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.
- Tell something that you liked about the piece.
- Give a suggestion for improvements. (The cream filling :))
- 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!