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The “Art” of Beta Reading

BetaAbout six or seven years ago, an author who I was friendly with, Monica Burns, asked me to beta read what would become her novel Kismet for her saying, “You’re one of the pickiest readers I know, I think you can help me.” And a beta reader/author relationship was born. I went on to beta read five books for Monica, and learned a ton about the “art” of beta reading from her.

As word got around that I beta read for Monica, I picked up other authors. Some I beta read one or two books for, some I now I have long-standing relationships with. I’ve beta read for indie authors who self-publish and for authors who are extremely well known. But in all cases, I approach the process the same manner.

As a member of Dear Author’s review staff, I cannot review the books I beta read, nor can I mention them on Top 10 lists, or list them as DA Recommended Reads. Other reviewers here at Dear Author can review their books, but I don’t, which I think is an excellent policy. I’ve always thought it’s a conflict of interest to review a book that you’ve assisted an author with. Oh, I gush about them on Twitter, and try to do my part to get interest up via other social media means, but not through Dear Author.

I always ask authors when they send books to me to let me know if there is anything they’re worried about in the manuscript. Generally speaking, most authors want a cold read, meaning they don’t point out potential issues before I read the book. They want to know whether it even causes a blip on my radar. Sometimes I receive four or five chapters to read and react to. In other cases, I get the complete book. Sometimes I have a few weeks to react; some authors need a really quick turnaround.

For me, beta reading is much like reading for review. I pay close attention. I highlight passages that stick out to me. I try to keep track of particular issues that I’m having with characterization, dialogue or motivation. And in the end, I try very hard to give my honest opinion about what I’ve read. I do NOT read for grammar or punctuation (unless something is terribly egregious).

I make it a policy to only read for authors who write in genres that I read regularly (for example, I don’t beta read Steampunk, because it’s not a genre I enjoy). And I don’t usually read for authors who aren’t known to me. Which makes sense, if you think about it, as an author, why would you give a reader you’re unfamiliar with the opportunity to read something you’ve written before you’ve published it?

Then the fun part begins, I either call or send an email to the author with my reactions. This can spark a fantastic discussion about the work. There are times, though, that beta reading is no fun at all. Sometimes you have to tell an author you don’t like what they’ve written. Or you have an issue with some aspect of the book. Usually a conversation can resolve the issue, and I’ve never found those discussions to be anything but productive with the authors I work with. Generally, they are looking for that reader reaction and they like the fact that they have someone to bounce ideas off of. But it can be a delicate conversation. Being an author is a solitary thing, and sending your work out to a beta reader can be nerve-wracking. I always try to be really respectful of the hard work that goes into putting words on the page.

I did an informal poll on Twitter the other night, asking other readers who are beta readers how they got started and what their process is, and also asking authors whether they use beta readers in their process. I received probably 15 responses, and to a person, the authors said that they found beta reading to be invaluable to the process. But all stressed that it the success of the beta reader/author relationship is predicated on trust. First, the author must be confident that you’re not going to share the manuscript. They also have to trust your opinion as a reader. They need to know that you’re not just going to give a reaction of “OMG! I LOVE THIS BOOK!” While they love the positive feedback, it’s not necessarily helpful. I think that authors are mostly looking for the unvarnished truth about a beta reader’s reaction to the manuscript. If it’s a positive reaction, that’s great. If it’s not, what would have made the book work for you?

For many authors, beta reading is a valuable tool they use before publishing a book. For beta readers, it’s a great opportunity to collaborate with authors on their work.

If you’re an author, do you use beta readers? If so, how many? How did you find them? If you’re a beta reader, how did you get started? Do you read for more than one author, or across genres?

 

 

Kati Brown

I've been reading romance for more than 30 years and reviewing regularly for the last five. My first romance was Irish Thoroughbred by Nora Roberts, and once I read it, I was a goner. I read most subgenres of romance (except inspirational and steampunk) but focus mostly on contemporary and paranormal, with a sprinkling of historical thrown in for flavor. I am an avid sports fan, so I have a special place in my heart for sports themed romances. I'm a sucker for old skool romance, which is probably most evident in the fact that The Windflower is my favorite romance of all time.

68 Comments

  1. Jane
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 08:14:19

    How do you know, when you begin, whether the author can take the criticism? Because beta reading without a critical eye would be useless.

  2. Shae Connor
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 08:14:58

    I have two regular beta readers, at least one of whom reads every story before I submit to a publisher. For longer stories, or stories with particular points that need checking, I solicit from among other friends. I beta for my regular betas, too, and I’ve occasionally volunteered to beta for others. So far, I’ve stuck to my own genre (gay contemporary romance), but that’s mostly because my time for beta is limited by my own writing schedule, so I haven’t tried to branch out.

    I think beta reading is more of a “must” among those of us who’ve written fanfiction. It’s standard in most fandoms, so when fanfic writers move to the professional side, we tend to bring the tradition with us. My two main betas started out as fandom betas. :)

  3. Kati
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 08:22:19

    @Jane: I don’t.

    But, I think that implicit in the ask from the author is the idea that if I don’t like the book as a reader, I give the criticism. I never, ever have said, “I hate this book.” Generally I say, “Here’s why this isn’t working for me.” But I believe if an author is asking for me to beta read the book, they understand that I’m going to let them know what doesn’t work for me.

  4. Lizabeth S. Tucker
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 08:23:29

    I’ve just started beta reading. In my case, I was looking for a way to earn a little more money and asked a friend, who edits as well as writes, how to go about it. I do not have a degree, but I have been a proofreader and edit artist at a publishing company who specialized in legal books. The friend later asked if I would read over a book she had been working on to see how it flowed.

    Never having done this before, I opted to read, making notes on what struck me as I went through the book. I called this my “Raw Notes” which may be just based on my emotional reaction at a passage or scene, then afterwards I did a more comprehensive overview of what I thought. It seemed to be what she wanted, so we may continue in the future as books become near to completion.

    I read a lot of genres and sub-categories, so I’m not limited as much as some might be. I really hope to do much more of this as I really enjoy reading and tend to do something similar when I read to review on Goodreads, LiveJournal and Amazon.

  5. Donna Thorland
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 08:29:16

    My best friend from film school is a terrific beta reader, although that’s not the term we used at USC. And while my MFA is technically is in “film production” I’ve always thought of it as a degree in storytelling where one of the most valuable things you learn is how to use feedback.

  6. Darlene Marshall
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 08:30:54

    I depend on my beta readers to keep me from doing stupid things. They tell me when a plot device needs tweaking, or when I’ve slipped in writing the character’s personality, or when I haven’t explained something well. In addition, each brings a specific skill–one’s an MD, one’s a sailor, one’s a tech editor. Two of the three are romance readers, and having a non-romance reader in the mix gives me a fresh perspective too.

    I love my beta readers and owe them a great deal.

  7. MJones
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 08:33:35

    @Jane:

    I sometimes will provide a sample of what I’ve provided for some other writers to let them know that I am not a cheerleader. If you want to know what I think, how it’s good and where it could be stronger, I’ll provide that. If you want someone to feed you a cupcake, call your mom.

    The people that ask me to beta for them know I don’t pull punches and that’s why they ask. I think that’s why not reading for a stranger is an important point in the article. Your reputation precedes you!

  8. Kati
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 08:38:05

    @MJones: I think this is a great point. Almost all of the authors I beta read for are either referrals from current authors I read for, OR, they know me from the reviews I write.

  9. MJones
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 08:59:35

    I use a Beta Reader, sometimes two, sometimes three, depending on what kind of project it is and depending on the genre. To me it is important to have someone that enjoys the genre and knows a little about the world I’m writing in. My fanfiction Beta won’t be able to speak much on my contemporary original work; my contemporary betas don’t read my fanfiction because they don’t ‘get’ why something works and something else doesn’t.

    I also think as a writer, if you don’t have thick skin and can’t “kill your darlings” you’re not ready for a Beta Reader. Use your CPs and your cheerleaders until you get to a point where you’re willing to have someone hurt your feelings (so to speak) to put out a good product. I have one reader that I only use on occasion because she is BRUTAL. But she will tell me what sucks. And sometimes I need that.

    And sometimes I look at her notes and go… well yeah, I see your point, but that’s how I wrote it and that’s how I want it to stay.

    Establishing that trust relationship is so important– especially if your beta is a fellow writer, that symbiotic relationship is so great to have. I have a small group of writers that help each other out. I trust their opinion and that they’re going to dig into it and pick out the things that don’t make sense and not gloss over it, tell me ‘yeah yeah it’s good, NOW READ MINE!!’ Which has been the case, unfortunately, with many writing groups I’ve been privy to.

    None of my work sees the light of day until it has been read by a Crit Partner and a Beta Reader. Because I use hear instead of ear, hair instead of air, because I use incorrect versions of trademarked terms. Because I drop words. Because my characterization can be ‘off’. Because it makes sense in my head but maybe not on paper. Because I am not infallible and I cannot edit my own work. The sooner that writers realize another set of eyes is the most valuable writing tool they have, the better the work they will produce.

  10. Isobel Carr
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 09:27:34

    I’ve always used beta readers (I never found a crit group that was a good fit, but having people I trust read the whole rough draft is invaluable). I found my first one via a contest. She was a judge who signed her sheet and wrote “OMG, is there more?”. We ended up beta reading for each other (and getting published right about the same time) and I still turn to her when something feels close but not quite right. My other beta readers are someone I became friends with via twitter and a reader who just engaged me in really insightful discussions about my books and characters over email.

    I’ve also acted as a beta reader for friends (I just beta read for Victoria Dahl’s next contemp, which was a blast). I made sure to note anything that seemed off or jumped out, and because my specific roll was to make sure the motorcycle stuff sounded right, I made LOTS of notes about little stuff that might not make or break the book for non-riders, but that jumped out at me.

    When I beta read, I don’t worry about the author not being able to take criticism. They’re ASKING for it! The general consensus among people I know is that we’d much rather have something pointed out before the book is published than have it show up in reviews. I can always get squees by sending stuff to my friends. But squees don’t help me improve the book. For that, I need someone who will (nicely) point out the flaws.

  11. M. Malone
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 09:42:36

    I use several beta readers and trust is definitely important. Not just that they won’t share your manuscript but also that they’ll be honest with their reactions. If the characters don’t read true, that’s something I need to know with no sugarcoating.

    However, it’s also vital to get readers who like and understand your style so they aren’t trying to change your “voice” and are actually pointing out real problems. If a beta reader knows they don’t like sarcasm and slightly madcap humor then they probably wouldn’t like anything about my books. Which is fine, of course, just not helpful in the beta stage.

  12. MzKaraReads
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 09:43:35

    I would love to Beta read. What are some ways to get started when you don’t have existing relationships with authors?

  13. Anna Richland
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 10:02:37

    Well, three comments didn’t post to threads this week … but I’ll try again!

    I’m self-aware enough to know I’m too bossy for a critique group. I was an army officer for a long time, and a lawyer. It’s so incredibly much effort not to just edit when I’ve tried a crit group. Rephrasing everything nicely instead of “do this” was so much work that I gave up on a regular group. I wouldn’t have any friends left! A beta reader is better for me b/c without reciprocity of reading commitments, I’m not drawn into the bossy place. (Recovering bossy…)

    I have a former roommate who is one of those people who reads a book a day, all genre fiction. She’s a very close reader b/c she’s dyslexic, so she doesn’t read holistically for impressions – she reads every word. She’s spot on about plot holes, whiny characters, dragging scenes, all that stuff. And she gets all the tiny details about the time line and the setting that I mess up.

    I’ve learned though that spotting a problem is a lot easier than fixing it – everything my beta reader points out is a genuine problem, but solutions are often arguments. We have some big debates about the fixes, but we’ve been friends since 1998 so we get through it. In fact, now that we no longer share an apartment, the beta reading is probably the main glue of our relationship. It helps that she has no desire to write – b/c I don’t see her comments as trying to make a mark on my book or trying to impose her voice. They’re really debates – sometimes we have to cool off for a day or two before we talk again.

    After running a couple times through my beta reader, I then end up at other people (subject matter experts like doctors, other writer friends, etc) b/c by then my beta reader knows the story too well to spot any problems … it’s a village!

  14. Bea @Bea's Book Nook
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 10:27:32

    I’ve done very limited beta reading but I can’t imagine an author not using a beta reader or a crit group. It just blows my mind when an author says they don’t. When I’m editing a manuscript, or reviewing a book, or just reading for pleasure, I can tell when an author has skipped using betas.

    “After running a couple times through my beta reader, I then end up at other people (subject matter experts like doctors, other writer friends, etc) b/c by then my beta reader knows the story too well to spot any problems … it’s a village! ” – I love this, excellent attitude!

  15. MJones
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 10:58:56

    @MzKaraReads: I started by talking with writers whose work I was reading and reviewing, sending comments on what I liked, asking questions for clarification on things I didn’t quite catch when I read it. After building a bit of a rapport, I offered myself up if they ever wanted someone to read through something.

    There are some people that want a complete stranger to read their work, to just get a cold read from Random Customer Jane Doe. Those would be good to start with. If you do a great job, are thorough and positive, your reputation will speak for itself.

  16. MJones
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 11:01:29

    @Bea @Bea’s Book Nook: Not only does it blow my mind but it drives me crazy because it seems like people ASK if folks use a Beta reader because they NEED one, because I can’t believe a good Beta would let certain things get posted or published.

  17. Willaful
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 11:23:20

    I think it’s really interesting that you don’t read for grammatical errors, etc. I’m not sure I could divorce myself enough from my inner editor to ever make a good beta reader.

  18. carmen webster buxton
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 11:38:52

    I have a critique group and I find it extremely valuable to get feedback from multiple points of view, but not a total replacement for beta readers. For one thing, writers who critique other writers’ work can slip into more of a “Here’s how I would write this story” mode than a true critiquing mode. Non-writers don’t do that so much, so it’s good to have a few of those on tap, too. What I’m looking for most in beta readers is reaction to characters, as in “I really was rooting for Joe,” or “I could bring myself to care what happened to Susan.” Other writers tend to want to give very specific directions, as in “You have to kill Martha; it’s just not realistic otherwise,” or the dreaded “Really, the story starts on page 147, when Mike delivers his backstory. You should write the book about him.” (I have had both those exact sentiments expressed in critiques). Beta readers don’t want to drive the bus; they’re just along for the ride. What they tell me is, is the ride worth the fare?

  19. azteclady
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 11:44:54

    For me it also started with interactions on blogs (this was, alas, before twitter). I did beta reading for Ann Aguirre for about two years, and it all started when I won a copy of Grimspace and wrote a review. She read other reviews I wrote at Karen Scott’s blog, then asked me if I would like to beta read, and that was that.

    All the authors I’ve done any beta reading for are people I’ve interacted with before, who know my reviewing and commenting style. I feel I can trust them not to react badly to comments/criticism, just as I think they know they can trust me with their work.

    Willaful, regarding editing for grammar/typos, yeah, it’s a struggle.

  20. karen h
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 12:12:54

    How does one become a beta reader?

  21. Kati
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 12:17:12

    @karen h: For me, I was asked to beta read. I know there are some readers who advertise their services. Generally speaking though, I think the best way is to build relationships with authors. I do this mostly via Twitter, and also by reviewing.

  22. Beth
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 13:05:45

    Beta readers are absolutely essential. As an author, I don’t read the manuscript the same way. I fundamentally understand all of it, but a reader may see things completely different.

    My main question is how does an up and coming author find a good one–or one period? I’m struggling and have been through several real life friends and family members and even some friends from the fan fic community with not a lot of good results.

    It would be great to have some kind of exchange–looking for an author and looking for a reader.

  23. Kati
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 13:25:39

    @Beth: Beth – Do you have a twitter presence? If so, there are a number of experienced beta readers out on Twitter, who have strong presences who you could try.

    You can also talk to other authors to see who they use. I have a number of authors who I read for who were referrals from other authors. That might actually be your best bet for finding a beta reader.

  24. Expy
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 13:42:12

    @karen h: By being asked, by asking authors, or by putting your request in an online community where authors gather. In all of my cases, I was asked. Based on experience and several observations, being asked seems to be the most common way for a person to become a beta reader.

  25. Beth
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 13:51:02

    @Kati: I do have a pretty strong twitter presence, but a few requests haven’t netted me much. I will try again, tho. As for authors, would you recommend me emailing authors with a similar style/genre? I’m writing contemporary sports romance. thanks for the suggestions!

  26. Kati
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 13:55:13

    @Beth: Do you have a network of authors who you are friendly with? I’d suggest starting there. I can’t really speak to it too much, as I’m a beta reader, not an author. But there are a number of authors on this thread. Perhaps they can speak to how they found their beta readers, and give suggestions how to find someone who can act as a beta reader for you.

  27. beth bolden
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 13:56:42

    @Kati: that would be really excellent if they could. . .I’m a newbie starting out and really don’t know where to begin, but know that I would love some additional feedback.

  28. Dragonyka
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 14:16:42

    Fascinating stuff. I’m a reader. I’ve never been a beta reader but I’m fascinated by the whole process authors/editors and others involved in book writing go through. It amazes me what goes into getting a book ready for publishing. This has really made me think some more about what goes into the process. Thanks for the insight.

  29. Isobel Carr
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 14:42:24

    @beth bolden: IMO, your best bet is to look for reviewers who liked your first book and wrote insightful reviews for it. Approach them about beta reading as you already know they like your work. Random volunteers aren’t going to necessarily be all that useful.

  30. MJones
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 15:02:42

    @Isobel Carr: This is a good tip. If any of the authors that I review asked me to Beta for them, I’d knock people over to have the chance to do it! As it is, I *squee* when i get an advanced copy. To watch a book come together and play a part in it? Major honor.

  31. MJones
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 15:03:55

    Also check places like AbsoluteWrite and such. LOTS of authors hang out/lurk there.

  32. Kati
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 15:05:44

    @MJones: I completely agree! I’m always flattered and honored when I’m asked to beta read. To me, it’s a mark of very high respect from an author, when they value your opinion so much they’d like to work with you.

  33. Sarah Meral
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 15:41:02

    I´m a beta reader too, some of the authors are published, some not.
    I´ve been a regualar member of the Compuserve Book and Writers Community for years. In this Forum, they have a writing exercise every month. I´m not writing myself, but enjoyed participating in them as a reader and giving feedback.
    After a while I mentioned that I would be happy to beta read, since all the writers said, they liked that I was commenting as a reader. Over the years I was asked to read often.
    Many of the authors became close friends. For some of them I even read in progress, they send me whatever they are writing right now, chapter by chapter, not only the full MS.
    Since I participate in the exercises I learned so much about writing myself and if some things more craft related jump out at me, I point them out, too.
    Grammar is difficult for me, since I am German and English isn´t my first language. If something sounds odd to me, I point it out, but I always say, that I´m not sure about it.
    I point out typos, since I discovered it is easier to spot them in another language. I read the words more carefully, to understand them in English. Reading in German I get the meaning, without having to read every word.

    So I agree, building relationships with authors and giving them feedback was the key for me, too :)

  34. azteclady
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 15:46:22

    @Beth: Others have offered pretty solid advice, but I would also think that reading review blogs would help you get a sense of who would match with you–who likes books like those you write, how the communicate in writing, how thorough they are, etc.

  35. Christine
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 15:48:24

    @Willaful: I agree – Part of my job as a chemist is to review and edit scientific reports – grammar, punctuation, incomplete sentences – all those things jump out at me! Recently I was reading a self published book that was reviewed on a blog post, and someone had mentioned that it had some editing errors- as I was reading it I highlighted all the errors I found with my handy e-reader highlighter tool (somewhere between 15 and 20 errors) and I was surprised at how many there were. My university professors would have handed that back to me with a very poor grade! When hiring someone, the first thing to do is look at their resume – if someone can’t spell or uses poor grammar, they are not likely to get the job. I know it’s easy to overlook your own mistakes – you read the same sentence over and over and just don’t see it – which is the whole point of having someone else read it for you! I would love to be a beta reader as I find the whole process of developing the plot and character of a book to be quite fascinating “waves hands at any authors out there who might like an analytical chemist’s perspective” but I’m sure I would not be able to resist editing for grammar, spelling, etc.

  36. Karen Booth
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 16:37:51

    I have a revolving cast of beta readers–you can’t count on everyone’s schedule to line up with your own. Several of my most trusted beta readers were simply fans who reached out and said hello on Twitter. It didn’t take much brainwork on my part to read their Amazon or Goodreads review and to reach the conclusion that this person has great insight, is able to communicate clearly, and loves to read. I reached out to these people on my own and they all were eager to accept. I always remind them that the gloves are off. Tell me what sucks. I need to know.
    If you’re interested in becoming a beta reader, Twitter is absolutely the way to do it IMO. Facebook could work too, but I love Twitter for the brevity of the interactions. Build a rapport with authors, follow other authors they are friendly with, keep your eyes open. I guarantee you’ll find a willing author or two. Like all social media “endeavors”, allowing things to develop organically is the best approach. It’s a working relationship built on trust–one person is asking for honest criticism and the other has to be willing to give it.

  37. Anna Richland
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 20:42:21

    Commenting again – this is such an active thread! – as an author I’m amazed so many people are interested. Being a beta reader isn’t like getting an ARC and giving a review — it’s a whole lot more work!

    As an author, it is really important to give the beta reader something relatively polished that you’re ready to receive feedback on. I don’t think it’s fair to give a reader something that you expect the beta reader to edit – you should have done that already, closed your loose ends, revised thoroughly, checked the accuracy of your facts, all that type of stuff.

    Before I gave my most recent opening 50 pgs to my beta reader, I had filled in ALL the dangling details, worked on the opening hook, worked on the last sentence of each scene and chapter, gone over punctuation, checked that I had included the start of all the threads that I wanted to develop in the rest of the story. It was a chunk of book I was happy with (the rest, eh, not so much, but that’s another thing).

    If an author is giving you something that isn’t polished, I’m not sure that’s fair – it puts you in an odd situation of helping the author develop, which is almost jointly working on the project, rather than providing feedback on a polished book. There’s a real difference between telling an author “this conflict doesn’t feel authentic b/c …” and “you don’t have any internal conflict in the book, what about adding X?”

    One of the things I do for my beta reader is give her a “charge” for that round. The first time, I write down a few big questions like “do you like my hero and heroine? do they have chemistry? is it interesting or boring? what works/what doesn’t?” etc. The second time I give her stuff to read, I ask more specific questions about specific scenes rather than big picture — ie, did this fight in chapter 6 go too far, or is the heroine responding appropriately in this particular scene, what parts did you want to skip, etc

    Basically, the first time I want stuff she can tell me in a phone call, and the second time she gives me back actual pages with markings. (she’s not a computer person).

    I think it’s important for an author to be fair to the beta reader – not leave them hanging, wondering what level of feedback the author wants – that’s what leads to editing punctuation and not to identifying “hero is a jerk in chapter 5″ b/c without a goal, the reader loses sight of the forest.

    Just my two cents.

  38. MJones
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 20:57:51

    @Anna Richland: Excellent, excellent points and I completely agree. By the time my stuff reaches my Beta it’s been read and edited to the best of my ability. She gets it to make sure it’s readable, it makes sense, it doesn’t sound stupid and checks my editing, lightly. Your CP’s, your editors, your betas aren’t there to do your job for you, which is to produce a polished, distraction free manuscript.

    I always tell writers that want me to read for them, not to crap some stuff out on a page and send it to me to fix. Let me know what you want me to look for, or to look at. If you need a cold read, cool on that too, but if it needs major editing and grammar check, I am going to send it back, because that’s a distraction from the story.

  39. Kaetrin
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 21:51:14

    @Kati – why is it that you don’t look for grammar and punctuation errors? Are beta readers not supposed to do that? (I don’t think I couldn’t – like Willa)

    I have only beta read a fan fiction piece for a friend and I found it difficult because she’s a friend. I also found it difficult because I get easily distracted by the shiny – I had all these new books (and all these longstanding books) on my TBR but I was reading the same short story over and over again. That’s the thing that has made me reluctant to put my hand up. I dont’ re-read very often and I don’t like the idea of having to read a story many times in a short period. I think I’d get bored and stop paying attention which wouldn’t help anyone.

    And finally, I wonder whether I’d really have time for it anyway. I review here and at my own blog and at an audiobook blog and occasionally for ARRA, so I don’t have lots of time left for something like beta reading.

  40. Sarah Meral
    Mar 05, 2014 @ 01:36:58

    @Kaetrin

    I don´t really read the stories I beta read more than once. If the authors change something or add a scene afterwards, they sometimes send me the new part again, but not always. Some of the changes I saw only when the book is printed/published.
    Even for the friends I beta read during the writing process, they don´t expect me to read the same story/chapters over and over again.

  41. flchen1
    Mar 05, 2014 @ 01:47:46

    Willaful, I have an editing background and do freelance editing and proofreading. I also beta read on occasion. It isn’t so much that I can turn off that part of my brain, but the details really aren’t the focus in beta reading–the author generally wants bigger picture feedback on the story and characters and plot, and to be honest, the kind of read I’m giving the work in a beta read isn’t as detailed as one I’m going to give something I’m editing/proofing. If I notice stuff that’s wrong, I’ll usually mark it anyway, but I also figure that it’s early days for the piece, and it’s going to get the fine-toothed comb treatment later on.

    As for how I got started, I got to know a few authors through Yahoo loops I belonged to, and at some point they asked for beta readers. I responded :) I do read for more than one author and in whatever genres they write, although they do know my preferences and I don’t read everything for any of them.

  42. Kaetrin
    Mar 05, 2014 @ 03:08:17

    @Sarah Meral: That’s interesting. I got the impression from some authors upthread that they expect multiple readings. I don’t think I could sign up for that. I could definitely do a one-time read occasionally – the time commitment wouldn’t be so great if I only had to read it once. But even so, I’m not so dead keen that I will go searching for opportunities to do it. If one comes up, then I might though.

    @flchen1: Oh, that makes better sense to me now. Thank you :)

  43. Sarah Meral
    Mar 05, 2014 @ 05:18:52

    @Kaetrin
    For me beta reading is a way for getting new books. I don´t have the money to buy books at the moment really, so this way I get them for free :)
    And since more or less all authors I beta read for are close friends, we do brainstorm plot things that come up through my beta reading and I assist in any way I can, but I still don´t read the whole MS more than once generally.

    I´m interested to hear if the authors in this thread have their beta readers read the whole thing more than once or not :)

  44. MJones
    Mar 05, 2014 @ 05:37:29

    Work gets a Beta read, for me, just before I’m ready to submit it somewhere. So unless they recommend sweeping changes, my stuff only gets the one pass.

    I typically will only read something once, and won’t read it again unless there are huge changes, like adding a character, POV change, etc.

  45. Kati
    Mar 05, 2014 @ 07:18:28

    @Kaetrin: There are two reasons I don’t read for grammar/punctuation: first, almost all authors, when they send the work to you will say, “This has/has not been copy-edited, you may find errors”, so I know to just skip by them, as they’ll be corrected by a professional who is not me; second, that’s not my job. My job is to comment on characterization, plot, dialogue, etc. That’s what I’m being asked to do, so that’s what I focus on.

    I don’t mind re-reading the work, I think mostly because the feedback I give is generally quite focused and I find it fascinating to see how the author incorporates that feedback into the story, or not. I’m only one reader. Most authors use a variety of beta readers for their work, and I’d guess that if more than one reader points out something, it’s then that the author thinks, “maybe this should be tweaked”.

  46. Jody Wallace
    Mar 05, 2014 @ 07:40:14

    @Kaetrin: I don’t think reading and re-reading a story AND looking for any proofing errors, over and over, would fall under the category of beta reading. That sounds more like editing! To me and to whatever beta readers I’ve been lucky enough to find, a beta read is a once-through to tell me if there’s anything egregiously sloppy plot-wise. If they stumble across smaller continuity stuff, that’s fine, but that’s not what I expect — and not what I’d offer if I were beta reading. Editing is a WHOLE different, laborious kettle of red fish, heheh.

    I can see having a beta reader go back over certain scenes if you discuss changes together and you want their opinion on them, I guess?

  47. Kati
    Mar 05, 2014 @ 07:50:14

    @Sarah Meral: I’m not an author, but I can tell you that I beta read MOST books two or three times, depending on the author. I only have one who I read just days before it goes to the editor for the final time. I expect that I’ll be reading the book more than once. For me, that’s part of the deal.

  48. Alex
    Mar 05, 2014 @ 07:55:24

    I’ve beta read a few books for an author – I got chatting to her on Twitter after reading and loving one of her books and it turned out she needed someone to “Brit check” her next book as she’s American but it had a British character in it. She sent it over to me and we got going from there. Generally she’d say if she had any concerns about specific areas and I’d keep an close eye on those parts but my main role was to read through it with a really critical eye. It’s a fine line about how critical/brutal to be but ultimately I was there to help her out and pussyfooting around problems doesn’t fix them!

    I’m the sort of person who’s easily irritated by timeline/location slips in books and characters losing consistency throughout the story so I just pointed out anything that seemed off to me and suggested things that might work better/slight changes in dialogue/solutions to the plot holes. It was up to the author whether she included those or not but I think she mostly did. If it was something major that I picked up on during a read of the first few chapters then a Skype chat about it and bouncing ideas around usually resolved the problem before she ended up having to do major rewrites.

    I’d only do a full reread if there were major plot changes, just to make sure it all still made sense after the rewrite. It really depends on how many comments I’d had to make – if they were only minor tweaks then it wouldn’t need rereading by me but sometimes I’d do a quick reread of a section/chapter that had been altered.

    If there were any obvious typos/spelling errors then I’d point them out as they’re quick fixes for the author to make and would help give her a more polished product to send off to her editor. Having said that, I’m not an editor, so I wouldn’t get involved with house style or intricate grammatical issues.

    @Beth I’d be interested in beta reading for you if you’re still looking for someone. I love contemp sports romance!

  49. Laura
    Mar 05, 2014 @ 07:57:40

    You know, the book that I sold, I never had beta read. However, I have used beta readers for other things, and plan to use them more in the future. All beta readers I’ve used I’ve found on AbsoluteWrite, and it’s always been done as exchange. You read mine, I’ll read yours. Beta reading for other people is also good practice for finding problems in your own work. But I have no long-term beta relationships, and I wish I did.

  50. Isobel Carr
    Mar 05, 2014 @ 09:03:36

    I think the typo/grammar checking can go either way. I have one beta who ALWAYS copyedits as she goes. Her brain just doesn’t work any other way (and I’m very grateful). I have others who only point out big picture stuff. I would never dream of *telling* either kind that they’re doing it wrong.

  51. Cynthia D'Alba
    Mar 05, 2014 @ 09:14:23

    I have had problems finding honest Beta readers…what I mean by that is I get a lot of “it’s great!” types of responses when I want…”this area really drags….I’m skimmed here….this sex scene was a tad boring” type of comments.

    Your authors are lucky to have found a critical Beta reader! Rest assured that you are appreciated, even if they forget to tell you. :)

  52. MJones
    Mar 05, 2014 @ 09:28:20

    @Cynthia D’Alba: Yeah with some I feel like they just want to read new material, not really interested in sharing how it works or doesn’t work. It takes a while to fall into a groove with someone.

  53. Christine
    Mar 05, 2014 @ 10:07:47

    @Cynthia D’Alba: First off I just want to say that this is a fascinating thread, really highlighting the differences between beta reading, copy editing and reviewing. I think you are right Cynthia, there is not much point in having a beta reader who doesn’t really do the job for which you are asking – which is a critique and an honest appraisal, not a gushing review (save that for Amazon). And I think it’s equally important that the beta readers you have like the genre that you are working in, or they will not really be looking for the right things (if it’s not their interest, they’ll have a hard time finding things that work and don’t work in the material).

  54. Jennifer Hayward
    Mar 05, 2014 @ 11:35:31

    Kati – I think it’s amazing you do this. I’m sure the authors benefit greatly. I always use a beta reader or two before I send a manuscript off as someone reading your work cold will pick up things in a story we are usually far far too close to by the time we type ‘the end’. They can be a reader I trust or a fellow author, but someone you know ‘gets’ your voice.

  55. Sarah Meral
    Mar 05, 2014 @ 12:21:58

    I love this conversation :)
    And I think it shows that like writing beta reading isn´t the same for everyone. It depends on what the author wants and needs and at which time the beta reader reads the MS and on the beta reader, how she/he likes to do it.

  56. Beau
    Mar 05, 2014 @ 18:40:37

    I was doing ARC reviews for a few authors and in the process picking up things that stuck out as not working and passing these along privately. Some got picked up before the final, some not, but all, except one, seemed to appreciate the comments. When one of my author friends asked for a YA beta reader, I offered and throughout enjoyed working with her, and the book she was writing. I wouldn’t publish anything of my own without a beta, but a quality reader is hard to find. Most I’ve used, amatuers, are no where near critical enough, in the OMG, I LOVE THIS vein. Useless.

  57. Kaetrin
    Mar 05, 2014 @ 19:24:49

    @Beau: I’ve never thought it was appropriate to contact an author and say “hey, this didn’t work here” or “there’s typos on P3, 56, 67 and 90, here, here, here and here” when I’ve been reading an ARC, no matter that I’ve been tempted occasionally. I just thought that was over-stepping. Could be that’s just me.

  58. azteclady
    Mar 05, 2014 @ 20:01:40

    @Kaetrin: In all cases, I only did one reading when beta-ing. It’s not editing, it’s just locating any major problems–things like, “you explained this twice (here and here)”, or “how does this character knows such and such about this other character?” Major plot or characterization issues, like others have said.

  59. Anna Richland
    Mar 05, 2014 @ 20:05:21

    @Kaetrin: I agree w/you about not getting in touch w/ corrections for an ARC. I make a division in my mind between an ARC – which is an advanced review copy (of a finished and produced book!) and beta reading, which is a polished draft but hasn’t been formatted. So I think when people get a book to beta read, it’s either a word doc or a pdf, and the assumption is that changes are still possible. Whereas an ARC is what netgalley is giving away – a done book. No changes – unless the book is pulled from production or redone, which costs the publisher money.

    Obviously an indie/self pub book has more flexibility and control over releases, and the lines between ARC and beta read can blur, but for someone like me (at Carina), once it’s an ARC, there’s no going back.

  60. Ann T
    Mar 06, 2014 @ 08:57:52

    I don’t have beta readers–I have editors at the houses I publish with. They do fabulous job. I toyed with the idea of beta readers until I got published. Once I was, I realized I really didn’t need them. My editors get paid to do all the things a beta does, and yes, my editors read for story and craft, so I’m golden. And I’m terrible anyway. I can take criticism from my editors more than I can from a beta reader or CP.

  61. P. J. Dean
    Mar 06, 2014 @ 13:25:42

    @Ann T: Same with me. I don’t use them. I could take the critique of my house editor. It would be harder from a beta reader.

  62. Kinsey
    Mar 07, 2014 @ 11:08:20

    I think the thread’s dead but I have to put my .02 in. I only have one beta reader, my sister-in-law-in-law Vickie, whom I dubbed Vickie the Blunt a few years ago because a) she is and b) I love it. She was disturbed at first – never thought of herself as blunt, and thought I meant rude, but she’s not – it’s just that if you ask her opinion, she’ll give it honestly. She must’ve gotten over it because it’s her name, tho not her handle, on Twitter. She’s betaed for some of my co-bloggers and wants to beta for more authors but I had no idea how she should go about it. She only reads paranormal romance, although she’ll beta my non-PN stuff.

    I started bouncing ideas off her when I wrote my very story and I haven’t stopped, so she’s both plot consultant and beta reader. I don’t think I could find another — it involves such a level of trust, and of just knowing each other. Plus, she doesn’t just read the completed book – I feed her chapters at a time which, of course, you can’t do with an editor, and she gives invaluable advice and saves me time. She’s also great with plot problems and ideas – plotting is my biggest weakness and my biggest headache. ([whine on]Why can’t my characters just talk wittily and dramatically and interestingly? Why must stuff happen??[whine off])

    I gave her the first two chapters of my current WIP and she told me that the first scene was utterly superfluous, and the second scene started w/superfluous stuff and should start in the middle.

    She was right – I never start a book in the right place – and when I cut what she told me to cut I immediately saw the difference. For some reason, I have to have someone read my stuff as I’m writing it – I can’t wait until the whole thing is done.

    She also has a gift for knowing when a sex scene is off. (“Is this supposed to be hot? Because it’s just weird. And kind of gross.”)

    Sometimes I think I need to get a crit partner but Vickie’s been great for me so far.

  63. Sarah Meral
    Mar 07, 2014 @ 11:57:01

    @Kinsey:
    I think, in this thread are some good suggestions on how to get in contact with other authors, maybe you could pass on the link to this thread?

  64. Lynn Rae
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 07:25:31

    No one had ready my first two published books until the editors who offered contracts did. I wish I’d had a beta reader for those, they would have been much better! I hadn’t been part of a writing group or had a social media ‘presence’ until after those contracts were signed. I found my current beta reader when I joined up with a group blog and one of my fellow bloggers contacted me after I mentioned I had no one to read my work. She has been the biggest blessing in my writing!
    We don’t write the same thing, but she’s a voracious reader so I know my sweet romances don’t tax her erotica sensibilities too much. We have a reciprocal process and in general read each other’s work once, with comments. I tend to pick apart plot holes and questions of logic in her books (she’s a pantser and I read a lot of thrillers in my free time, so how it all works together matters to me) and she catches my convoluted phrases and asks for ‘more’ in certain places in mine. At most, I’ll ask her how she feels about a certain character or if something feels true, AFTER she’s read it. I never prime the pump, so to speak, I prefer to get a cold read. I send mine in ‘chunks’ of about thirty to fifty pages. She’s a busy writer, as am I and it seems like several chapters are quicker to get through than a whole book, and you can keep track of the plot better than getting a few pages at a time.
    Currently I’m re-writing something she’s read through already. I was about 60,000 words in and had gotten my characters in an impossible to resolve place. I asked her to read through it and tell me if it was worth re-writing. She did, and once I finish it, she’s asked to read the whole thing again, which will be a first.
    We enjoyed working with each other so much, we co-authored a book together which will be published next month. We’ll see how going through edits together works!

  65. MJones
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 07:31:02

    I also have a Vickie the Blunt, haha. If I want to know if something sounds stupid, she’ll definitely tell me. “No that’s dumb, don’t do that. How about THIS?” She’s great with stuck points, when I’ve written myself into a corner, when my characterization isn’t solid. I tend to make my heroes go all soft and schmoopy and she hates that so it’s the thing she comments on the most. “I don’t think he’d say it that way, he’s getting soft here.”

    Vera the Blunt is even worse. “Honey I didn’t make it through page one. Sounds average. Maybe a different angle, something we haven’t read a hundred times before.”

    I hate writing the same story over and over, so while those words are hard to hear, I appreciate having someone say these things to me before the words hit a public page and a STRANGER posts them.

    This has been such a great discussion! My Beta had no idea her hobby is so wildly talked about, LOL!

  66. Elizabeth McCoy
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 10:54:11

    For finding beta-readers… This is where fanfic communities often shine, because beta-reading is generally all a fanfic is going to get for content-editing or copy-editing. Relationships forged there can segue right into original-fic. (And not just “filed the serial numbers off the fanfic,” either.) I use Livejournal/Dreamwidth filters; post a chapter, get comments from the select group allowed to see them. I’m not getting as many as I’d like just now, but I get enough to keep momentum up. (And I by darn well want to see those typos. A typo nailed is one that can’t show up later! But then, I write pretty clean copy in the first place.)

    In return, I read other people’s chapters, and because I have editing-brain, I hit typos (though the first time I read stuff, I tend to ask if they want that) as well as tangled word stuff, etc.

    What I also like when I’m posting chapter-by-chapter is expressions of enthusiasm and questions. Does X sound like a loose end to someone? Do they feel Y’s reaction wasn’t unpacked enough? Is my description too vague or infodumpy? (…description is my bane.)

    When I have the whole thing completed, a read-through of the complete work (by same or different reader(s)) is nice to identify redundant areas or places that need filling. Or cutting. Dear gods, this thing needs cutting… Er, nevermind, stayed up way too late on the latest chapter. Little punch-drunk here.

    So getting into beta-reading can be as organic as following someone who writes both regular and fan fic and asking if they want beta-reading. Beta-reading for fanfic can also be a way to practice beta skills.

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