Beta Reader Group discussion

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Writing Advice & Discussion > So I would love to be a beta reader, but...

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message 1: by Vee (new)

Vee Taylor-Gunn | 6 comments So I would love to be a beta reader, but I have very high standards when I read, and am worried I would be much too critical.
Sorry if this seems like a first world problem!

I really want to help people out but am unsure how to reconcile this with my overly-perfectionist streak.

Any experiences or advice to offer?


message 2: by Rachel (new)

Rachel | 14 comments Overly perfectionist is great when it comes to proofreading and word choice (personally). But as far as advice goes, I'd recommend doing a bit of research on what being a beta reader means in an overall sense. It seems like you are very aware of yourself, so I'd recommend being honest with that and including a disclaimer. I always tell my clients that I am a very analytical and detail-orientated person so my critiques will reflect that.

I also tell all my authors that they can take or leave any feedback I give. It's their choice on how to react to my critique. I may see things one way but I may have interpreted a theme or sentence/scene the wrong way. That in and of itself may result in a different kind of revision.

Also, in critiquing, I always look to see what the author is trying say and how that relates with what is on the page. When phrasing comments, never react harshly. Sometimes phrasing things in a critical manner can be off-putting. Not to say that others won't give harsh feedback. Criticism is just better swallowed when given with an explanation of why or with some sort of context to explain the reasoning behind it.

Lastly - compliment sandwich. I hear from authors all the time about how some readers will just identify the negative or things that need work. Then they change things around, only to find the readers asking where the good scenes went. So, my advice there is to tell what works as well as what doesn't.

I hope that helps! But honestly, if you have specific questions or anything, message me and I'll be happy to give advice or suggestions. I've been beta reading and editing for quite some time now.


message 3: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Kelly | 12 comments I hope you read my work someday.


message 4: by Ysobel (new)

Ysobel (ysobelblack) | 7 comments Hi Vee,

As an author I love it when a beta reader isn't afraid to tell me how it is. I want to know if something doesn't work, and I'd much rather hear about it from a beta reader that's not afraid to speak up than a reader that has purchased the book. I wish I could say beta readers got to read my best work, but the truth is they help me write my best work.

Hopefully the author you are reading for wants you to read their story and be honest about what you think rather than coddle them. That said, there are going to be people you read for that have thick skin and others that don't, so at times more tact may be required than others. :)

My advice is to jump and read some stories. You could just mention to the authors about your perfectionist streak beforehand, if you are really worried about it. Good beta readers are hard to come by regularly, and good authors appreciate them. I think critiquing is like writing, and the only way to get better at it is to practice.


message 5: by Martha (new)

Martha | 72 comments If you want to give beta reading a try, mention what genres interest you. You'll probably get lots of offers. :)


message 6: by Keith (new)

Keith Oxenrider (mitakeet) | 1166 comments I think if you're up front when you begin the discussion you'll be OK, insofar as author expectations. While some authors use beta readers in ways that really should be called alpha or developmental editing, there are authors out there with works that are quite mature and they feel are already polished and no doubt would want the input of someone picky.

That being said, by it's very definition you're reading work that has yet to be published, so if every misspelled or misused word is going to pop you out of the story, then you might need to be honest with yourself and pass on being a reader. Via editing my own work, I've become fairly numb to simple misspellings, punctuation misuse and minor grammar issues and can correct/comment on them without being driven out of the story. What causes me to stumble are the larger issues and I've often had to bow out after reading a few chapters because I can't stay in the story for even a paragraph.

I do believe it's worth the investment to develop skills as a beta reader. I found I became a much better writer after being a reader and seeing my own bad habits in other people's work.


message 7: by Jessica (new)

Jessica O'Toole (jayotee) | 34 comments I agree with pretty much all of the above. I think as a writer, the betas I've had gave me a boost in a story I think I'd just rolled over with, and asked questions that made me want to answer them. Obviously, when you're neck deep into forming your own baby book, hearing that things are bad in it is hard (we're human) but once you get over that you remember that you want people to enjoy it.

Being a beta reader (or an alpha, as, to be honest, I think depending on the level of the manuscript you might end up being more alpha than beta), your brain slips into a different mode than when you've bought a published book, as it's kind of expecting you to look for things that are wrong (at least mine does). And I think this is the training you need to give yourself. How to not dwell on those things, but highlight them and keep moving on.

I'm quite a delver, I'll raise points on the way (I find this more useful for myself, too), but I try not to be repetitive (unless there is a theme that is causing vast confusion the whole way through). I tend to leave summaries at the end of each, or every couple of chapters to round up how I feel about the story. Sometimes it's not necessary. When I laugh out loud I'll comment that I have. When I feel something along with the character/s I'll say - it means you're giving the writer good clues about the bits that are working.

It's the way of the world that we'll see negative things ore often, because when things are working we don't notice them, we go along. But as an author, when they're pointed out and I can see them in my own work--or when I point them out in other people's work and then can see them in my own work!--it can only be for the common good.

We should be able to help each other out honestly (and directly), and if we ask for help expect that it's going to be beneficial, but might hurt a bit. I think most people on here can tell genuine critiquing from downright nastiness.

Talk to your writers first, I doubt any one of them would want less detail than more, so your thoroughness is probably going to more appreciated than not. And, as above from other commenters, the writer can always ignore things (as you might point out things that are going to be answered later on that they already know).

Maybe try a novella first, see how you go. And it's also quite good to beta a genre you don't always read, as if you find yourself enjoying it and your not a genre fan, that's also a good sign for the writer, and you're less likely to get bogged down by expected tropes.

Complex stuff this, ain't it? :)


message 8: by Alex (new)

Alex | 128 comments Most writers write what they read, that is, the story they hammer out will reflect the genre and style of the books they like. If the books you like and respect align with the writer's work, your perfectionism is for the good. You know where the writer is trying to go, and that will determine how syntax, diction and even punctuation should be critiqued, not to mention character and plot. Most times before I contact a beta reader, I check out the books they have read and reviewed.


message 9: by Sharon (new)

Sharon Umbaugh | 382 comments Just as important as the advice and reaction you giver the writer is the method of delivery. Be gentle.
The Writer's Reader: https://thewritersreader.wordpress.com


message 10: by Tiffany (new)

Tiffany (turnerharrison) | 11 comments Have you beta read before? You're approach might be welcomed by someone in need of a BR. Perhaps you're being over-critical of yourself. Dip your toe in the pool and see how your collective criticism is revealed.


message 11: by Mysti (new)

Mysti Griffith | 6 comments I'm with everybody else here... I think more people are going to be appreciative of good, honest feedback than are going to be anxious about it. Don't neg them to death... make sure you point out what they've done well, too, or it does get a little demoralizing. I've had beta readers where it was pulling teeth to get any real feedback from them, and I've had beta readers, like you, who pointed out every failed comma and typo in addition to concerns about pacing and character development. I miss the ones who gave more detail.


message 12: by Sharon (new)

Sharon Umbaugh | 382 comments As a beta reader and editor, I find these services may overlap. If I'm beta reading a manuscript for content issues (flow, pace, structure etc.) and I stumble upon a problem with dialogue, sentence structure or even punctuation, why wouldn't I point this out to the writer?

Sharon
https://thewritersreader.wordpress.com


message 13: by David (new)

David Matteri | 33 comments Whenever I work as a beta reader, I always remind the author that most of what I do is offer suggestions and recommendations to revise big picture ideas (i.e. character motivation, setting, inconsistencies with plot, and so on). My advice is to do your best to keep your criticism constructive and focused on the author's needs. Communication is also vital if you want to maintain a healthy relationship with the author. Hope that helps!


message 14: by Marco (new)

Marco Ocram | 56 comments Good evening, Vee. (Doffs hat courteously.)

I, too, suffer from an intolerance of poorly edited prose, and have doled out one-star reviews to many a deserving best-seller. You might wish to join my mushrooming pressure group, CAMEL- the Campaign for More Editing in Literature- which, since its launch less than two years ago, has already attracted a member.


It is impossible for a beta-reader to be too critical. The important point is to develop a good bedside manner, so you can deliver the bad news in a comforting way that doesn't spook the patient. You know the sort of thing..."The complete misapplication of punctuation in your draft is refreshingly avant garde, but I wonder if readers are truly ready for something so unconventional."


I would echo, underline, reiterate, reinforce, highlight and emphasise Keith's point that beta-reading is great development exercise for the reader, since the task of explaining your reservations about a work forces you to clarify your thinking about them.


Beta reading is also a great way to meet people online.


Best wishes.


message 15: by Amie (new)

Amie Ali (amieali) | 3 comments You're an alpha and it sounds like you'll be appreciated by those who look for this kind of reader. It's a valuable trait, just make sure your brutal honesty is for the sake of honesty and not just to be brutal ;)


message 16: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 76 comments Maybe only offer to beta 'highly polished/ready for publication' stories. I do find that when I beta, I rip things apart because it's in a rougher stage, but just try to focus on the work and not the person, offer good suggestions on how to fix the problems... you won't know if you hate it until you try it.


message 17: by Tito (new)

Tito Athano (bobspringett) | 144 comments I think the perfect Beta-reader would be the love child of David (message 13) and Marco (message 14). The aim of Beta-reading should be to improve the finished product, not to stroke egos.

This can't be done without a degree of ruthlessness. "Good enough" is a comment I am loathe to make; it should be "as good as it can get". "Good enough" is only good enough if you're talking about character development of minor players in a YA adventure novel (or the hero in a Matthew Reilly best seller, and I think Marko might agree with me there).

But the ruthlessness must never be destructive. It must be a full-hearted attempt to improve the work, not diminish it. I recall one Christian writer speaking of the Crucifixion as a show of 'God's ruthless love, a love that will do whatever it takes'.

I try to take that attitude into my Beta-reading. So far (about thirty novels) no writer has screamed at me, most politely thank me and I never hear from them again, and some have opened a genuine dialogue as we wrestle through the problems and discuss options.

Of the thirty books I've Beta-read in the last two years, two have since been published. Both were by writers who went into dialogue with me, one even listing me on his acknowledgements page. I'm hopeful for a couple more in the near future.


message 18: by Kech (new)

Kech | 8 comments I've only Beta-read a few stories so far, but I've often helped friends that write short stories. I find it helps to do two separate sections of my "Beta Notes". In one, I get to note the nit-picky things, like grammatical errors. In the other, I follow something similar to the Beta checklist posted in one of the threads of the "general" discussion board for this group. Then I get the mental satisfaction of noting any of the critical things (and can then let them go so I can continue to enjoy the story) but the writers can easily choose to ignore that section if they weren't ready for that in-depth of feedback.

And I will agree with Nat that maybe you start with something listed as "already edited" or "just needs final reads" so that you can work your way into the rougher writing a little at a time.


message 19: by Rod (new)

Rod Baker | 108 comments Vee wrote: "So I would love to be a beta reader, but I have very high standards when I read, and am worried I would be much too critical.
Sorry if this seems like a first world problem!

I really want to help ..."


Don't worry about it, the whole point of beta reading is to find fault, just remember to also not what you like as well!


message 20: by Carol (new)

Carol Bisig (carolintallahasseecom) | 11 comments I too am critical or encouraged, depending on what you need.


message 21: by John (new)

John Parten | 7 comments Hi Rod,

Please take a quick look at the three page document at the link below ...

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1mRep...

... this contains, temporary artwork, synopsis and prolog for my first book "Medieval GWennic and other Creatures of Corfe"

I see you prefer non-fiction form your website.
The genre of this book is historical/fantasy/fiction. It is aimed at the young adult reader, based in and around Corfe Castle, Dorset, England.
So this may or may not interest you.

The book is approximately 91K words and this is the 7th revision.

If the synopsis and prologue are of interest then please email me on "john.parten@ntlworld.com"
I am looking for more in depth critiques ...

... kind regards
... John Parten


message 22: by Pax (new)

Pax Sinclair | 6 comments Critical eye is good. The way you deliver your criticism is the key. If you give solid reasons why something isn’t working, it helps a lot. It also helps if you include what is working well.

Remember you’re probably one of many beta readers the author is working with. When I’m reading my beta reads, for one of my stories, I consider everything the reader has listed because it had to be important if they’ve mentioned it in the review. I also compare them with other reviews I’ve received. I make a note of issues that the reviewers are all mentioning. I’m also grateful when they see something I’ve overlooked.

Hope this helps,
Pax


message 23: by Shay (new)

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message 24: by Carrie (new)

Carrie (carriehamilton888) | 7 comments Vee wrote: "So I would love to be a beta reader, but I have very high standards when I read, and am worried I would be much too critical.
Sorry if this seems like a first world problem!

I really want to help ..."


Vee wrote: "So I would love to be a beta reader, but I have very high standards when I read, and am worried I would be much too critical.
Sorry if this seems like a first world problem!

I really want to help ..."


I have a novel that has been revised over and over and over again, and at this point needs a fresh set of eyes. I have allowed two people to read it, and they genuinely seemed very impressed. I haven't asked more people that I know to be beta readers because the subject matter is very dark. Would you be interested in taking a read? I am teacher, and this past year I became a doctoral candidate. Not bragging, just wanted you to have a little confidence in the fact that my book is probably readable! I have very thick skin, and instead of being upset by criticism or suggestions I would welcome them. Without giving too much away, the main character, Emma Gadsden, is an abuse survivor. I feel a responsibility to other survivors to “get it right.” I am including a brief description of The Lonely Side of Possession. Again, I would love to work with you.
Emma Gadsden knows exactly how she appears to the world. She’s simply a worn-out cliché: exquisite, well-bred, spoiled, and tediously two-dimensional. Her greatest hardship having been choosing between which billionaire brother to marry: the older, who called her princess and loved her unconditionally or the younger, who had been the magic in her story from the moment she understood the word fairytale. To the casual observer her life was unfolding with sad predictability. There had been a hasty marriage, two children, of course one boy and one girl, eventual betrayal and a looming divorce. A tale as old as time.
What the world would never see, never understand is that the Emma Gadsden they thought they knew did not exist. In fact, she had never existed. For in the beginning, hidden in the shadows was a secret. A third love, one as unforeseeable as it was unforgivable.


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