Wednesday, August 21, 2019

#AuthorToolBoxBlogHop - Being A Good Beta

Being a good beta_meka james
Image courtesy of Pixaby
  Hey y’all and welcome back to another month of the #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop. I took off last month because of room make-overs and traveling, but I’m back and ready for another attempt at peddling some ‘advice’.

Most of us on this hop probably already know what a beta reader is, but in case you don’t,  according to Wikipedia:

A beta reader is usually an unpaid test reader of an unreleased work of literature or other writing (similar to beta testing in software), who gives feedback from the point of view of an average reader to the author.

Pretty simple right? But not really. Beta reading can be nerve wracking (or maybe it’s just me) because someone has entrusted their story and opened themselves up to hearing outside opinions. That’s a heavy responsibility. And an important one. This post will give you some starter tips on how you can be a more effective reader should you find yourself in that role.

Discuss expectations

This is a must. Find out what the author is wanting in terms of feedback. Do they want comments left in the document or are they looking for overall summaries? This can save you time and energy to know up front. Leaving in doc comments slows down the reading process and if they don’t want that sort of thing, why do it?

Also in those expectations, what is the timeline. That is important for both parties. If the author is on a deadline and you are backed up with other things, don’t take it on. It only leads to frustration all around.

Ask about trigger/content warnings if you have them. The author may tell you up front if they know they have subjects that could be sensitive for some readers, but they may not. It’s okay to ask because that protects you as the beta from being surprised by content you didn’t expect and it can save you both some time if you aren’t able to read because of said content.

Work within your strengths

I’m not a grammar person, so you won’t find me doing much commenting in the way of missing or misplaced commas and things like that. And as a beta, that’s not really your job. The author will be hiring an editor for that. If you see something glaring, sure point it out, but you are there to give impressions of the overall story.

If you know you’re not someone that reads/knows a lot of history, but you end up reading a historical, you probably aren’t the best person to point or correct their facts.

Remember it’s not your story

Each of us has a different author voice. When you are beta reading, you should not be doing line edits/corrections on things based on how ‘you’ would have written it. Any feedback that you give should fit with how the author chose to present their story based on the world they built.

Don’t be ‘red pen’ happy

What I mean by that, is it’s not all about corrections. Don’t go into a beta read thinking you’re only looking for errors and/or things to be fixed. If you have issues, point them out, but you should also point out what works well. Did you laugh at a certain part? Do you love a particular phrase they used? Did the story make you cry? Telling the author the highlights is just as important on any low points. It’s all about balance.

Some people use the ‘sandwich’ method, which is nice-issue-nice. I don’t read like that because I’m scattered, but I set that expectation (see what I did there) up front when I take on a project. I let the author know what sort of reader I am and how they can expect to get my feedback. If I’m working with a new author, I only take on one chapter so I can see if I’ll be able to get into the story, and so they can get a feel of how I roll.

Wanting to help is a given, but not everyone meshes and that’s okay. It goes back to knowing your strengths. Neither party is a failure if a beta relationship doesn’t work out. Believe me I kissed a lot of frogs before I found my beta princesses.

 ***On the flip side, if someone is betaing for you, and you get back feedback that is hard, remember two little words: thank you. I’ve also been there, because let’s face it, no matter how much we think our stories are perfect, they aren’t and that’s why we seek out betas to begin with. In *most* cases the person is not being harsh just to be a pain, at least they shouldn’t be. Any and all feedback should be given with the intent to help the author see things they may not have thought about. But at the end of the day, this person took time away from what they were doing to read for you. Appreciate them!

Final tip read what they send you!

Now you’re probably going what? Isn’t that the point? Yes, that is, but way back in the day, as I was kissing those frogs, I’d have betas that questioned things that were in fact answered. Them asking about it signaled to me that they skim read and didn’t give it their full attention. That's not a good feeling.

When you take on a beta, you are making an agreement to give them honest and true feedback. They are counting on you to do that. If you can’t, then you shouldn’t take on the project.

That’s it. I hope these tips help you if you are thinking about becoming a beta, or wanted to figure out ways you can be a more effective one.

Until next time


  1. Beta readers are more about the overall impression rather than the details. I've always used two test readers who enjoy my genre. The story goes to them before my critique partners ever see it.

    1. Very true. Does the story work as presented and if not why. I have a small core that does my reading now but they weren't easy to find. I don't branch out more outside of them other than my editor.

      thanks for stopping by