Becoming a Better Beta Reader

As I wrote in Monday’s blog post, there’s almost no escaping the fact that, if you want good beta readers, you’re going to have to do some beta reading. If you’re like me, you’re going to want to become the best darn beta reader that you can be.

Here’s my advice on how to do so:

1. Become a better writer – When I started critiquing other authors, literally the only things I could comment on were grammar, style, and technique. As my ability has increased, so has my range of comments. Not only can I now give much better advice on items, I can make worthwhile observations on story telling.
2. Remember the key question, “Does it work?” – The author doesn’t need to know whether or not they broke a rule. The author needs to know if what they did works. Focus your comments on answering that question.
3. Until you develop a relationship with the beta readee, follow the Golden Rule – Your best bet is the beta read as you want to be beta read. For example, I’ve heard that some people think it’s a bad idea to offer suggestions on how to fix problems. Personally, I love it when my beta readers offer a fix for micro problems such as proposing a different wording. On the other hand, I hate it when a beta reader tries to change my plot. Until I’ve developed an understanding of the wants and needs of the person I’m beta reading, I’m going to make micro suggestions but not macro ones because that’s what I like. If I find the person hates micro suggestions, I’ll stop making them. Or, if I find out he wants me to propose macro fixes, I’ll certainly do so.
4. Know your limitations – Understand where you’re weak. If you don’t know comma rules very well, you probably shouldn’t make comments about commas.
5. Know your pet peeves – Realize that some things are going to bother you more than they would bother the average reader. With these items, make sure you let the author know it’s probably more of a personal issue than a huge problem.
6. Try to relate the degree of a problem – This advice goes with the point just above. Provide some clue as to whether you think the issue is a major problem or a tiny hiccup.
7. Accentuate the positive? – My goal when beta reading is to help make you a better writer. Period. It’s not to help your self image. If your writing sucks, I want to convey to you that you need to improve, not make you think that you’re ready to foist your crap on the world. On the other hand, telling an author what worked particularly well is just as valuable information as telling him what he did wrong. So, if the author succeeded at something, let him know about it but don’t search for something positive to say simply to make him feel better.
8. Don’t be afraid to say, “No.” – Recently, one of my regulars sent me something that just didn’t do it for me. The author had tried to write a piece using a unique voice. My focus in writing pretty much follows along the lines of creating popular fiction. I simply have no basis for helping someone with creating that kind of voice and, frankly, don’t enjoy reading it. Because I didn’t feel I could be of help, I politely declined to continue beta reading that piece.

Do you have any further tips? Feel free to add in the comments section.

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