When you find a good beta reader, it’s like striking gold.
Suddenly you have riches of feedback to help shape your story into the MS you set out to write when you typed the first sentence.
It’s natural to want to return the favor and help another writer. Beta reading for others will also help you sharpen your skills. Like a cosmic joke, it’s always easier to see typos, pacing problems, or stilted sentences in someone else’s MS.
For that reason and more, if you ever get the chance to be a beta, take the opportunity with both hands, and stick to these do’s and don’ts.
The Do’s And Don’ts Of Being A Good Beta Reader
Do Spot All The Typos
The best way to spot a typo is with fresh eyes. When you’ve never read the piece before, mistakes will jump out at you. As a beta reading another’s work for the first time, you’re in a prime position to see those typos and point them out.
Same goes for formatting. If there’s an extra space somewhere or something is on the wrong line, note it down and let the writer know so they can fix it.
Don’t Tell Another Writer How To Write
As a beta, your job is to provide your opinion as a reader.
If their scene inspired you as a writer, tell them, they’ll probably be flattered, but don’t tell them how to write it. Instructing how you would change it or what you would add is most likely not the feedback they want.
While some writers might ask for suggestions, there’s a big difference between making a recommendation and flat out telling the writer how to write the scene.
If you feel yourself doing this, pull back. It’s not your MS.
Do Let Them Know What’s Confusing
It’s true when they say no two writers would craft the same idea in the same way. Our uniqueness sets us apart. It’s also this uniqueness that can make things muddy.
What the author thought was a perfectly understandable paragraph from their point of view, might not be as clear to others.
If you come across a sentence, idea, or plot twist that made little sense, don’t assume you didn’t get it and move on. Highlight it and let them know you found it confusing. They might not agree with you, but they may also give that section a closer look and make it better, which means one of your jobs as the beta has been done.
Don’t Say You’ll Do It If You Won’t
When agreeing to beta read, give a realistic timetable of when you can read it and try to stick to it.
Yes, life changes and unexpected things come up, so if you can no longer read it in the agreed period, or at all, just let the writer know. They’ll understand, and giving them a heads up will allow them to rework their editing schedule or find another beta.
Do Go For The Compliment Sandwich
Honesty is always appreciated when beta reading, wanted even. But honesty usually means pointing out the bad stuff and what doesn’t work. For the writer’s sanity, tell them the good too. Knowing they did at least one thing right might make the difference between them moving into another round of edits, or shelving the MS (or writing) altogether.
For those cases, sandwich the not so great feedback between two pieces of good or great feedback, always ending on some good if you can.
Just try to think about the feedback you’d like for your own MS (good and bad) and how you’d like it given to you and use that as your guide when having to share what’s working and what isn’t.
Don’t Make It Hard To Read Your Feedback
The writer might request that feedback is given in a certain way, or they might leave it up to you. In either case, be consistent.
- Put your comments within the text in bold, a different color, or highlighted.
- In a comment box that appears on the side of the document (Word feature).
- As a track change in either Word or Google Docs.
- A big roundup at the end of each scene/chapter.
- An email or a separate document that contains just your feedback thoughts/notes.
I like to add my feedback as a comment in Word and flag certain types of feedback. For example, when it’s a typo, I’ll write “Typo:” at the start of the comment so the writer knows what kind of feedback it is at a glance, and can use the search function on the comments to find all the typos when they’re editing.
You could also color-code your feedback, such as blue for typos, red for confusing sentences, green for compliments. Just don’t forget to tell the writer what the color codes are for.
Whatever feedback option, or mix of options you choose, always make your feedback obvious so the writer can spot it.
Do Give Them The Feedback They Ask For
If they give you questions, keep them in mind when reading and try to give detailed responses to the best of your ability. If you can’t answer the question asked, just be honest and tell them.
Be upfront about the feedback you’re able/willing to give. You might not be able to break every chapter down into a five-page report, but you can tell them what you loved, which character you hated and why, and that you did or didn’t see the twist in the final chapter coming.
You never know, your insights could be the gold they’re looking for to turn their MS into a treasure.
How about you? Have you ever beta read for another writer and do you have any tips? If so, leave them in the comments!
— K.M. Allan