Beta Readers – The Stepping Stones to a Final DraftMarch 18, 2009 at 4:18 PM | Posted in Editing | 7 Comments
Tags: beta, beta reader, crit, critique, draft, edit, Editing, feedback, final draft, grammar, line by line, teen, teenage writer, teenager, writer, Writing
Many new writers ask if beta readers are necessary. Well, there’s no real answer to this question. Many writers have them, and many writers don’t. The choice is yours, but there are some things you should know about beta readers if you are considering one.
Three Types of Beta Readers:
There are three main types of beta readers: the complimenters, the half and half, and the critters. The complimenters are usually friends and family. They’re good for picking out some grammar and spelling mistakes, but mostly for raising self-confidence. (Not saying all friends and family aren’t going to be truthful with you if it really does suck – though I’m sure it doesn’t). Half and halfs are good for raising confidence and also for fixing up your manuscript. Then there are the critters. These are the ones that crit (short for critique) your MS. They can be soft or amazingly rough. The best critters are honest, and they can really help your MS. It’s good to have a combination of complimenters, half and halfs, and critters.
Finding a Beta Reader:
You’ve decided you want a beta reader. Now what? Well, the next step is to find one. There are countless places: your family and friends, critique groups, writing websites and forums (absolutewrite.com/forums is a good one). You want to find a beta reader who you can trust. There are plenty of great, honest beta readers out there, but just like with agents and publishers, there are some that are dishonest thieves. Fortunately, they are definitely in the minority. I don’t say that to scare you away from beta readers altogether, just to make you aware.
Each beta reader has their own kind of critting style. Some are line-by-line critiquers, and others can’t do a line-by-line to save their lives (I’m one of the second). It’s up to them and you on what kind of crit you want. Some beta readers are harsh (read: honest) and others know how to be honest, but soft. Notice the “honesty.” Your beta reader should be honest. If your MS needs a major overhaul, they should tell you. Though if you’ve been doing your homework and edit before you send, it shouldn’t need one.
Before You Send:
Your MS should be almost agent ready by the time you even think about sending it to a beta reader. Their reading shouldn’t be bogged down by the countless grammar and spelling mistakes that often accompany a rough draft – they don’t appreciate it. Just as you wouldn’t send a rough draft to an agent, editor or publisher and tell them to edit it for you, don’t do that to beta readers.
What to Send:
This is up to you and your beta reader. Some writers send only a partial (first 3 chapters, first 50 pages, or first 100 pages typically), others send a full. I beta read a story for someone that preferred to keep the ending on the down-low, so I only got to read about the first half. I respected that, even though their MS had me practically begging to know what happened (and I still don’t know). So really, this is totally up to you.
Establish whether you want a chapter by chapter feedback or all the notes at the end. When I beta, I like to have the MS sent as an e-mail attachment so I can read it properly and add my comments in red. But that’s just my style. I had a beta reader who sent me notes through e-mail as she was reading. This is also up to you.
It can be a long wait for comments, but it’s good practice for when agents have your MS. They aren’t going to read it overnight and have a reply in your inbox the next day – it may take weeks, even months. My personal beta reading time varies. Some fulls I’ve read overnight, and others I’ve had for weeks. With me, it depends on how much I like the writing. Still, if you’re waiting a while, keep in mind that beta readers have their own lives and commonly have their own writings to work on. Often personal things, including school or work, take away from their reading time. So be patient. :) Work on something else while you wait.
You’ve Got Mail:
Your crit is in the mailbox after all those long days of waiting. Read over the comments carefully. Remember you don’t have to use all the advice, but you’ll be wise to read it all and use what you feel you should. Utilize the suggestions and do another read through. Then you can either send it to agents (or publishers), or even better, send it to another beta. It’s usually suggested that you have at least two beta readers (though like everything, not required).
And my last, but certainly not least, piece of advice: THANK YOUR BETAS. They take time out of their busy schedules and their own writing to better yours. So even if the comments weren’t what you wanted to hear, send them a thank you. We’ll appreciate it after all our hard work. :)