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Beta Reading Tips

Two years ago I wrote about how beta readers make you a better writer. At the time I was lucky enough to have beta readers, but had not yet been asked to be a beta reader.

This year I have been fortunate to serve as a beta reader for Tamsin Flowers’s excellent erotic serial Alchemy xii. I’ve also had the opportunity to beta read for Lynn Townsend and Jessica Augustsson. In my non-fiction life, I’ve been lucky enough to look over several close friend’s work as well. What I’ve learned is that serving as a beta reader also makes you a better writer.  I am constantly impressed by the twists and turns of these talented author’s minds.  I’ve had the chance to read Tamsin and Lynn writing dramatically different voices and I aspire to write in other voices the way that they do.

 

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Beta Reading is a skill–finding the balance between “OHMYGOD I LOVE THIS” (which all three of the authors I’ve mentioned will tell you I say regularly) and “this needs work” is tricky.  Too much praise and not enough criticism is great for the ego, but not for improving the work.  Too much criticism and not enough support can really hurt (I speak from experience) and will also not improve the work. It can also be difficult to respect an author’s unique voice, even when you might phrase or sequence things differently.

If you are asked to beta read, I have a few tips for you. These tips reflect both what I have found most helpful from betas as an author and as a beta reader for others.

  • Be honest. Never say you love something you hate.
  • That said, if you hate a work, tell the author that you aren’t a good fit as a beta for this story as opposed to ripping it (and them) to shreds.
  • Be aware of your baggage.  In the September chapter of Alchemy xii, Beth is injured and needs surgery on a kidney. My first email to Tamsin was something like “that was so shocking and risky and and and.” She was surprised by the vehemence of my reaction, so I went back and re-read. What I realized is that I was reacting so dramatically to a kidney injury because someone very close to me had a serious kidney issue and I find kidney injuries very traumatic because of that.  I explained my baggage and suggested that she take her other betas advice more seriously and disregard mine when it came to this part of the story.
  • Be enthusiastic about what you love. Whether it was Jessica’s twist ending, or Tamsin’s gorgeous phrases, or Lynn’s crazy-erotic sex scene, I make a point of saying “this works!”  Beta reading isn’t just about pointing out flaws. You need to tell your author what is working, too.
  • Point out flaws gently. I’ve mentioned before that one of my consistent flaws is to say that someone began to do something.  Lynn said that if your sentence is “He began to walk across the room,” unless it is immediately followed by “but tripped over the cat,” I need to lose the word “began.”
  • Ensure that you do point out areas for improvement. As I said above, while a rave review is great for the ego, it doesn’t help you improve your work–and all of our work can always use a tweak. Make sure that you balance the positive with areas for improvement.
  • If there is a word that is repeated, point it out.  I have found a paragraph where I used the word nipples something like four times in five consecutive sentences.  A beta highlighted the word and suggested I use some synonyms or refine the paragraph to eliminate repetition.
  • Mention their filler words. We all have filler words we rely on–just, almost, very, quite, began to. If you catch a running filler word (something that’s showing up over and over) highlight or otherwise mention it.
  • Give general feedback. Comments throughout the work are helpful.  But so is a summary in the email where you’re returning the story with comments is also useful.  Overall, this (it’s a good rough draft, I really like the core relationship, I laughed like crazy). Specifics like character development, setting (if relevant), and flow. Areas that could use refinement (Your MC’s voice seems to change mid-story–you may want to look at that to ensure that they are consistent).
  • Pay attention to what the author asks you about. If they want feedback on the relationship, don’t spend the bulk of your time talking about the setting.

Authors and betas–what other tips would you add to this?

One Response

  1. This is a great post, Delilah – and a great place for me to publically acknowledge and thank you for all the amazing and valuable work you’ve done for me on the Alchemy series and other pieces.

    I can absolutely vouch for Delilah being one of the most brilliant beta readers I’ve come across.

    The problem with having written this post, though, is that you’re now likely to be totally inundated with beta reading requests!

    T
    xoxoxox

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