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If you have a writer in your life and you are close to them, chances are you have been asked to read and review their work. You are what is known as a Beta reader, the first ones who get to look at new work. I have been a beta reader for the author’s in my life and let me tell you this is never an easy job. Sure, it sounds like fun, reading something someone you know and love has created, but let me tell you the fun is fleeting.
I didn’t truly understand how to be a beta reader until I started writing on my own. Sure I would read and give some feedback when asked, but it wasn’t in depth and more importantly, it was not always honest. At the time I was more concerned about hurting the feeling of the author’s I loved rather than be totally honest and risk hurting their feelings. It wasn’t until I was asking my own beta readers for feedback that I realized I used to suck at being a beta reader.
The first time I asked others to read my work, I recognized the niceties that were being said. I had said the same things. Stephen King talks about writing for your ideal writer, one person that will be brutally honest. I am very lucky, I have two, who are also both authors. I remember when my sister read my first book, she called me and said, “Okay, we’ve got to talk about this scene.”
One of the characters in it has to go buy a car, she’s in college. She chose the car she bought because she told herself she did not need a family car.
My sister was blunt, “college girls are not thinking about family cars.” She was right and she was honest, and it stung. I remember thinking about all of the rationales why my character would have done that, telling myself I was right when I heard my inner voice say, “stop!” My sister was being an excellent beta reader, she was being honest, to the point and helpful. She didn’t call me with hurtful words, she called with a well thought out critique.
The whole experience was an ego check, something I think everyone needs, but no one likes. I learned to shut up, not argue and listen to the advice given. As a writer, I learned that when someone reads your work and does not give constructive feedback, it doesn’t help you grow as an author. It takes more love and care for a person and their work, to be honest with them.
Now when I am asked to beta read, I don’t jump in right away. I ask myself if I can be honest, really honest with the writer. Sometimes I know I can, and other times I can’t so I decline to read. I try to be an active beta reader and give useful feedback. With the author’s permission, I make notes. I want my reading to count, to be helpful.
I always tell my beta readers, “if I don’t know there is a problem, I cannot fix it.” I stand by this. I also prepare myself mentally for a reader to come back and trash the work. Luckily I have never had that happen, but I know it might someday. The point is that both the beta reader and the author are putting themselves out there, in a vulnerable spot.
So that being said here are my rules to test if you’d be a good beta reader.
- Can you be honest.. really honest? – If you can’t, don’t read the work.
- Be timely- I am terrible at this (sorry Lauren) The author is waiting for feedback.
- Be constructive in criticism- Give the author directions to work in
- Be detailed- “It needs work,” is not helpful. What exactly needs work?
- Be willing to re-read if necessary.
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