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  • Patricia Hollett

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What’s Expected of a Beta Reader?

This week I asked some authors/writers I know what they expect from a beta reader and what they want a beta reader to look for. I mean really… what’s important to them and what should a beta reader provide. Here is some great feedback from them on what’s important. I hope it’s as helpful to you as it has been to me.

Julie Particka-Klumb, aka Seleste deLaney, (Author of: ‘Gunshy’, ‘Pretty Souls’,‘Stockings and Suspenders’, ‘Badlands’, ‘Yule Be Mine’, ‘Forever Summer’, ‘Yes, Alana, There is a Santa Claus’, ‘The Ghost of Vampire Present-Blood Kissed #2’, ‘Of Course I Try-Blood Kissed #1’. Her website is http://selestedelaney.blogspot.com/

I have a few beta readers and each one gives me something different.

I have one who is very good at pointing out big picture issues–where I’ve slacked off and left plot holes, no matter how small.

I have one who points out every time I make her laugh or swoon. Since I write romance or strong romantic elements and I like to know if my jokes work, this is invaluable.

All of the people who read for me point out typos, awkward spots, or where I confuse them (as well as continuity issues), but those other things are what make those my two constant betas so important to me.

Honesty is the key.

Angela Addams (Author of: ‘Ghost Bride’, ‘The Temptress’, ‘Assassin’. Her website is http://www.blog.angelaaddams.com/

I value beta readers so much. What I need from my beta readers is honesty –even if it’s brutal, constructive criticism –highlighting grammar, spelling, things that just don’t make sense or make them say, “Whaaaat?” –what I really love, believe it or not, is the sarcasm that my beta readers use when leaving comments –sometimes the comments are so funny that I laugh out loud when reading them –those are the best kind of beta readers and I’m lucky enough to have found quite a few.

Julie Campbell, aka J.A.Campbell, (Author of: ’Senior Year Bites’, Doc Vampire Hunting Dog’, ‘Into the West Series’, ‘Arabian Dreams’. Her website is http://writerjacampbell.wordpress.com/

Hmm, okay, what’s important to me…

I really want my beta readers to tell me what is working for them and what isn’t. That is a pretty broad way of saying, point out awkward phrasing, inconsistencies, any obvious grammar or comma errors (though grammar isn’t a beta’s primary function, if you see it you might as well point it out), anything that is blatantly stupid and anything that jerks them out of the story.

They can also point out things they really like – which helps immensely too. Overall, I want to know if they: like the story, like the ending, think it would end better or start better somewhere else. Anything they think is important, it probably is. I trust my beta readers a lot.

Above all, I want them to be honest. These days I wouldn’t send something to them if I didn’t think it was good. One of my poor betas has suffered through a lot of my earlier stuff, but she still reads for me, so I apparently didn’t traumatize her too much. I think it is important that beta readers love to read and are at least familiar with the genre you write in. It also doesn’t hurt if they are writers themselves. Writers do tend to be the harshest critics.

Angela Magee (Avangeline-Mod from OWG group #3)

I think a beta reader should be a super fan who can be a super critic/critiquer. When I send it to the beta reader, the first and maybe second round of edits have been done, IMO, so I need them to find all the typos I can’t see…work out the awkward bits that I’ve put before the OWG and still don’t have quite right… And tell me when something just isn’t working. I think they should be a fan, too, because I’ve seen it from the other side. There’s a writer whom I adore as a friend, who I know can technically write, and who wouldn’t be the published author she is today if she relied on my opinion of her YA. In my opinion, your beta reader should be fully behind your project, not just editing because they’re your buddy.

C. C. Adams aka The Cat (Author of Dolls Eye) A well written story with a plot that twists and turns and keeps you wondering what will happen next. My first experience as a beta reader was for Carl, and it was a learning experience for me, which I can’t thank him enough for. Also, the pleasure of reading this remarkably well plotted out story is still fresh in my mind.

“What I look for in a beta-reader is patience, first off. Sure, I spend time cultivating and crafting my work, but that doesn’t mean that the resulting story is going to enthral everyone. Therefore, the beta gets the role of Court Taster, making sure it’s fit for general consumption. They get to stomach the whole thing from beginning to end, and sift through it with a fine-toothed comb – regardless of whether they like the story or not.

Ultimately, the beta needs a sharp and clinical eye. To me, it’s not an issue of whether a beta read takes a month or a year. The quality of work is all.”

Kelly Metz (Author of A Taste of Blood) An amazing story with a fantastic plot, which I had the privilege to do read and do a beta for her. A good story is one you remember long after reading it, and this is one story you will want to buy when it’s published.
What I look for in a beta…

Well, seeing as how I’m fairly new to the beta process, I guess what I look for in a beta is what I look for in a short crit of a scene. I like praise, really I do. I like hearing the story was good, the characters were funny. I like getting a pat on the head and cookie just as much as the next person does. The problem is that doesn’t make me a better writer. It doesn’t teach me anything, doesn’t improve the story. Tell me how to make it better.

Line edits are fine and dandy, but when the author has a solid grip on spelling and grammar, then line edits are for catching the occasional typo. Again, doesn’t teach me anything other than my brain occasionally skips over things because I know what it’s supposed to say.

What I need from a beta reader, and what I try to give someone who asks me to beta, is a third party perspective coming fresh to the story to look at it on a macro level, not micro. I know my spelling and grammar, but I don’t know if the reader gets the nuances, I have built into the story without smacking them in the face with it. (LOOK! HERE’S A MOTIVATION I’M SPELLING OUT FOR YOU! FLASHING RED ARROW!!! LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!) Are the characters staying true to themselves? Does the plot make sense? Does the plot actually resolve? Does the scene contribute to the plot or draw things out unnecessarily? Did the MC’s eye color change between chapters? Or in my case specifically, did a subplot line once intrinsic to the main plot suddenly disappear into the background of obscurity?

Which is an awful long way to say this: A beta reader will tell you a story is good or bad. A good beta reader will call you on your mistakes; tell you when the story is too close to your heart, and help you fix it. (P.S. A good beta reader will also tell you when you’re too long winded like this response.)

Danielle Wegner (Writer, beta reader for Kelley Armstrong)

When I was first approached about doing a Beta read, it was because the author had heard my complaints about another author’s inconsistencies in her series. The author (Kelley Armstrong) asked if I would read through book seven in her series and just be sure everything was in order. I have a near photographic memory for certain things, and details in books–especially books I love–is one of those things.

I now check for other things besides continuity, but that is still my main focus. Nothing irritates me more than a character’s eye colour changing, or a name, or age. Hopefully I do a good job…I keep being asked to do it again, so I must be all right!

I would like to thank Julie Particka-Klumb, Angela Addams, Angela Magee, Julie Campbell, C.C. Adams, Kelly Metz, and Danielle Wagner for sharing their expertise with me on beta reading.

Well I hope this helped provide some insight into what a beta reader should do and what writers/authors hope to gain from a beta. Yes, I know it was lengthy, but I wanted to get a good cross-section of different perspectives on the topic.

Until next time….


29 Responses

  1. Very interesting stuff! And much the same once you see it all listed out. Honesty, likes, and dislikes.

  2. Interesting read! What I’m taking away is that everyone wants honesty from a beta (which makes sense obviously hehe) and that by the time betas get their hands on the work, the typos and grammar should be working due to line edits, so they don’t need to focus on that.

    I hadn’t really put much thought into who I’d like to be a beta for my novel when it’s complete, but having a clearer picture in my head about what a beta is will definitely help me figure that out when the time comes 🙂 Thanks!

  3. I’d not really thought about having beta readers, but the more I think about it, it seems to be the way forward in improving your work and testing out what people think of you work. Thanks for the post.

  4. Thanks Tammy! It’s true…everyone wants honesty. Thanks Natalie, it does help knowing ahead of time what you want. And Pete, welcome and thanks for stopping by and have you thought of joining a writing group where you can get honest feedback and critiques? Appreciate all the comments. 🙂

  5. When I send my work to a beta reader, it’s the best I can get it. What I want from the beta is to hear back how much better it can be. Honesty, a whole lotta honesty. Thanks, Pat for the thorough post.

  6. This is an extremely helpful blog! But I do have one question. Where do writer’s look for beta readers? I’m a recent college grad and new to the online writing scene. I would love to be a beta reader as I feel it would help not only the writer’s writing, but my own writing as well. A win-win situation. 🙂

    • HI Darice. The best place to look for a beta reader is someone within your writing group. If you don’t have one, find one. Writer groups are invaluable tools to fine tuneing the craft, learning and expanding. Kelley Armstrong’s OWG has been an amazing group to be a part of, and where I met all of the above authors. Much like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a group to raise a writer.

      • Thanks for the tips! Actually, I am a member of Kelley Armstrong’s OWG. I’m still on newbie island. I seem to have a habit of slipping in and out of the group due to one thing or another. Although I am trying to stay active this time, I haven’t been moved to a different group yet. 🙂

    • Sent you an email Darcie even though Kelly took the time to give you a very similar answer on here. Hope it helps. That’s the thing about writing groups…everyone is willing to help each other get better. 🙂

  7. Great post Pat. Loved reading everyone’s contributions. At the heart of it all, it can be summed up in one word: honesty.

  8. Great insights and perspectives. 🙂

    One of the hardest things I’ve found to juggle is to beta read for my fellow authors in addition to having people beta read for me. I want to give back and I also think it’s important in growth as a writer to do beta reads for your fellow authors. It sharpens your own skill sets.

    Besides, every writer contributing in this post writes awesome stuff. To beta read for them would be, or has been, a pleasure. Just sayin’. 😉

    • Thanks PJ! Beta readers are our backbone. They’re the ones who help us get to that place right before submission or query. And I agree, it does sharpen your skills A LOT! 🙂

  9. I love this, well done everyone. I think for me The Cat’s comment of Court Taster was perhaps the most apt description and one that I think will keep a few people chuckling for some time. At least he didn’t say that the position was like the Groom of the Stool. (Incidently a weird and very true position in the royal court.) LOL

  10. This is a great article. I absolutely agree with the “macro not micro” comment.

  11. I love my betas, really I do. I would hug them all and buy them candy if it was socially acceptable to do so, and I wasn’t happily married.

    If authors with a long history of publication need betas, then how much more does someone who has yet to get there first story out need them? Answer for anyone wondering… lots.

    Is what I’ve written shiny because it’s gold, or because it’s poo? If it’s gold, are there bits that still need a polish? If it’s poo, is it at least the healthy type you can plant a new seed in and grow something new, that is stronger and less pooey than the original? Only betas can answer these questions…

  12. Pat, have no fear. You and Kelly are still my go-to betas. Same as always: any time you need an assist, just let me know.

    …assuming I don’t jump in and assist first.

  13. Really great stuff here. Thanks for doing this Pat!!!


  14. Fantastic post, Pat! Thank you for bringing together these talented writers to share their thoughts on this topic. You rock and so do all your wonderful guests!

  15. Reblogged this on adaratrosclair and commented:
    Tips for Beta Readers from Patricia Hollett. 🙂

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