Beta Reading, Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing Tips

Better Beta Readings

alejandro-escamilla-10-unsplash
Photo courtesy of Alejandro Escamilla, unsplash.com. No, that’s not my desk. I WISH my workspace was that neat. And that it had coffee… Sorry! Focusing on the blog…

It never fails to surprise me when, in spite of my best efforts, typos slip into my writing.

I proofread my blog posts until my eyes won’t focus. I’ve proofread my longer pieces until I can’t stand to look at them any more.

Perfection still eludes me.

And that is where a good beta reader becomes invaluable.

A beta reader is a second set of eyes- someone who will look over my work and assist in the editing process.

Before I knew what a ‘beta reader’ was, I beta read for a friend’s self-published book. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I had no idea what I was doing.

The teacher in me knew how to correct a student’s paper.

Critiquing the work of an adult peer, especially without the benefit of a hard copy and my trusty red pen, was a different matter.

Since then I’ve worked with several beta readers on my novel and shorter pieces, and served as beta reader for several friends.

The following are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

Cookies Work for Adults, Too. 

The “Oreo Cookie” method of peer critiquing is a trick I gleaned from some-where-or-other and used with elementary school students. (No, it doesn’t involve bribing beta readers with cookies, though that’s really not a bad idea.)

This method gave students a simple framework for their Creative Writing peer critiques.

  1. Tell something that you liked about the piece.
  2. Give a suggestion for improvements. (The cream filling :))
  3. Tell something different that you liked about the piece.

Of course I wouldn’t follow this exact pattern when beta reading for an adult, but I feel that it is important to remember to offer encouragement along with constructive criticism.

The best critiques I’ve received highlighted both the things I did well and the things I needed to work on.

Wait, Which Paragraph on Which Page?

As I mentioned above, my first run as a beta reader was likely not very helpful.

My friend’s book had some punctuation and grammatical errors. I responded with a loooooong email listing page and paragraph numbers.

I can’t imagine how tedious it would have been for her to use that list, if she even did!

My methods have improved. When I receive a document for beta reading, I do all of my editing in the document.  I just use the highlight function to draw the writer’s eye to errors or questions, and make any notes in red.  My friends who read for me do the same.

Everything is clear, everything is easy to find, and corrections are just a few clicks away.

Why make the writing process more complicated?

You Hate It, Don’t You?!

Writing is personal. It is hard not to take criticism, even the very kindest constructive criticism, as a personal slight.

However, if a beta reader doesn’t give any constructive criticism, they also can’t give any help.

I’ve learned to want my beta readers to find something to improve. When I’m the reader, I’ve become bolder in offering suggestions.

Choosing the right wording to offer suggestions can be nerve-wracking. Some of the tips from my Interpersonal Communication class come in handy, for instance using specific “I” statements when I give my thoughts.

Example: I really feel that your protagonist turning out to be an alien disguised as a dog is a bit confusing.”

Versus: “The end of your story makes no sense.”

It’s also worth remembering that a beta reader’s opinion is just that- an opinion. While it can be uncomfortable to have someone’s opinion contradict my own, it allows me to examine the work I’ve done with fresh eyes, and to determine if I want to stand by it, or not.

I Don’t Want to Bother You Again…But I Will.

I don’t like to tell my beta readers too much about my work before having them read. I’d rather they come in with an unbiased eye.

However, there are always things I wonder about. Did this portion make sense? Was that character likeable? What about this word choice?

If my beta reader doesn’t comment on one of my ‘wonders,’ I’ve gotten brave enough to ask specific questions after their initial assessment. After all, it’s difficult to catch everything when sorting through tens of thousands of words!

Mercifully, my readers have been patient with my questions, and I try not to do too many “What do you think about this?!” e-mails.

I’m Thankful for my Beta Readers!

After all, a person who is willing to take time out of his or her busy life to read through thousands of words of a rough draft, to offer critiques and encouragements, and to help me stay a little more sane, is truly worth her weight in gold- or at least cookies, or chocolate, or something nice!

 

Writers, I hope that these suggestions are helpful, but perhaps you thought of them long before I did! Do you have any other thoughts to share on making beta readings as valuable as possible?

Many thanks for visiting!

 

 

25 thoughts on “Better Beta Readings”

  1. This is exactly right!

    The beta reader process is a learning process for both people involved. The beta learns how to be a beta, and the writer learns – well, a lot of stuff. How to solicit for betas, how to embrace feedback, how to develop a thicker skin (that usually comes after getting the feedback) and how to improve their writing.

    Often what is in our heads doesn’t make it to the page in EVERY SINGE SENTENCE. Using somebody who isn’t in our head is a terrific way to hone the text, and explaining the process like you’ve done here is a great way to encourage other helpful people/eager reader types to become betas. Great job.

    (This would make a great guest blog post, too. Expect me to say that more as I read a few more of these posts.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Your point about readers not understanding what’s going on in our head is a great one. My first professional viewing of my writing forced me to realize that QUICKLY, and to value kind beta readers 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  2. There is nothing so frustrating as a beta reader who says your work is “good” and leaves no other comments. Arg! Yes, please, tell me specifics of what works and what doesn’t for you. Help me make it better!

    I’ve found the “comment” function in Word to be invaluable for editing. It gets right to the point, but it’s not in-line. Of course, depending the word processing system you use, that can be less than helpful…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Talented hubbies are invaluable 🙂 Mine is much better at punctuation than I am- spelling too, for that matter! If you don’t mind me asking, (and showing my ignorance!) is TrackChanges a specific program or something on Word or something else entirely?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. TrackChanges is on Word and is a way you can edit between 2 people. If you have Word, let me know and I can talk you through how to use it.
        And yes – Himself is a wonderful resource:))

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oooh, that sounds wonderful! Yes, I do all of my work through Word. Aaaand… ok, I found the tab! I’ll have to play around with that a bit, but if I get stuck (which is likely when we’re talking about me vs. technology) I will absolutely take you up on that offer- thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes – it’s marvellous – and once the editor passes over the document, the writer then clicks on the green tick or the red cross to either accept or reject the edit and the alteration either becomes part of the text, or it reverts back to the original without having to do anything else – it’s like magic:))

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Anne Clare – what a great post … so informative and useful. I don’t beta read – but can quite see what you’re all saying and those tips (comment in word, and track-changes) … and ideas – thanks – cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad! And I know how the guilt goes- it’s a big commitment to make the time to sit down and fully focus enough to make useful commentary. I finally got to a friend’s novella this weekend when the hubby was keeping the kids occupied. I had to do it all in one go or who knows when I’d have finished! I’m sure your critique will be worth the wait 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Your post shares much needed reminders and instruction to readers who are critiquing. If you don’t have a human to help, Windows 10 has a Narrator capability. If you hear your work read aloud, you can catch changes you’d like to make. A great editing program is available at https://www.grammarly.com/, both free and premium at a cost. Thanks for spreading the word – writers are sensitive and need encouraging words!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Annette- and thanks for the tips! The Narrator option sounds fantastic, and I’ve heard good things about grammarly (and I like that they have a free option- good to know!)

      Like

  5. Reading the comments after your post in 2018 Anne, I hope you’ve now found the Review/Comment/Track Changes facilities in Word. I would add something that would be helpful to a writer who has been given or had requested a hard copy to read. A good friend wrote helpful comments in pencil in the margins of my very long non-fiction book, but gave me no hint as to which pages they were on. This meant that I had to turn every page to find the comments (& probably missed some) so your earlier practice of noting the page numbers where you’d commented, together with red pen, would have been much more helpful. Slips of paper inserted into the appropriate page (with the top edge clearly visible) might also help, but still with page number in case they slip out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for these great tips! I have discovered those features in Word since then (so wonderful!) Marking pages in a paper copy is a tremendous idea- that would save so much time.
      This is so funny- I was just looking at this post yesterday to repost next Friday as I’m shipping a book out to beta readers then (uf- so much editing to do!) and thinking how I needed to update it!

      Like

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