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.