A Good Beta

This week I read an excellent post by Krista Walsh about reading Betas. In fact it was so good, that I’m going to steal it as a topic so that I can talk about it. Thanks for that, Krista.

For those of you who aren’t writers and don’t know what a Beta is, it’s when people read a pre-published copy of your story so that they can find any problems. It’s basically the writer’s version of bug testing.

For a variety of reasons, Beta reading is one of the most important aspects of being a writer. It’s really the first time people will judge if the story works. Are the characters well written? Is the pacing well done? Are there any serious errors?  Is the formatting okay? And most importantly, is it any good?

Good Beta readers are like gold-dust. Not only do they take time out of their lives so they can read your work, but they also give excellent advice and are there when you need to bounce ideas off someone.

I have never read about any writer, no matter how successful, that doesn’t use Beta readers. So if you’re a writer and you think your book is finished, but you don’t have any Beta readers. Get some. Soon.

There is another side to having people read your work. And that’s you reading others.  Being a Beta reader, or giving critiques, will improve your writing in ways you can’t do any other way. You will spot flaws and errors in other people’s work that you block out when reading your own. It will improve your writing in ways you can’t understand until you start doing it. But there are rules to giving a good Beta.

1. Be Polite – You might not like what you read. And you should be honest about the problems you’ve found, but be pleasant about it. Tearing the story apart will do nothing for you in the long run, except upset someone and cause you to look like a dick.

2. Don’t re-write it – You can give ideas, you can suggest what you might do. But don’t re-write huge chunks of their book. It is, after all, their book. And their writing style. And if you decide to write entire chapters in your style, your sort of missing the point.

3. Give a critique – Saying you loved it is great. Only saying you loved it, is pointless. You need to explain what you did and didn’t like. And there’s always things you won’t like. Explain what they are, don’t just leave your critique as short sentences as it won’t help anyone.

4. Ask when they want it back – It seems obvious, but you know, people forget to  do it.

5. Get it back to them on time – Again, seems obvious, and it’s something I’m guilty of doing, but it’s also something I’m trying to make sure I stop.

And last, but not least.

6.  Enjoy yourself. You’re reading the work of someone before it anyone else sees it. That is probably one of the most incredible things about being a Beta reader. You should probably enjoy that. And if you don’t, then there’s no hope for you.

There are probably other rules, but they’re the 6 I try to stick to.

So, here’s to the Beta readers. Long may they make us better writers.

I could have chosen a picture of a glass of Scotch, or one with Christina Hendricks holding a glass of Scotch. If I’m honest, it wasn’t a difficult choice.

Posted on June 7, 2012, in Writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I am a beta reader and I love the challenge. I agree with your list, especially about being polite and not rewriting the story. I wish I could do more often, but I have to be careful that I do not over commit myself.

  2. I haven’t done any beta reading (just the crits in the OWG), but really good tips here and good explanation of what a beta is there for :) I haven’t got any set up for my WiP just yet because I haven’t finished it, but when I do I’ll point them here to see what it is I’ll be after from them.

    • I’m glad the post was useful. Beta reading is very important, for writer and reader. I hope you find some good people to read your WiP so it’s a helpful process.

  3. You’re right about the worth of good Betas. Now you need to create the list for the writers being read. Things like, be clear about what you want, wear your armor and don’t take things personally, etc. etc. It’s definitely a two way street. :)

  4. Solid advice. Steve. Being a beta reader is a great way to learn the craft, and make some great friends along the way, but if it’s done well it’s not for the faint-of-heart…

  5. Thanks for the list and advice, Steve, I did not use a Beta for my first novel, mostly because I was such a newbie and had no idea; however, I will definitely get some for the book I’m working on now. Thanks for sharing.

    -Jimmy

  6. The only thing I don’t get beta read is stuff I’m working on for my agent…she’s got the ultimate last word on changes anyway so I don’t really see the point…at least in the later stages of edits and rewrite…early on, oh yes, betas are vital.

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