1. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Jun 13, 2010
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    Queens, NY

    Beta Reading Ideas for Some Rules of the Road

    Discussion in 'Collaboration' started by EdFromNY, Oct 15, 2014.

    I've had a total of 8 beta-readers for my novel-in-progress. 5 of them were people I asked (although one of those gave some very strong hints of interest beforehand), while 3 asked me. One gave me so much helpful advice, she was practically an editor. Two others gave some helpful advice and support, and one other made a single observation that proved extremely helpful. One asked for a synopsis and gave me a critique of that rather than the novel itself. One got part way into it and then told me he just wouldn't have time. And the other two, I've not heard from since I sent it. Of the 8, 6 were members of this forum.

    All in all, it has been a positive experience, and I've been giving some thought to how I would approach this the next time around to make it better, both for me and my beta-readers. So, herewith are my suggestions for some Beta-Reading Rules of the Road - both for the writer and the readers.

    For the Writer

    1. Make sure the work is as polished as you can make it. That means doing some side-by-side comparisons with published works of similar type/genre. "Polished" doesn't just mean free of SPaG errors. Look for other common writing issues (especially unpublished writers) - do all scenes orient the reader as to time, place and POV character? Is the reader given all the details (s)he needs to understand what is going on? Is there any "head hopping"? Is there any "filtering"? Too much incidental dialogue or description? The more of these issues you catch, the less work your betas will have to do.

    2. Make it clear what you expect of the beta. General impressions? Specific criticism? Helpful hints or detailed examples?

    3. As another member of this forum suggested nearby, get a mix of readers and writers. Readers will likely give you more general overviews while writers will likely be specific in what needs fixing.

    4. Make sure your beta is familiar with your genre and likes it (or at least is interested in reading it). I strongly suspect that at least some of the problem with my non-responding betas may have been that they were not well-read in historical fiction and probably didn't care for it.

    5. Establish a plan and tentative timeline. How long do they think it will take to read it through? Will they read it in its entirety and then go back to re-read and make comments, or scribble in the margin as they go? Don't try to dictate based on what you think best - the beta is doing you a solid, so let him/her work in his/her own way. Will the beta make initial impression comments and more detail later, or just a single write-up? Make sure you both agree on when this should take place.

    6. Don't go postal if the beta takes longer than expected, even if you have an established timeline. The beta is doing you a solid. I'd say if you haven't heard from the beta a week after you had both agreed you would, a gentle e-mail nudge is appropriate.

    7. Don't get defensive with any suggestions the beta makes. You are the writer, so whether you take the suggestion is entirely up to you. But you are asking for help, so consider the advice when offered and if you do turn it down, make sure you have a good reason. Twice, I was offered advice that I felt was wrong. I thought the matter through and concluded, after careful and sober reflection, that I had good reasons for keeping it the way I'd written it. I later wound up making both changes.

    For the Reader

    1. Make sure you understand what you are taking on - if, for example, you are working constant late hours, coaching your child's sports teams, working in a political campaign and volunteering at a local hospital, you probably won't have time to critique a 100,000 word novel. At least, not before St. Swiggins' Day. Make sure it is something you really want to read.

    2. If the writer doesn't specify a plan, timeline and expectations, make sure you do.

    3. If something comes up and the read is going to take you longer than you thought; if you get two chapters in and suddenly realize it's not your thing; if you just plain decide you don't want to do this after all...send the e-mail, PM, text, whatever. Nothing elaborate, just let the writer know that you either won't be able to finish. Or finishing will take longer than expected (and does the writer still want you to continue under the new conditions). The writer is already likely in a state of heightened anxiety waiting to see what you think of his/her masterpiece. Continued silence is agony.

    4. Don't edit (except possibly the odd SPaG issue). Point out issues. If you make suggestions, make them in a general way and let the writer figure it out (subject to the plan you both already have).

    5. Don't take it personally if the writer tells you that your suggestion is not being taken. You may very well be right, and (s)he wrong. But it's his/her writing, and (s)he will succeed or fail on it. Besides, as noted in Item #7 above, (s)he may very well take your suggestion upon further review.

    6. Don't be afraid to say no at the outset if you don't think you can do the job (or that you want to).

    I'm sure others will have suggestions I've not considered. All are welcome.
    Nicoel, ToDandy, tonguetied and 2 others like this.
  2. shadowwalker

    shadowwalker Contributor Contributor

    Jul 27, 2011
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    I would amend #1 - I've often beta'd drafts which needed work yet. But I knew that going in, and the writer told me what they were looking for (ie, "I know this part is rough, but does it seem to be going in the right direction?"). I also prefer to get 1-3 chapters at a time - that gives the writer a chance to make changes/corrections that could make my remarks in - indeed, even reading - later chapters irrelevant (and yes, that's happened).

    Basically, just communicate with each other so there are no misunderstandings or wasted effort on either side.
    EdFromNY likes this.

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