Have you ever been asked to beta read for an author? Or have you wanted to be asked for a particular author? (I’ll admit there is one author out there that I might give up my first born to beta read for…). Lots of people think beta reading is a fun way to read a book early, get a free book, and say “look what I did!”. I’m going to dispell the myth, it isn’t that way at all.
Emma Marie Leyla recently re-posted this blog post on Beta Reader Etiquette and after reading it, I thought “okay, how about a beta reader’s side of things?” Because I think the thought process out there is that it is almost glamorous, that you are one of the chosen few, and in many ways you ARE. However, it isn’t just a quick, light read you are getting…
So, if you want to be a beta reader, here are a few tips for you:
1. Ask for ground rules at the beginning. I’ve had authors ask me to “beta read” and what they really wanted was for me to proofread their already pre-edited version of their work in progress. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve had another author give me a questionnaire to fill out. Having expectations ahead of time will make it easier for both you and the author. I ask questions like: “Do you want me to proofread? Is there something in particular you want me to watch for? When do you want this returned to you?” If you get these things out of the way right away if its someone you haven’t read for before, then you will both know what you are looking for, and there won’t be disappointment on either side.
2. This is not just a free book for you! Yes, you get to read the book, and you aren’t paying for it, but the author is looking for assistance with their book, in whatever capacity they need. Telling them “Wow, this is the best book I’ve ever read!” or some version of that statement does them absolutely no good. Your job (payment is the free book) is to help make the story better. It’s also quite likely not the final version (unless the author says up front they don’t want storyline input), so there may be significant changes by the time he or she hits publish.
3. Be honest. You are not helping the author by only giving them all the things you loved about it. If you don’t like something, tell them. I’ve told an author friend (one that I am very close to and we have this kind of relationship) that she cannot write XYZ as she has it, because she would be blasted when it was published. I’ve told authors that I need more connection between the characters. Even my very favorite authors, I have said “I think you might want to change this piece as it is confusing to me”. Your goal is to not only let them know what you think is missing or needs to be adjusted, but try to provide an idea or thought as to how you would think that can be improved upon. (Again, if that is what they are looking for.) Remember, that almost every book can be improved upon, so don’t hesitate to help the author do that.
4. Give it the appropriate amount of time. I can read a book, with all my other things (day job, 2nd job, blog, etc) in about two days. With a beta read, I like to have at least a week. I need to spend extra time on it. I need to read sentences again, try to catch strange little errors that I worry might get missed by editing, maybe read an entire chapter again. However, I take longer because I need to process it from a different perspective. It’s not my reader hat, which may gloss over the fact that an author is using the UK English version of color, by spelling it colour, while the book is based in New York City. It’s my beta reader hat. It’s the hat that says “Did that kiss happen too early in the book? Do I need more connection between the characters who only met 2 hours ago, before I can read about them kissing? Why does that fight between the main characters feel forced?”
5. Along with Be Honest, is Be Nice. Please remember that these books are the author’s baby. You can say “I think these characters needs a lot of work” or you could say “I think if you extend this scene a little I would feel that they are drawn together more”. Or “I need some additional development of this character”. I beta read a book once where I had to go back to the author and say that I didn’t know anything about one of the character’s backstory so I didn’t really have a reader’s connection to him yet, with the book was about 25% in. She went back and added one scene, with just a hint of backstory, and it make a big difference for me. I presented it though as a reader, letting her know that what I didn’t feel was affecting my reading of the story, and I was able to be nice, but honest.
6. Don’t expect that the author is going to make the changes you have given them. THIS ONE IS HUGE!!!! It is their book. They are looking for suggestions, and there may be a reason they have written it in the way that they did. Once I had an author ask about the character’s names, if they worked for me. One of the names didn’t, and I told her that. She didn’t change the name of the character, and I wouldn’t have expected her to. If they don’t make the change, understand that you are providing suggestions for improvement of YOUR reading experience, and they just may not agree with you. Ultimately, it is their decision, of course, so don’t be upset if they don’t use your suggestions.
7. Don’t expect the author to always use you as a beta. You may not be the right beta for every book. I happen to beta quite a bit for a series that I know a lot about the background world on. I am used for that series because the author’s experience in that area is newer. I’m able to give her a background she can’t just research herself. There is another author that I normally beta for that when we talked about her most recent writing I said “I don’t know anything about that world so you may not want me to beta”, to which she actually said she wanted me for that reason alone. But other authors I sometimes do it and sometimes don’t. Every author has their reasons for choosing the betas they use.
8. Don’t expect acknowledgements. Yes, the author may say “Thank you” in their book to you. But they may not. Don’t be offended. Sometimes it is just a matter of timing for getting their book out, or forgetting. Who knows? I guarantee that when you return your thoughts, the author will say thank you to you, likely profusely, because they do appreciate good beta readers.
Beta reading is fun, challenging and great for a sneak peek, but take it with all seriousness, because in the end, this is not only someone’s baby, but could also be someone’s career.