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How to be a (Better) Beta Reader

Craft Tips from the Editing Cave

In my Editing Cave posts, I use real-world editing issues that I've come across in my work - I never name names and I always reword examples to share any blushes (except my own - those I will shamelessly share!)

In a previous (click here) blog, I explain what a beta reader is, and how to find one ...

(Tl;dr it's someone who reads your unpublished novel with a mind to offering you feedback)

But what if you want to be a beta?

Becoming a beta reader is a great way to improve your own writing craft. It can help you find a community, inspiration, and the confidence to grow. It's also a huge privilege to be allowed into the creative minds of others. Here are a few dos and don'ts of reading and feeding back on writers' work in no particular order:

  • DO understand where your author is at. Are they on their first draft looking to check they're on the right track, or have they been through substantial edits and want to check the polish?

  • DO find out how much brutal they can handle. Often writers will say, be as honest as you like ... do they really mean this - you don't want to crush them, especially at the early stages

  • DO offer beta services before asking for them

  • DO read as a reader AND a writer

  • DO consider using a style guide. I'll cover this in a future blog if it's of interest. Simply put, it's a method of noting items for consistency, either the writer's style or character detail, for example

  • DO be intuitive - even if you can't identify exactly what is wrong with a scene/ character/plot element, let the writer know something was up

  • Then again DON'T be too vague. There is no more frustrating feedback than 'I loved it!' even if your intention was to be nice

  • DO ask the writer if there are specific things they want you to focus on/ignore (they might not care about spelling or grammar at this stage)

  • DO tell the writer what you liked, as well as what they could improve

  • DON'T bring any personal agenda, voice, or style into your feedback. The lack of an Oxford comma is not a crime.

  • DO use track changes on a Word doc.

  • DON'T feel the need to explain yourself if a writer queries your feedback, assuming you've done your due diligence while reading. If something felt off to you then it may do to a reader. Sometimes a writer may come back to you and say: 'ah yes, but I explain that on page 42'. And you may think 'Ah yes, but it wasn't enough for me'. Feedback is subjective and you are entitled to your opinion. The writer is under no obligation to act on your feedback

  • DO be honest about your reading preferences. If you don't read contemporary YA it's OK to say you're not comfortable providing feedback

  • DO think hard before charging. Beta reading is traditionally a sort of quid pro quo situation and it's a fantastic way for new writers to gain and give experience, and for others to access great writing before it's published. There are plenty of people online who charge for the service but in general, the value you get from being a beta goes beyond the financial

  • DO treat your writers' work with respect and confidentiality. Never share a manuscript with anyone unless the writer gives you express permission. Their words are their intellectual property and it's a privilege to be trusted with them

  • DO be honest about turnaround times and don't overload yourself. It takes time to read and carefully consider a novel. You might be taking handwritten notes, or using track changes, compiling a summary email, or answering questions, so give yourself enough time. A 20,000 word chapter book is not the same as an 80,000 word MG fantasy with off-planet world-building and a complex magic system

OK, so that was more dos than don'ts, which is nice.

So, you're all set to be a kind and considerate, but incisive beta reader. How can you find writers to connect with?

  1. The obvious place to begin is by advertising your availability on the various social media platforms. Check out groups of like-minded readers on Facebook

  2. Use SCBWI if you're a member

  3. Find local writing groups

  4. Goodreads also has groups for betas

  5. Websites specifically for writers, such as Writers HQ or WriteMentor

  6. Advertise your gig on Fiverr, Reedsy, or similar but understand you will be one of many!

Are you a beta reader? Do you find it helps keep your own writing sharp? What would your top tips for readers or writers be? Let me know, and also if you'd like to beta read any of my work! I'm always grateful for an extra pair of fresh eyes.

Until next time,

Happy writing!


Join me next time for more tips from the editing cave, and if you'd like entry to the cave, check out the services I offer: click below and say hello

From EmDashED Freelance Novel Editing


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