointing out errors to an author can be difficult, but if you explain your reasons in a courteous and straightforward manner, the author will accept the feedback positively. Also, always mention the good things that you have found in the story, mentioning positives, followed by the negatives. We all make mistakes, but a little nice goes a long way.
When selecting betas for your manuscript, selecting a few readers is wise. You may write both short stories and novels and wish to have betas who may prefer one or the other. Also, if you are a prolific writer, you may want to rotate your betas.
One thing as a writer that you do need to remember is not to confuse yourself with too many opinions. It could take time to find the right beta who communicates well and understands your work. Sorting out the opinions of several people can complicate your corrections, especially if the betas differ in the things they like and don’t like about your work.
When people are offering their services for free, as most beta readers do, the outcomes are not always what you hope. The good thing is that the vast majority of beta readers are doing it for the pleasure of reading new stories and helping authors and are responsible.
This beta reader checklist is from Goodreads Community Forum and is quite comprehensive. https://www.geads.com/topioodrc/show/18274464-beta-reader-checklist
Writers Unite! on Facebook: A list of WU! members willing to beta and the genres they prefer can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/145324212487752/permalink/1039706383049526/