Beta-Reading: Reader Standards

Following on from Monday’s post about how authors might best treat their beta-readers, my thoughts on how beta-readers might best treat authors.

Guiding Principle: You are receiving the outcome of a huge amount of hard work for free.

Beta-readers who are also writers will need no reminding; for everyone else, the book you receive – while potentially not yet polished – represents a large amount of work. Writing the first draft of a book requires a large investment of time and effort, so even if an author doesn’t do any editing or redrafting – and it is almost certain they will have reworked their book repeatedly before they ask you to read it – it is a valuable item. So don’t treat it like a freebie.

Applying the Principle

  • Don’t overcommit

    While an author wants as much feedback as possible, they also want their beta reading to provide a good return on investment. So don’t be part of the additional percentage new authors are advised to add to their estimate for beta-readers to cover non-responders.

    • If you have time to read 50,000 words but not 200,000 words then check the approximate word-count before offering.

    • If your schedule suddenly becomes tighter then let the author know before the deadline for feedback comes close.

    • If you get part way through a book and feel unable to continue, let the author know. Forcing yourself to read something that makes you feel ill or you can’t make sense of isn’t going to provide solid feedback anyway.

  • Don’t treat it as just another book

    When reading a published book, it is natural, even advantageous, if you experience the book without conscious awareness of the words and chapters flowing before you. However, beta-reading is an attempt to identify even subtle issues, so is less effective if undertaken passively.

    • Try to pause at the end of each chapter, whether or not the author has included specific questions on the chapter, to collect your thoughts.

    • Make notes as you go along, or at least immediately afterwards, rather than some time later, so you don’t forget the little things.

  • Answer the questions asked

    The author would obviously love their book to be perfect for readers like you. However, they also want it to be a great representation of their idea. So – even if you don’t care either way about a particular theme or trope – address the areas the author highlights as best you can.

    • Most beta-readers will be part of the target audience, but some of the best feedback comes from readers who are at the edges not the centre so try to express why something important to the author doesn’t matter either way to you.

    • If the author says they are having the book edited after beta-reading, then try to read past the technical issues rather than obscuring your thoughts on whether the book expresses plausible ideas in an engaging way beneath large numbers of grammar hiccups.

    • If you are a writer yourself, try to rein in your natural desire to suggest ways to make the book fit your vision of great style that do not actually change plausibility or immersion.

  • Make your opinion accessible

    The perfect advice is no use if whispered in a language the author does not hear during a howling gale. So, make it as easy as possible for the author to consider your thoughts.

    • Even if the author doesn’t ask questions at the end of every chapter, consider sending your thoughts at the end of every chapter so they can easily match them up.

    • If the author asks for feedback in a particular way, consider whether it would be overly onerous to do it that way rather than whether it would be easier for you to do it another way.

    • Try to err on the side of detail: for example, instead of saying the chapter was boring, mention the bit (or bits) that didn’t keep your interest and why.

What do you think beta readers should do/not do? Do you think beta readers should only provide whatever feedback they wish?

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3 thoughts on “Beta-Reading: Reader Standards

  1. I forget where I read it, but I saw somewhere that beta readers should only say if they’re: bored; don’t understand something; don’t believe something.

    It makes it easy for the beta reader, since they only have to keep three questions in mind and gives the most valuable feedback to the writer.

    Like

    1. Interesting approach.

      As the unconscious tends to experience the words it has read (the very basis of fiction), but doesn’t parse negatives, that list of questions would programme beta-readers to find the book slightly more boring, confusing, and implausible. However, asking them if the book has kept their interest; seemed clear; seemed plausible; would have the opposite effect.

      So potentially an author should have two beta-groups: one primed to be negative, and one primed to be positive.

      Liked by 1 person

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