Sunday, February 22, 2015
Beta Reading is a Gift Everyone Can Give
Although I’m a freelance editor and get to read and work on unpublished manuscripts as my day job (I know, it rocks!), it’s still not enough. So, I often offer to beta read for authors with an early, and later, draft of a novel. It’s what I like to do with my free time.
To be honest, I have to beta read all the books I've been instructed to edit as well because the same initial process applies. I need to read and understand the story and the characters, and consider how it makes me feel from a reader’s point of view before I delve into any edits.
Other than the usual considerations of characterisation and depth, of structure and plot, and so on, here’s some more general things I do and consider before, during and after a beta read.
I’ll pretty much beta read any genre. Why not? If anything, it might introduce me to a category or genre I’d never have considered before. Plus, my eyes will be fresh and completely unbiased in my review. You don't have to be an expert to read a person's book, just being prepared to give honest feedback is qualification enough.
As I read, I do my best to make very few notes. I don’t when I read a published book I buy from Amazon or a bookstore, and so it's essential I apply the same reading attitude to an unpublished book. Otherwise, I run the risk of losing any enjoyment the story might give me as I’m too busy fussing over technicalities. My notes might simply consist of ‘passive’ or ‘telling’ or ‘repeating xxxx’ or ‘dialogue unnatural’ and so on. And I love to highlight.
I’ll only make more detailed notes if there’s a section of the book I have to re-read or go back to check; it’s a sign that that particular scene or element isn’t working or perhaps there’s an inconsistency somewhere. Sometimes it could be my own situation, i.e. misbehaving children, snoring husband, etc., that prevents me from following the story, but more often than not, my instincts are right.
I focus on the look of the words on the page. Is there a lot of attractive and calming white space? Is there a range of sentence lengths? Do the paragraphs vary in size? Is there plenty of dialogue? That kind of thing. Because appearance affects a reader’s mindset and attitude when they read; it needs to appeal visually, just like a good dinner does before we tuck in!
My reports often babble on, I can't help it, it’s habit, but I do try my hardest to be as brief as possible in the initial contact. But I’ll say to the author, that if they’d like me to go into more detail on any specific points, then they only need to ask. I keep my door wide open to anyone I beta for, because rewrites are blinking hard, and if I can support in any way possible throughout, answering any questions or discussing a new idea or direction, then I will.
Above all else, I look for the positives and the strengths in the story and the author’s writing. Not only because encouragement and support is pretty much everything for an author at this stage with a WIP, but also because, for me, it actually makes it easier to weed out the weaker areas. I like my reports to feed back on what the author’s doing right as much as what they might need to work on.
Beta reading is a wonderful thing, and a gift every author and reader can give. To be a good writer, we need to read as much and as diversely as possible. And if we can occasionally do this whilst helping and guiding our fellow authors, everyone’s onto a winner.
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