One of the most crucial parts of the writing process comes with beta reading. For authors, it’s anxiety-ridden. For the reader it’s exciting to get to read an early draft of a manuscript. And when beta reading is done well, it can be a lot of work.
All of us Indie Chicks have had our fair share of awesome beta readers … and unfortunately some not some awesome ones, too. So we wanted to share some candid thoughts with you on beta best practices. Oh hell, that sounds so corporate … let’s try that again…
So we wanted to share some candid thoughts with you on how you can avoid being a crappy beta reader and become an author’s best friend. 😉 Because let’s be honest … if you beta our book and really help us out, we’ll be begging to work with you again.
That’s much better. Let’s begin, shall we?
- When we hand over our baby and you go into radio silence, we get a little crazy. Some of us are rocking in the corner and others are getting their panties in a bunch. Bottom line? It’s an anxiety-ridden time!
- Be timely! The idea of my words sitting unread in your inbox makes me feel like you’re not invested in the story.
- I need your feedback as realistically fast as possible. Every day you have it and I don’t hear from you, I die a little inside.
- If you can’t do it – or don’t want want to for any reason – say something! Or if you get a few chapters in and realize that your own personal experiences are going going to hinder you from giving honest feedback, let us know so we can find another person to fill the gap.
- Don’t share the manuscript. Seriously … don’t do it. We’re trusting you on this.
Know what you’re in for before you start reading
- Establish how you’re going to provide feedback to the author ahead of time.
- Please ask before you post that you’re reading or betaing.
- Know what the timeline is. Do you have days? A week? Be respectful of the calendar and be transparent about how quickly you can read the manuscript. If you’re running behind on feedback, we probably have to rearrange our editing schedule (or worse, bypass your feedback all together). Please be kind and tell the author as soon as you know how long it may take you.
- What you didn’t like is just as important, if not more important, to me than what you did like. Don’t gloss over omit negative feedback. WE NEED IT! And believe it or not, it makes us better writers.
- Do not be afraid to tell me it sucks. I’d rather you tell me than having the world tell me.
- You cried? Tell me. You laughed? Tell me. You wanted to stomp on your kindle in frustration? TELL ME! Your feelings are just as important as the typos I had in the paragraph above.
- We know that delivering less than positive feedback can be tricky – criticism can still be delivered honestly and kindly.
- I already have an editor. Tell me where I need more emotion, where the story doesn’t make sense, what you FELT. Don’t stress out over telling me where each comma should go.
- When sharing thoughts, give us more than a sentence — give us the why. “This doesn’t work for me” doesn’t work for us. Why didn’t it work for you? Where did it go wrong? Where did it fail? We need to know these kinds of details so it can be fixed.
- I want to know at what part you put down the manuscript to go get a drink, check your Facebook feed, cleaned out that drawer you’ve been putting off for months. If you’re bored. Other people are bored. And when you let us know, we have time to fix it.
- Unless you don’t like the names I chose because there are too many that start with the same letter, I honestly don’t care.
- I’m so glad you loved the manuscript! That’s amazing. But that doesn’t help me improve my writing. What did you love about it? What needed work? Be honest.
- The two things I look for most in a beta are honesty and timeliness. No one wants a beta who just fluffs you up and kisses your tush.
Questions to ask yourself and things to consisder as you craft your feedback
- Describe the story using only five words. Those words help me get a better feel of how the full package was delivered.
- Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why?
- Did you feel connected to all of the characters? If you saw them walking down the street, would you know who they were? If you answered the phone and it was them, would you know by their voice? I need to know if you’ve connected to the characters, if I gave you a great visual.
- Tell me where you skimmed. Which part did your eyes roll over? Are you bored? Are you interested in what’s happening?
- Is a character doing something that is out of character?
- Did the storyline flow smoothly? Was it plausible? I want to know if you’re shaking your head or confused at any point.
- Aside from an intentional cliffhanger, were all issues resolved by the end of the story and no dangling storylines? Were you left with any lingering questions?
After you’re done
- Don’t get upset if I don’t take your advice. It’s my book, not yours, and if your suggestion doesn’t reflect my characters and the story I’m writing, I’m probably not going to use your suggestion.
- Remember I have feedback coming from more than one person. I won’t make every change or take every suggestion you make. Sometimes they clash with others. Sometimes I really do like what I wrote and want to keep it. That doesn’t mean I don’t value your input.
- As a beta reader, you’re an early supporter of my book (hopefully!). So when the time comes, I’d love to read your review online … and when I say when the time comes, we really mean on release day. Like the instant it goes live. 😉 Because once we’re live, we are refreshing the page obsessively waiting.
- And speaking of reviews … don’t tell me it’s amazing and then rate it four stars on Goodreads. What would’ve made it five stars? Not saying that would’ve changed anything, but these are the things we want to know.
- And because it’s worth repeating … don’t share the manuscript.
So that’s it! This is your chance to help shape the story. We turn to betas to make us better, not tell us that you loved every last word (because let’s be honest … we know there is ALWAYS room for improvement).
Hopefully the next time you step up to bat and beta read, some of these tips will help you out and ultimately, make you more valuable to the author you’re working with.
Thanks to the following Chicks who shared their thoughts on beta readers: Faith Andrews, Ryleigh Andrews, BL Berry, Kathryn Crane, JA DeRouen, Elisabeth Grace, Ruthie Henrick, RE Hunter, Mia Kayla, Adriana Locke, Gia Riley and Stephanie Rose.