Beta reading — I didn’t used to think about it much before I started writing seriously. (Fact About Me: I used to be jealous of the people who got to beta read my favorite books. still am. I mean, they got to read that book for free and give their opinion on it 😉
Then, last September, when I got my flash of inspiration to start spending hours a day at a keyboard (that’s how it went) I started thinking of the mysterious organism called the beta reader, the one who had all the connections to the people with the cool books in need of a new mind to critique them. Seriously. Who wouldn’t want to read a book for free and give an opinion on it that the author will actually take into consideration before publication?!?
Beta-reading excitement aside, is that really the only reason why we beta read novels?
1. #editing skills
*cue writerly groans* I know. (Almost) every writer hates. editing. period. So why should we sign up and sacrifice a month or more of our time to edit someone else’s novel? Does editing even have to do with beta reading?
Note: probably not. Not every writer is going to ask for in-depth feedback. But if they do, then you have an opportunity to try out your editing skills on someone else’s novel. Why isn’t this scene working? How can it work better? Or WHY IS THIS SCENE SO AWESOME!?!?
A major part of editing is figuring out what works, what doesn’t work, and why that is so. As a beta reader, you’re helping the author figure all that stuff out. But the awesome thing is: you just find the problems, you don’t have to fix them. Which, if I may be so bold to say, is the reason why we hate editing: we like finding the problems, but we hate fixing them.
With beta reading, we have another chance to put our problem-solving skills to the test without actually having to carry out the fixing part.
(aaannd I bring up something else we all hate) Criticism. Is. Scary. There is nothing worse than someone saying they dislike a part of our novel, or even indicating how horrible it is, despite how we brutally critique our own work. We know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of criticism, even if it’s only from ourselves.
But… what if we’re the ones giving the criticism to someone else?
Suddenly, it’s a whole different ball (writing) game. We know what it’s like receiving criticism. And we’re afraid to give it to someone else, knowing how horrible it can feel. This is the #1 problem I run into when I beta read: wanting to give honest critiques without sounding blunt or negative to the writer.
It’s a tough thing. In the end, we’re going to have to craft our feedback so it’s aimed at the book’s issues and potential. We have to look at the positive parts of the book, and encourage the writer to use more of those in the not-so-good parts.
So how does that help us as writers ourselves?
Maybe we are
definitely being too hard on ourselves.
Critiquing someone else’s novel gives us the opportunity to be honest but positive, giving direct but encouraging feedback. Don’t you think that’s something we need to do with ourselves, rather than down-talking our work and saying it’s all horrible?
Yep. Learn how to encourage yourself, look on the bright side of your work, and give criticism that helps the writer and the novel without crushing them.
In other words, it’s a community. We’re all boosting each other along toward our dreams. Critiquing a writer’s novel is helping them, just as you’re helped when someone critiques your novel.
Quick story: About a month ago, I received my novel, Found, back from beta readers. I’d say that was a turning point in my writing journey. I finally knew what worked and didn’t work in my novel. I’m forever thankful to my awesome beta readers who have helped me so much.
That’s a cool thing to be a part of. Writers value beta readers perhaps more than anyone else because of how great a help they are.
When I look for novels to beta, I think of three things:
1) Do I have enough time? Don’t over-commit; beta reading takes time. (I have been known to ignore this consideration xD)
2) do I know this writer? It’s awesome to give friends a boost by beta reading their novels.
3) is this a genre I’m interested in? I usually don’t judge a novel by its synopsis, since they are so hard to write, but I do check out the genre. Murder-mystery? Nope. Romance? Probably not. I like to beta read genres I’m semi-familiar with and comfortable reading.
But, most importantly, will beta reading for this person boost their writing journey along? It’s awesome to help other writers along in their journeys, especially if they’re newer to this whole field. It’s a really special feeling, knowing you helped someone, and that alone is worth reading their novel and critiquing it. You never know when your words are going to make huge difference between a writer giving up and carrying on.
And, lastly, why not beta read? You get to check out an awesome idea by another writer, give some advice about it, and flail over it with the author (which is awesome xD).
Without feedback and support, no one’s novel would ever get published.
And who knows? Maybe you’ll be inspired but the words you read.