How I became a better Beta Reader

Beta Reader

Note: This post is not about an Elven Prince. It simply made me laugh, plus the dude can act. What’s not to love.  🙂

 

My Summer Reading

Beta Reader 2

Last summer a writer friend took up my offer to beta read her novel. I hadn’t done this for a long time and my nerves were showing.

Worried I’d do a poor job I wondered why I offered to begin with but a promise is a promise.

I didn’t tell her my concerns. My hope was that my ability was fine. It was nothing more than nerves. My biggest concern was my writer’s mind. What if I took ownership?

What if I couldn’t do it?

 

Beta Reading and other failures

There is a thing that I call the switch. It’s the ability to turn the writing portion of my mind off and see the story the way the author meant for it to be. One of the tricks to beta reading is to trust the author.

But what if I couldn’t find the switch?

After reading the first chapter I saw a problem. It wasn’t her story or her writing. I loved the idea and her writing was strong. The problem was me. I found myself taking the pen out of her hand and making her story my own.

I began to see her characters in my writer’s mind. I wanted to make them my own and place them in my voice instead of hers.

 

Walking Away

Beta Reader 1

I continued for three chapters until I forced myself to stop. I came back to it later in the day and read my notes. Immediately I was angry.

The suggestions I gave were the type of notes I would have written to myself had it been my own work. I could already tell the type of characters I wanted her to create and the direction of the story I wanted her to go.

But this was her work, not mine. I was not beta reading, I was creating.

I gave myself a few days to think it over. I made her a promise but what if it was a promise I couldn’t keep?

Three days later I tried again.

 

Finding the Switch

The mind is a mysterious piece of magic and the magic I had hoped to find at the beginning finally found its way to the surface.

Somehow in those three days I found the switch. Her characters were no longer mine. I wasn’t trying to force her story in my direction. I was now able to read through the eyes of a reader and help the way a beta reader should.

Soon I was able to spot weak areas that needed strengthening. Suggest where depth and explanation lacked but most of all single out scenes that were perfect.

I quickly learned that the author needs to know what is working as much as what isn’t. Looking back one of the surprising things that I learned was how to improve my own writing.

 

How to improve by Beta Reading

When I think beta reader I think of assisting the author not the other way around. But in many ways her scenes helped me.

In some of her scenes I was curious how she would write her characters in or out of certain situations. In some cases I was certain she had painted herself in a corner only to realize she did it for a reason.

Jennifer’s style taught me to entertain in ways I hadn’t thought of before. Her way of writing allowed me to see story telling in a different light.

Talking to her afterwards she mentioned how reading and critiquing strengthens our own writing. I always knew that but I was unaware how much.

Now I do.

 

Finding time to Beta Read

A long time ago I worked in a fancy restaurant where the chef had a favorite saying – Always add flavor.

In a writer’s world we have one too: Always learn.

Beta reading not only helps the author it helps us, the reader. Find time to do this. For me I did a chapter a day during lunch and as you can see it was a perfect match.

 

Thank you Jennifer for a fun and rewarding experience.

Beta Reader 3

20 thoughts on “How I became a better Beta Reader

  1. I think I disagree that a beta reader’s job is to “see the story the way the author meant for it to be.” I think you need to see the story for what it is, as if you were a common reader, to address the issues that, unless fixed, will bother other readers. That’s why I don’t like authors to give me a lot of background on characters or world before I read. The point is to assess what is on the page, not what the author wants to be on the page. But you’re definitely right that a beta reader should not try to mold the story toward there preferences. The answers a beta reader gives should be focused on effectiveness, does it work or not? At least, that’s what I think.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, JM.

      I’m wondering if I miswrote. I say that because I agree with you.My problem at the beginning was to take over her story and rewrite it my way. My goal was to flip my mind back to the reader and read her story the way it was meant to be. In other words be a common reader.

      Looking at it now I could have used you as my own beta reader for my post. 🙂

      But I do disagree with you on one thing: When I do this again I want background. I want a synopsis and I want to see what the author holds dear. In other words I want to be told what to leave alone.

      But that doesn’t mean other beta readers should do the same. Variety is a nice spice.

      Huge thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, I get you. I think its best for the author to get as much commetary and critique as possible. In the end they can decide what advice to follow and what to reject. But some do hold their ideas a bit too close to the heart and don’t want to hear bad things about their favorite bits. I usually give anyone I’m reading for a warning before I pull out my red pen.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. At the beginning, when it came to negative feedback, the hardest part was listening. It’s tough to do at first but necessary if we want to create a solid story. Negative feedback is vital. We would all love to write the perfect story but I know that’s not happening over here.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! So glad you found that switch because your notes were fantastic and very helpful. I struggle finding that switch too when I beta read for others, but the more consistently I help other writers the easier it becomes. Funny that you mentioned that reading my work helped you think of new ways to entertain your own readers – the same thing happens to me when I beta read for other writers. It’s one of the reasons why a lot of my beta reading is outside of the genre I write. We never stop learning!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Jennifer – I am happy my notes helped you. It was a great read and I look forward to the finished product.

      You keyed on one thing that I think is important, at least to me: Try to read outside your genre. It’s challenging but a good challenge at that. I feel if I push myself I’ll be a much better beta reader plus, I may discover something that new and exciting.

      Thank you for your comments.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post 🙂 I’m not a writer so if I ever were to Beta read something I probably wouldn’t have the same issues, but I wasn’t completely sure what Beta reading entailed and so this was super informative 🙂 Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I read this post last night and wanted to badly to comment! BUT I was revising my query letter after my CP gave me my first feedback EVER and I finished the revision REALLY late and fell asleep LOL
    Well anyyyywayyyyy…. 🙂 I just loved that your post came to me in the day of my writer’s life when I had finally decided to share my book with another writer! because my two beloved Beta readers were.. how do I say this… totally disastrous??? LOL my sister and sister in law who love me dearly, wanted to help BUT… they don’t read??? No even magazines of ingredient labels LOL ok well my sister LOVED the one and only book she has ever read which was.. ready? fifty shades!!! LOL so that should have disqualified her right there LOL so I would have LOVED to have the Beta reader experience BEFORE the CP experience. But I’m just bracing myself for the feedback on my MS because my CP is GOOD! She’ll dissect that MS like Jack the ripper. Hope to survive this experience with some ego left to keep writing 🙂 Soooo I think that what happened to you is totally normal??? I’m think I wouldn’t be a good Beta Reader

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  6. Daniela – I’m laughing my head off. You are so funny. I never read 50 shades so I don’t know…..maybe your sister is qualified? We have to give her some credit, right. Yes, moving on.

    If this post can help you I am a happy person. Update on your blog how your MS and the dissecting went. You have my curiosity.

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  7. This is interesting to me, Bryan. I have never tried to beta read, I don’t think I am as yet ready for that as I am still finding my own voice. When I read though, I don’t ever think about how I would have written a story or book so, hopefully, I will be able to do this when the time comes.

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  8. It is a commitment. You’re right, you do need to be ready for it. When you feel the time is right think about it. I really feel it has benefits for both the reader and the author. .

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  9. Excellent insight.

    “I would do it this way…” is such a hard conditioning to break. We watch a movie and when an actor zigs instead of zags and we would have had them zag… That’s hard to not overlay on our interpretation of the story.

    Beta reading, I think, needs to be an even mix of brutal critique and effusive support — without remaking the story as our own. Still, when a character has a chance to show more of themselves and a hint that the scene could use “this dramatic punch” (which comes from our own vision of the story) needs to be communicated. The author has the option then of including or ditching your comment.

    I tend to go, “I read to here and would stop due to: dullness, too much description, logical conflict, POV hops, etc.”
    If I find too many places where I’d quit reading — I’ll quit reading (as writers, don’t we get so damn persnickety about what we think is good?)

    A writer’s confidence is a tenuous critter. Without at least 51% positive comments, we’ll just beat ourselves up and shelve a work (for later, hopefully).

    Again, evocative post.

    Like

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