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.