For most of this month, we’ve talked about beta reading and critique from a writer’s standpoint. Today I want to talk about beta reading for readers. I suspect many beta readers are also writers, so some of this will sound familiar to you. However, I hope I’m able to provide some real insight to those of you who are just getting into this world. This isn’t so much a “How to Beta Read” post as it is a post about communicating with each other; I might eventually write a series on analytical reading if I get a request for it, but I don’t have plans to do that at this time.
Places to find writers
If you want to help critique an author’s work, there are tons of places you can look. Facebook groups and Reddit are both full of writers seeking constructive criticism, and I feel like there are more writers out there than readers. No matter where you look, you’re going to be in demand. I’ll post a list of links to specific places next week, so please come back and check that out.
Even though demand for your services is going to be high, that doesn’t mean you have to read for every author who asks, and you also don’t have to read from every subject or genre. Here are some tips on how to facilitate the process for both you and your new writer friends.
Be clear about what you want to read.
If you’re only looking to read certain genres, age ranges, or lengths, be sure to state that up front. Don’t feel bad about refusing a story if an author sends you something that you stated you’re not interested in reading. Just politely tell them why you’re not going to read it. A huge reason books get rejected is because the author didn’t follow the submission guidelines. This is something they have to learn, so don’t let them steamroll you; a professional would send them a form rejection and probably not even tell them why.
Be clear about what you’re willing to do.
If you don’t want to copy or line edit a story, make sure the author is aware of that up front. I don’t accept stories that are full of simple mistakes for beta reading because I want to concentrate on the actual content of the story and those minor errors are distracting for me. When someone sends me a story that’s littered with typos and other little problems, I tell them that they need to tackle their grammar issues and leave it at that. But that’s me. If you don’t mind doing some proofreading, then go for it. I’m sure the author will appreciate it.
Leave the rewrites to the author
You will have moments where you feel like you can write something better than the author did, but don’t give into that temptation. Their story needs to be in their narrative voice. The best thing you can do is point out what seems inconsistent or awkward or just wrong. You can make suggestions, and you can ask questions, but don’t rewrite their story for them.
It’s easy to fall into a mindset where you’re just throwing out criticism, but it’s also important to point out the things that you like about a story. Writing is a personal outlet, and it helps to know that people enjoy our work and it’s not just crap. When you do point out errors, try to use “I” language. I know you mainly read about that in relationship articles, but it’s an effective tool in the professional world as well. It helps you get your point across in a way that is assertive and self-aware.
Keep it confidential
I know it’s easy to get excited about an author’s work, but please don’t share stories you’re beta reading with anybody else. You can tell your author that you have a friend who might also like to beta read for them and help them exchange contact information, but that’s about it. Please, please don’t leak people’s work onto the internet. Never steal from an author or attempt to claim credit for their writing.
I sometimes talk about things I’ve beta read on this blog, but I try to be generic about it and use it as an educational tool. I don’t want to name and shame anyone or leak spoilers of their stories. My goal here is to inform you and help you grow as writers, so I try to limit this to situations that are relevant to my post topic.
Talk to the author if you’re not going to finish reading their work
Please don’t ghost authors. If you don’t have time to finish their story, tell them. Especially tell them if their story isn’t interesting to you. We can’t fix problems if we don’t know about them. Unfortunately, you might encounter a bad apple every now and then who won’t accept criticism or want to take no for an answer. Block them and move on.
Above all, remember that writers love their beta readers
It’s a lot of work to go over a story and critique it for free, and we appreciate it. If you also write, offering to beta read for someone could be a way to start up a critique partnership. You never know.
I hope I was able to give you future beta readers some useful advice. Next week is the last installment in this series, although I might touch on the subject again once I start working with beta readers for my novel. I’m planning on sharing some resources so you writers out there can reach critique partners and beta readers. You readers can obviously use them to help meet writers, too, so please be sure to check back! Also feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions or anything to add. Thanks!