Welcome readers of Kev’s blog to my monthly editor’s guest post where I’ll be discussing beta readers today.
Every author’s dream? Or nightmare?
Come to that, every editor’s dream or nightmare too.
But, firstly, what is beta reading? And alpha reading?
An alpha read is looking at an early draft copy that is pretty raw.
A beta copy should polished and virtually finished. It should be well self-edited so that it is clean for the beta readers.
Beta reading is basically reading through a draft MS and giving a reader’s opinion of the story.
‘Meh, I didn’t like it’ isn’t really good enough.
It needs to be ‘Meh, I didn’t like it because …’ of plot, characters, pacing, tension, or even overall style of writing.
Also, ‘Meh, I didn’t like it because I don’t like vampires’ doesn’t cut it either. If you don’t like vampires, don’t offer to beta read vampire novels. Obvious huh?
According to Wiki, beta reading can include proofreading. In this instance I totally disagree. This is not what beta reading is about at all. Nor is it editing.
However, there are lots of would-be beta readers out there offering to do just that. Invariably students who seem to find proofing someone’s MS more interesting than studying.
But, this does raise an important point. At what point do you submit beta copies? Before or after you have paid for an edit? I have to say, I loathe beta reading anything chock-full of errors. I can’t read the story for the errors.
The author’s dilemma is whether to pay for an edit, and then make changes after beta feedback, or send out unedited copies with errors?
Not my issue. Luckily. I’ll come onto editing issues and betas later.
What should a beta report or feedback consist of?
I’ve heard first-hand stories of betas saying, ‘Yeah, liked it’. And that was it.
Others have a twenty page template that they fill in dutifully, comment on each chapter separately, and go through the whole MS using track changes to annotate. For free.
I’ll be honest, the only free beta reading I do, is for a chapter or two, or – very – short stories. And they get a one or two page summary of my opinion, plus, if there are loads of stupid errors I will mention them. I won’t touch novels for free.
My paid-for beta reads get a much more in-depth analysis, a ten (or so) page report, plus, examples of spelling/grammar/punctuation problems if they wish. So far, everyone has said yes to that, but it’s included in the price anyway.
I don’t send the MS back with mark-ups. A beta read is not a cheap edit or a cheap proofread, and I think this is part of the problem at the moment. People who don’t have the money to pay for the finishing skills are using free betas to hopefully plug that gap. And it doesn’t work.
Where do we find these golden gems who spend hours pouring over our novels?
Mostly on forums, or occasionally, for people who live outside the internet, from real life groups. Trouble is, once you know people, even on forums, chances of objectivity are decreased.
And, finding readers is totally hit and miss. Some authors can receive half a dozen responses. Others? Nothing.
How do you choose a beta reader?
Well, if you are asking for free ones, I guess you take whatever is offered. Maybe you will get results, maybe not. There are an awful lot of young beta readers specialising in NA/YA (unsurprisingly), fantasy, romance etc. No erotica, vampires, werewolves. So if you write crime, sci-fi, dystopian, mystery, spec-fic you might have a smaller potential market.
I’ve beta read: crime, fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian, memoirs and travel – that come to mind. Should you look for a specialist beta reader? An avid fantasy reader, or a geek who knows all the sci-fi terms? Maybe a historical fiction reader who knows what the ton is?
Why pay for a beta reader?
I’ve read more than one author complaining about lack of interest, or failure to feed back, or getting poor feedback, so they went down the paid-for road on the grounds they could guarantee some type of response. And, they seemed happy with what they received from the paid-fors.
So while many people say an author should never pay for a beta reader, others find it a solution that works for them.
Catch as catch can.
Betas and editing
But what about the editing perspective?
I worked (editing) with someone and suggested the author delete certain sections.
‘Oh, but I added those in on the advice of my beta reader(s).’
Said beta readers were so lacking in imagination they would struggle to visualise the sun in a blue sky, so we had paragraphs of tortuous description that added nothing to the story.
‘I didn’t have it in originally because I’m not very good at description,’ added the author.
Seriously, what is the point of editing someone’s work to make it smooth, polished and flow better when an author decides to pay more attention to beta readers than their own instinct or my recommendations?
What an author should be looking for is an general idea of what works and what doesn’t work, not nit-picking comments about detail. Authors don’t need a thesis, merely pointers, ideas, opinions.
One of the golden rules is that authors don’t have to take on beta advice. And that’s important to remember if you go down the beta road.