Beta Readers: The Reader and the Writer

Having both been a beta reader and asked beta readers to critique my work, I’m starting to understand the delicate balance. Asking someone to review your work, especially for the first time, is an enormous emotional commitment. Reading someone’s work, that they’ve poured their heart and soul into, is a phenomenal weight. What if you don’t like it? What do you do?

Here are my tips for each the beta reader and the writer.

Beta Readers

  • Don’t commit to reading a full manuscript and critiquing it unless you have the time to put into it.
  • Ask for what kind of critique the writer wants (if they haven’t already told you). Line by line? Story structure?
  • Ask for the turnaround time. Is this something the writer is willing to wait a couple of months for, or do they need it within the next two weeks?
  • Remember that the writer won’t improve unless you give them honest feedback. 
  • Give clear examples of what you don’t like and why. There is a difference between not liking something because it’s not your genre and truly bad writing or structure. How do you phrase this? It sounds awful, but I typically go for the shit sandwich. Tell the writer what you like, then what you don’t (or what isn’t working, followed by another good thing. Even if the good things are small, they will cushion the blow, making the writer more apt to truly hear the advice you’re giving.
  • Judge your relationship with the author. Some writers, let’s be honest here, are overly emotional. If your writer friend is one of those, perhaps it’s not in the best interest of your friendship to do the critique. Sometimes a third party would be better suited to the task.

Writers

  • Get more than one opinion. For my current novel, I have six people beta reading it. Two are writers, three are chick lit fans and one reads every romance novel (of every heat level) under the sun. I also have one thrown in there who doesn’t know me directly. I want a variety of opinions so that I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket.
  • Be specific. Especially if your beta readers haven’t done this before, be specific in what you want from them. As above, is this about line by line edits and catching every typo? Is it about story structure, consistency or predictability? If you give your betas good direction, you’re more likely to get what you really need out of it.
  • Really think about how you take on feedback. Are you defensive? Are you willing to make changes? If you’re likely to be offended by someone telling you they don’t like part of your story, perhaps look for beta readers that you don’t know. You can find Beta Reader groups on websites like GoodReads.
  • Be generous in giving your thanks. You’ve just asked people to take on a significant project for your benefit. Make sure you send thank you cards.

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