April 15, 2012

Did I Fail Beta Reading 101?

So, I just finished up my first beta read for another writer. For how many bazillions of books I have read, this was the very first time I made editorial notes on one. I've made notes for book reports and term papers, but never in an editorial mindset. In the past, the idea that the words on the page could change never crossed my mind.

Beta reading was a different experience than I expected. At first, I stopped every time I needed to write a note on something, even trivial things. Then I kept having to back up and re-read in order to recapture the pace and premise of the story. Which kind of sucked. In order to truly form an opinion on the story, I needed to let it wash over me. Beta reading was getting in the way of my beta read.

I took a break and looked for some advice. Did you know even wiki has an entry on betas? Well, I found this excellent blog entry by Corrine Jackson on How to Beta Read, and it confirmed many of my suspicions. First, I needed to plan to read the MS twice--once as a reader for story, plot and pacing, and a second time for more detailed feedback. I compromised by highlighting anything that caught my eye in the MS, and then going back to make all of the actual notes at the end.

One bit of advice I'd read repeatedly was not to offer false praise. I think my problem runs in the opposite vein--I give too much criticism. I'm very quick to read something someone else wrote, and then change it into what I would write. That's not the most helpful thing for the writer. I'm beginning to think the real expertise in beta reading is understanding what the author wished to achieve, and pushing their writing towards their goals. It's very hard not to write for yourself, but after all betas are reading for someone else, and their writing must be respected.

I'm looking forward to the next beta read I have coming up in another week. I've been super fortunate to connect with great betas right out of the gate, and it is only now as I attempt to return the favor that I realize what a gift a good beta read truly is. Hopefully the 10 page feedback doc I emailed was seen in that light, but I'm not sure. It may take me a little practice yet.


  1. Hi - I found yoru blog via the comment section of Miss Snark (that sounds like stalking but I swear it isn't). I'm going to check out that post on beta reading because you're right, it sounds easy enough when you say you're going to read someone's work, but there is a method to it. I learned the hard way in a critique group where I marked up someone's submission so bad I just felt shame. I found reading through once with minimal comments - just markings to denote what to comment on later, helps a lot. Then the second scan through I make more detailed notes.

    What's hard to is to not rewrite a line the way I'd do it if I wrote it myself. I try to focus on specifics without rewriting. All in all, not easy.

    Looking forward to reading your blog!

    1. Hey, that's not stalking. Show up at my house and it'll be a different story -- although if you bring cookies, we might still be cool :)

  2. Thank you for this post, Melanie! I read it at the perfect time, as I am currently just beginning to beta read another writer's manuscript. This is the first time I'm ever beta-reading, and I want to do a good job for the writer. These resources will be a great help. Take care :)

  3. PS: I think it's wonderful that you were able to give criticism and write up a 10-page feedback document for the writer. Detailed feedback is awesome. The last beta-reader that I had gave me only positive but vague feedback on my manuscript. Though I appreciated it, it was really hard to utilize for polishing my work. Hopefully I'll be luckier in my next search for beta readers. Again, great post :)


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