I beta read and I edit for my friends. When I beta read, sometimes that turns into light editing—I’ll point out typos, etc., if/when I find them, and I think the authors appreciate that. Sometimes I get asked to do a full edit, and sometimes the author isn’t clear, and I end up doing a full edit, anyway. Doing an edit is almost easier than only beta reading because my eyes immediately start searching for mistakes.
This is true when I read anything. Reading for pleasure is almost non-existent because I automatically start editing and revising. “I would have written it this way. . .” While this can be good practice, trying to turn it off to enjoy a book is almost impossible. It doesn’t help when I feel justified when I do find something wrong.
But I like to beta read and edit because it sharpens my own skills as a writer. If I see repetition, telling instead of showing, words being used in the incorrect context, head hopping, it makes me more sensitive to it and I spot it more easily in my own work.
Stephen King says you don’t have time to be a writer if you don’t have time to be a reader, and this is true. You learn by reading other people, and you also expand your vocabulary. You improve your grammar and punctuation when you see it used correctly and if you think it isn’t being used correctly, you can look it up. Fact-checking helps you and the person you’re editing/beta reading for.
It isn’t easy to make time to beta read—we have so little time as it is, writers like to use that time to write.
I’ve often likened writing to other occupations: you don’t have a business without product to sell, you wouldn’t want your child to go to school with a teacher who wasn’t always updating her skills, you wouldn’t go to a doctor who wasn’t constantly going to workshops, seminars, and publishing in medical journals.
You can’t write books without reading other people’s work or fine-tune your voice without reading editing books and how-to books about the craft of writing. No organization is making you do those things; a company isn’t going to give you tuition reimbursement. You are your own boss and it’s up to you to keep learning for yourself.
Beta reading is fun, and it’s helpful, and someday you’ll need a beta reader. What goes around comes around, so try to make time when you can.
Tips on how to beta read:
- Sometimes you’ll start beta reading a book that doesn’t suit you. Figure out why it doesn’t before you say anything. If it’s not your preferred genre, speak up before you agree.
- If it is your genre, make notes as you read. What feels off? Is the beginning slow, are the characters flat? This is why you’re beta reading—to give useful feedback. Don’t be vague—the beginning lacked pizzazz. How was it boring? Maybe the action picked up in chapter two. Did the author start the book in the wrong place?
- As you read to the middle look at the characters. Are they still interesting? Are they battling an inner conflict? Are they struggling? A saggy middle is something many authors, including myself, have an issue with.
- Look for inconsistencies. Are the characters’ physical attributes the same throughout the book? If they have a pet, do they disappear half way through the book because the author forgot to include it?
- How is the dialogue? Does it flow? Do what the characters talk about further the story?
- Do any scenes seem to bog the story down?
- When you reach the end, think of the story as a whole. Are there any plot holes? Any minor characters that could have been developed or any of their storylines that don’t make sense? (Ask if there is a sequel in the works if this is the case, sometimes the foreshadowing won’t make sense. But foreshadowing should only make the reader curious to read the next book, not make the reader wonder if the author dropped the ball.) Does the ending give you a satisfied feeling? Does it feel rushed? Do the characters complete their internal journey, face their fears, finally get what they want?
Ideally, the author you’re beta reading for will give you ample time to read the book before publishing and tell you a reasonable deadline. Sometimes, if they’ve finished editing it and the piece is ready to be published, the author won’t wait.
This can put you in a bad position if you’re finding typos—you won’t get a chance to give your feedback to your author. If you’re given a deadline try to stick to it. But the urges to hit “publish” are strong, and if your author goes ahead and publishes without waiting for you, try not to feel hurt or resentful. You can still finish beta reading and forward on the mistakes you found. Perhaps s/he fixed them without telling you.
Sometimes you might be expected to leave a review. Ask first to be sure—especially if you didn’t care for the book. You may want to skip leaving a review rather than leave a poor one because this book is will be new and no review will be better than a bad one.
Anyway, beta reading or editing for people is win-win. It helps you become a better writer, and it helps the person you’re reading for.
We need to help each other be better writers, one chapter at a time.