Tuesday, August 17, 2010

To Read For Better Or Worse

I have done my fair share of crits but needed to know exactly what is expected from a beta-reader. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process. I do have to give credit where credit is due and say it was an easy read. Afterwards I spoke with the author about the questions and concerns I had. She was very responsive and I was able to point out things she hadn’t noticed. We discussed what actions would help get rid of some of the holes and things left unresolved. All and all this was a great experience I would definitely do again. So I thought I would give a little crash course on beta reading. Lets start with what a beta reader is and go from there.

Beta Reader:

Is a person who reads a written work, generally fiction, with what has been described as “a critical eye, with the aim of improving grammar, spelling, characterization, and general story prior to it’s release to the general public.”

Why Do Authors Need A Beta-Reader:

A beta-reader is your editor, proofreader and sounding board for ideas. Yeah you have spell check and grammar checkers but a beta-reader goes beyond that. A good beta-reader can point out if your plot has more holes than Swiss cheese. They can tell you if you are using a fanfic cliché, look at technical details like over use of certain words. They can also be your cheerleading section and provide encouragement when you have writers block. Writers with beta-readers will almost always turn out better stories.

What Should A Beta-Reader Expect From The Author:

1: The author to incorporate some changes. Notice I said some.

2: You should expect a thank you note or a thank you in the intro of the book. But this all depends on how much work you put into the project.

3: You should expect to talk to the author. They may have questions about your comments.

4: You should expect the author to tell you their expectations on what you are about to do. If they don’t tell you, ask. You want to be on the same page.

What Should An Author Expect From A Beta-Reader:

1: Communication is key. If you don’t tell your beta-reader what you want, you may not get it. Communicate; it will save you a lot of exasperation and time in the end.

2: You should expect your beta-reader to take your story seriously.

3: You should expect them to be thorough. They shouldn’t just give it a pass and only make one or two comments. They should try and catch as many errors as possible.

4: You shouldn’t expect your beta-reader to find every single mistake. They may miss something. After all we are only human.

5: You shouldn’t expect your beta-reader to comment on things outside of their expertise. If they don’t have the best grammar skills, don’t expect them to catch these errors. Instead, they could look for plot holes, characterization issues and loose ends.

6: Expect your beta-reader to complete the read in a timely manner. Discuss this and come to terms about what time frame you expect.

7: Do expect your beta-reader to be honest. The honesty will help strengthen your work.

8: Do expect some opinions to creep in. Remember opinions are just that opinions. This is where the author makes a judgment call.

9: Expect things to be said about what your beta-reader liked. They should let you know what they think works in the story. That way you don’t loose the good stuff in the editing process.

So now that you know what a beta reader is, here are some tips for being a good beta reader.

Tips For The Beta-Reader:

1: Be specific. Point out the exact spot where things don’t work, not just vague generalities.

2: Make suggestions (Which are free to be ignored) as to how the problem can be solved.

3: Point out the good bits too. You need to point out you favorite part not just for encouragement but so the author doesn’t end up losing the really great parts in the editing process.

Tips For The Author:

1: Thank your beta reader even if what they said wasn’t helpful. They took time out to read your story and for that they should be thanked.

2: Remember what your beta reader said is only an opinion and isn’t gospel. This is your story and you have the final say. On the other hand listen to your beta reader, because what was the point if you won’t take the time to listen.

3: If a suggestion is made you don’t agree with then explain why. It may be that when you explain your reasoning, or the intent, you may be able to figure out between you something that works for you both.

Never take on the role of beta-reader lightly, it is a big project and requires a lot of time. This isn’t nightly reading. It’s very important to the author, you are the first person to look at their story and give them feed back on their work. You are the person that will help them fix all the holes in the story and show them things the may not have noticed.

Authors remember to listen to your beta-reader; they have put a lot of time and effort into reading and trying to help you. Remember to be open to their thoughts, should you change everything they bring to your attention? No, but a good beta-reader can make a great story even better. Talk to them and bounce ideas off them. After all two minds are always better than one.

I recently had a criter advise me to change the POV of one of my chapters and at first I was skeptical. But it took my chapter to new levels, it reads better and is so much more interesting now.

I hope this helped to explain the process of beta reading and the roles the beta-reader and author play in the process.

I also wanted to share I have a new crit group I just opened and we have a beta read section. Something a lot of crit groups don’t have. I am currently looking for new members. You can join by clicking on the Yahoo button to the right. Hope to see you there.

Happy Reading And Writing,

Tabitha Blake


Megan O said...

Fabulous, Tabitha. I'm defintely bookmarking this for reference!

Tabitha Blake said...

Glad it was of some use to you Megan. Nice to know it was helpful.

Angel Martinez said...

Well done, Tabitha! Very thorough and nicely laid out. I do think there's an awful lot of overlap between beta readers and crit partners - and that the dedicated crit partner will end up being a beta reader without knowing it.

Tabitha Blake said...

Glad you enjoyed it and got a little laugh out of it.

Tabitha Blake said...

Thanks Emma.

Tabitha Blake said...

True the beta reads I have done have been for crit partners. I enjoyed them tremendously.

Catherine Bybee said...

Well thought out blog, Tabitha.

Tabitha Blake said...

Thanks hun.

Mika said...

This post should be mandatory at all crit groups! Great blog.

Tabitha Blake said...

Thanks Mika. Glad you liked it.

brenda said...

Fabulous post, Tabby. Very informative. I have this booked marked as well.

Tabitha Blake said...

Thanks Brenda!

Bronwyn said...

Hi Tabitha, great post! Just to be cheeky, do Beta's pick out wholes or holes? he, he, thanks for the perpective though =) It's amazing how different sets of eyes see different things!

Tabitha Blake said...

Well DUH! LOL! I went and corrected that big flub up. Guess we all have those days. So hey you going to join my crit group. You look like you would make one hell of a criter!

Zee Monodee said...

Great post, girl! Spot on.

I also want to mention that a beta reader reads a story from start to finish in one go. There are consistency and other continuity issues that jump up in a beta read as opposed to chapter-by-chapter crits. Another thing - a beta reader expects the whole ms to make sense, not just one chapter, as in, she/he waits to get to the end to ask 'what was chapter 3 about?' because chapter 3 might just have been planting the setup for the middle and end.

Lol, I hope this made sense!

Tabitha Blake said...

So true Zee. A beta reader looks at the ms as a whole.

andrea said...

What an awesome post. I've had crit partners who love everything I write (even the crap I just slopped down) and others who've hated it. Maybe if they'd read this post they would have been more middle-of-the-road, lol!
It certainly will make me a better crit partner, thanks for posting this.

Tabitha Blake said...

Glad you liked it A!

Kathy Fox said...

I didn't have a clue as to what the phrase meant... Thanks for the info! Kathy

Tabitha Blake said...

Yeah, I had to educate myself after I volunteered to do my first beta read. LOL! Then I thought it would make a great blog post. I am so glad it has helped so many others. We learn something new everyday. Ain't it grand!