By losthawken on Dec 12, 2013 at 3:36 PM
  1. losthawken

    losthawken Author J. Aurel Guay Role Play Moderator Contributor

    May 5, 2009
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    My Take on Beta-Reading

    Discussion in 'Articles' started by losthawken, Dec 12, 2013.

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    I’ve recently discovered how invaluable good beta-readers are to good writing. It is so easy to get stuck inside your own head sometimes and miss so much in your own manuscript. I know that when I re-read my own work, my mind barely skims what Iactually wrote and fills in what I think I wrote, making it difficult to spot errors.

    Beta-readers are the key to solving this problem.

    By beta-reader I do not, however, mean your Mom. I love my Mom, she is great. But, she is not a writer, and not a critical reader. A good beta-reader is someone who will take the time to read your story and tell you what is wrong with it, point out the flaws, and discuss the ‘market appeal’ of your work.

    In my limited experience I’ve found three basic types of beta-reader, each of which is useful at a different stage of writing. I call them: Generalists, Shredders, and SpaGsters.

    Before going into each of these I want to note that we are all at a different level of writing skill and proficiency, and that it is good to have beta-readers from levels both above and below your own (perceived) level. While experienced writers may be better able to communicate the flaws in your story, it is easy for them to get caught up in the technical details and writing rules, that actual readers care less about. Less experienced writers may not be as technical but can provide a valuable view from outside the writing bubble, where most of your audience lies. Don’t turn down any beta-reader. Each set of eyes brings a fresh and valuable perspective, your job as the author is not to avoid poor critiques, but to identify them, evaluate them, and glean something useful from them regardless.

    ‘Generalists’ are most valuable at the beginning of your story. Akin to the content editor you will meet once you get your manuscript accepted, these are the people you send your first draft too, because they will likely overlook, the rotten grammar and passive tense, and give you feedback on their general impression of the story. They typically respond in a few paragraphs about what they liked or didn’t like about the plot, themes, or concepts of the story. This kind of advice gives you direction in the beginning to make your story marketable and interesting to a broader audience. Later in the writing process Generalists tend to be less help because their suggestions, if followed, require re-writes and additions to sections you have already spent hours honing to perfection. Better to make use of them early.

    ‘Shredders’ are the most valuable and most difficult to find. A good Shredder will go through your story piece by piece and let you know how it worked in the big picture and what it communicated to them. Shredders are valuable at most any stage, but are most helpful once you’ve got the plot nailed down and need to make sure every sentence works to strengthen and progress it. Shredders tend to be aspiring authors working to get their own writing published, and they tend to look for other’s to shred their work in return. Shred and shred alike.

    SpaGsters are the Spelling and Grammar kings/queens that you need to fine tune your work once you get the raw content down. You can identify these beta-readers right away because they will skip over the plot holes and focus on your crappy punctuation and sentence structure. Be careful with them though, the fastest way to lose a Spagster is to send them an early draft that you haven’t gone over for spelling and grammar yourself. No one wants to fix all your grammar for you, but it is a fun challenge to find the more subtle flaws in an already well written work.

    Most of all, it is important to be clear with your beta-readers what stage in the process your story is at, and what types of critique are most valuable to you at the moment. Remember that your beta-readers are volunteers, and that the best way to repay them is with quality beta-reading in return. To that end, know what kind of beta-reader you are and let your writing friends know how you can best help them.

    I enjoy beta-reading almost as much as I enjoy writing, and it has been an invaluable support to me as an aspiring author. I would consider myself a 'Generalist'/'Shredder' according to our discussion here. Do some networking and find your own beta-readers, you’ll be surprised how willing other authors are to read and support your work!


Discussion in 'Articles' started by losthawken, Dec 12, 2013.

    1. Wreybies
      This has been informative, Hawk. :)
      losthawken likes this.
    2. peachalulu
      Good article, Losthawk.
      Makes me want to start looking for a beta reader.
      Wreybies likes this.
    3. Wreybies
      Best of luck, @peachalulu. :) I too would love to find one. But I have to admit that the idea of a beta-reader, just thinking about my WIP in someone else's hands makes me feel very naked, all my funny looking bits exposed. There's a subject unto itself to tackle, aye? :oops:
      photoann and peachalulu like this.
    4. losthawken
      Aye, but its worth it :) And its not nearly as painful as you might think. I personally get really charged up by a good critical review!

      This article was more focused on short stories, for your novel manuscripts you will of course want to send smaller pieces to all but your most committed beta-readers.
    5. A.M.P.
      I used to beta read a long time ago.

      It's very time consuming because of the reading, the bolding, the commenting, the reasoning... so much red...

      I think I'd be a bit of SpaGster and Shredder.
      I find the things that work or don't, I find the structure/spelling mistakes, and give examples of how it should sound or how else it could be to be better/make more sense/etc.
      Keitsumah likes this.
    6. jannert
      Great article. What you say about every single beta reader being valuable is so true. They can help you identify your target audience, no matter how they react.

      People who can't get into the subject matter of your story at all (when many other people have done) or people who want it to be a different genre of story, people who don't like your style—these people are not your target audience. Of course you can take what they say to heart, if they actually offer concrete suggestions, but it's important to realise that not everybody's opinion needs to be acted upon.

      The best beta readers are people who delve deeply into your story, and are willing to suggest changes that will improve the story YOU are telling. They will point out where things don't work, and maybe even (if you're lucky) come up with suggestions as to how to make these bits work better. These folk are gold. Cherish them!

      Shredders can be helpful, but ONLY if they've read your entire story first, before they start shredding.

      There is nothing more annoying (or less helpful) than somebody who starts reading by tearing each sentence to bits, deciding what needs to be kept and what needs throwing away before they have a clue where the story is going. Perhaps a spurious, but noticeable detail you've included WILL matter later on, even if the reader can't see its use immediately. That sort of thing. I try to make a point NEVER to offer a critique until I've read the entire story through once. That way I know what the writer is trying to do, and am better placed to offer help.

      It's important to remember, as a beta reader, that you're not a reviewer. You are actually trying to help the writer make the story better, not just pronouncing judgement upon it.

      Spelling/grammar checkers are useful at any time, really. But I do think it's important for a writer to do their best to eliminate errors BEFORE handing their MS to a beta reader. It's just courtesy. Like cleaning up the kitchen for the next guy...
      losthawken likes this.
    7. Keitsumah
      I am the same lol -I pretty much just point out everything i see regardless of how small it is just so you can get rid of the problem to begin with (in regards to spelling or grammar errors).
    8. DrWhozit
      My audience doesn't lie, it resides in its truth ;)

      I usually seek out the generalist prior to that thorough, final edit. Although it's tough to be objective toward one's own writing, there are so many cyber-tools available now, that shredding and SPAGing are easier for the DIY guy. What I look for from a beta reader is how the general audience will react to the work as a whole, so I'd likely never hand it out in entirety for a beta read, paid or otherwise, till I felt confident I can first pay the copyright office because the pre-publishing changes would be so subtle. I'd rather have a protected "trunk novel" than a plagiarized work of perfection. It's enough to let someone read a chapter or two if not two different people reading different chapters ahead of the copyright office. If emailed, that is enough of itself to hold up in court if the beta reader turns out to be so unethical.
    9. shadowwalker
      Why pay for copyright registration before the ms is complete (ie, ready for pub)? If it's not published, there's no point in registering it. And, of course, if you're going for trade publishing, you wouldn't bother anyway as the publisher handles that. Last, if you can't trust your beta not to steal from you, why would you work with them in the first place?

      In general... I've never gotten a whole ms to beta, nor have I ever sent one out, only a chapter at a time. If something isn't working, there's no point in either party continuing until that issue has been addressed. (And I always have my ms beta'd as it's being written, for the same reason.) I've also beta'd for genres I didn't care for, but with the understanding that things I might mention could be standard issue for those genres.

      The big thing is just to keep communications open - know what writer/beta wants and needs and expects.
    10. DrWhozit
      If it's in the final stages of refinement at the DIY level, it's worth the $35 to have it registered. Usually I know if I have something worthwhile. If it isn't drudgery to edit it 4 or 5 times on my own, meaning I am actually waiting to get to the next paragraph as I read it, then it's a good bet the reader will be doing the same. In fact, if it's at the point where I'm comfortable enough to post it in a critiquing forum, it's approaching the readiness of a test flight.

      As for trusting a beta reader, I'm 90% agreeing with Plato while 10% with Aristotle. Most people are pretty good Joes. Still, if there's a bad creamer to be had in the restaurant, it seems to find my cup of joe.
    11. jannert
      One thing beta readers do VERY well, if they're good at it, is catch multiple uses of the same word.

      Writers are always getting told to use strong words, particularly strong verbs. However, the downside to this is: any strong verb stands out. If you use it again anywhere NEAR your first usage of it, it will jump out and strangle the reader's attention.

      Sometimes, if it's a particularly strong word, it should only get used once in an entire novel.

      Any time a beta reader notices the same word being used too often, it's great help if they point it out. And then comes the fun. Find another way to say that, without losing nuance of meaning. Urkkk. Good Writing is Easy? Not...
    12. Berkwin
      Thank you, makes me want to be a beta reader~
    13. Christine Ralston
      Christine Ralston
      Thanks for sharing this. I would love to find someone willing to do a beta-read exchange with me. I'm at the point where it's difficult for me to realize what I need to do next to bring my science fiction novel to the next level. It needs a fresh set of eyes.
    14. VioletScented
      Christine, I've got a fantasy novel in need of a fresh pair of eyes too. Wanna discuss exchanging stories? I assume we can PM each other here somehow?

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