On Choosing a Beta-Reader (Part 2)

In my last post, I detailed how a breakdown in communication with my beta-reader led to the severance of my professional relationship with this individual. it took me a few days to reflect on the situation, and my conclusion was that he and I just didn’t make a very good writing team. My immediate concern was that I would have to find another beta-reader, preferably someone familiar with the Georgia/Florida area (as that’s where the settings for all my books will be). Fortunately, my friend Megan, who is kindhearted but a no-BS person (she’s a teacher, too) had given me some very detailed feedback on Ice as well as a great idea for a new cover for Ice if i ever decide to change it. She also agreed to be my beta-reader and if she’s unavailable (teachers do get busy), she knows some others who have already offered to do the beta-reading. It’s great that every time I have a writing-related crisis, I get so many people who come out to support me.

But I have been thinking: what are some things writers should look for in a beta-reader? These folks are vital to your writing career, as they can give you helpful advice that you need BEFORE you publish.

1. A previous good relationship-I generally wouldn’t recommend having family members or your best friend be your beta-readers. This puts them in a position of having to say things to you that you may not want to hear. ideally, your beta-reader should be another experienced writer, an avid but critical reader, or someone with a literature/fiction background. Take the time to get to know them for a while before asking them to beta-read. This will help to determine if the right professional ‘chemistry” is there.

2. Someone who won’t take offense if you don’t follow all of his/her suggestions-if someone ever tells you that not following his way will result in no sales, run. Remember that it is your book and ultimately, you decide the final product. There is no rule that says you have to take anyone’s suggestions. And as far as not following their suggestions hindering your sales, unless what they’re pointing out is grotesquely offensive content or is a serious, fatal flaw, this is unlikely to be the case.

3. Someone who can be completely honest but still talk to you like a person-it’s one thing to say, for example, “You need to work on your character development’ and quite another to say “your characters make me want to kill myself.” A beta-reader should give you constructive feedback while allowing you to keep your dignity intact. Any type of condescension, belittling, or uncalled-for, unhelpful comments means you should probably keep looking. They need to tell you what areas are weak and where your book needs improvement, so I’m not saying they should handle you with kid gloves, but  there is no reason for anyone to treat you like you’re less than human. If someone is demeaning you,even under the guide of “just being honest” or ‘telling it like it is,” go ahead tell them “thanks, but no thanks.”

4. Easy, two-way communication-if you are not free to ask why the reader said X,Y,or Z, or if the beta-reader threatens to leave if you ask questions, try to get clarification, or (gasp!) disagree with a suggestion they made, leave the door wide open so it won’t hit them on the ass. Communication is keep to making this relationship work.

5. Someone with whom you feel 100% comfortable- if a beta-reader makes you feel uncomfortable for any reason, they’re not a good fit. keep looking.

Tips for Authors:

1. Don’t take your beta-readers objective comments personally. They are only trying to help you create a better product.

2. Don’t make a post on the Internet randomly asking for beta-readers. Take the time to get to know someone and determine if you trust their opinion. Any type of Internet site that allows posting is a troll-magnet. You don’t want your books in the hands of trolls who will trash your book for their own amusement.

3. Feel free to discontinue the relationship any time of a beta-reader is not being helpful or is being combative. Or if the person’s advice makes you feel uncomfortable.

4. Ask the beta-reader beforehand: Do you like books in my genre? Do you have time to do this? What are you willing and not willing to check for? Are you also willing to do some light copyediting? Are you offended by sex, violence, profanity, or any topics that may come up in this book? What is most important to you as a reader?Some readers are focused on the characters, and others on the plot. Ideally, you should have one “plot” beta-reader and one “character” beta-reader.

5. Consider having a questionnaire for your beta-reader to use during the reading. This will serve as a guide. For example ask, “does my opening grab your attention?” Leave room for comments.

6. Ask the beta-reader to keep your work confidential until it’s published. If you send them a PDF copy, ask him/her to delete it after he’s done (you can gift him with a copy upon publication).

7. Don’t expect your beta-reader to also be your copyeditor, unless he or she is Ok with it and agrees to do it (and is qualified).

Tips for Beta-readers:

1. Don’t accept a book that is written in a genre you don’t like.

2. Consider your words carefully. Remember that although the author needs to hear the truth, he/she is still a human with feelings.You can be honest without being harsh or cruel.

3. Don’t accept a project if you can’t commit to it. Authors are counting on you to get the job done because they want to publish. If you cannot follow through, notify the author ASAP so he/she can find someone else.

4. Don’t ever accept a project that, for any reason at all, you don’t want to do. Never allow an author to pressure you into a project.

5. Make an agreement with the author beforehand on what you will and won’t be looking for. And keep your word.

6. Don’t share an author’s work with others unless you have permission to do so.

7. If a project is not working for you, it is your right to discontinue at any time. Just notify the author ASAP so he/she can make other arrangements (even better if you can recommend an alternate reader).

Anything else that I missed?


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