Writing Discussion

Tips for Beta Readers

Last week we had tips for writers who want a beta read, but if you would like one, really the best way thing to learn how it works is to be a beta reader. I’ve been doing a rash of beta reading lately, and each one has been completely different in its demands.

Tips for Beta Readers

Don’t be evil, be helpful. Ripping a story to shreds is not the same as reading critically. Your job is to help the writer make the story as good as he/she can, not to destroy their ego.

Do not rewrite the story. This can be particularly tempting, but remember that this is not your story nor your voice. The story may not be written in a style you enjoy, but it’s impossible every story is, so resist that urge.

Set personal taste aside. Don’t focus on whether you think the story is good or bad. It’s better to focus on what parts of the story are not clear, which parts bothered you, or what parts didn’t work for you, and try to figure out why. You’re doing this to help the writer.

Focus on what the writer wants. If the writer sent you reading guidelines, stick to them. If not, you can always ask. If you still don’t get a clear answer, then just do your best.

The big things are usually more important than the smaller ones. Grammar is last on the list (if at all). It’s more important to focus on the plot, and whether it makes sense, the characters, and if they are believable, and the overall impression of a story. Did it do what it was trying to do, or did it fall short?

Remember to point out the good things. Sometimes a brilliant turn of phrase might catch your eye, or the writer has a great way of closing off chapters, or is gifted at dialogue. Point the good parts out so that the writer knows not just what to fix, but what to keep on doing.

Be open to questions once you’ve completed your beta read. Sometimes a writer will want more clarification, and this can be just as helpful as the initial beta read. Make sure to keep an open dialogue.

Learn from it. If you’re a beta reader, you’re probably also a writer. There’s something to take from every story. You may realize you’re guilty of some of the errors you’ve caught in your beta read, or maybe realize there are some things you could do differently or better in your own writing.

Do you have any other tips to share?

14 Comments

  1. This is such a fantastic list. I *try* to do all those things — as you hopefully know, lol — but beta reading is no easy task. Just like writing, beta readers may find themselves slipping up in some areas, or focusing too much in others. A comprehensive list like this might be a good thing to keep handy while reading.

  2. I appreciate the heck out of how open to questions you’ve been, TS. And I agree on suppressing the temptation to rewrite or alter the characters and plot. When I beta read, my job is to assist the author with his or her work. All I do is in the service of recognizing and improving their goals.

  3. Great stuff, Teresa. I have three beta readers reading a 2nd draft right now, and they were each a little weary of how far to take it. I have very thick skin from working in corporate sales, so I asked them to be as brutally honest, but I did ask them to keep in mind the genre and my audience.

    I need more beta readers to read my 3rd draft, once I get that done – but I need MALE betas, as the only ones that stepped up to volunteered have been ladies. Nothing against women, but my book is really more for male readers. Any suggestions???

    1. That’s a tough one. You could try asking some of the people that frequent your blog, or whose blogs you frequent. That’s how I found most of mine. Other than that, I understand your dilemma. I had the opposite one! 🙂

  4. Hmmm…It looks like I can rest easy knowing you’re not going to be evil to my story. 🙂

    I like what you said…Encourage the good, don’t just punish the bad. I believe this is so important. The same can be true for a lot. Some people probably excel better with positive reinforcement than with negative retaliation.

    Also, do not rewrite the story—A great tip!!! Yes, we all have our own voices. It’s a shame to crowd out someone’s voice just because you can “word it better.” 🙂

    Keep up the good work! 🙂

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