Ask Jami: How Do We Find Beta Readers?

by Jami Gold on April 5, 2012

in Writing Stuff

Woman reading in a park on a sunny day

My post about combining comments from multiple beta readers in MS Word brought up a great question.  How do we get beta readers?

In the comments, Amanda Byrne asked, “[A]ny hints on how you can scare up more beta readers? … [O]nly one of them gets back to me in a timely manner.”

Then Aldrea Alien pointed out, “I don’t wanna give someone my work and find I’ve not the time, or the skill, to properly reciprocate.”

These comments bring up multiple issues, and I’ll do my best to address each one.

What Does a Beta Reader Do?

The first thing to recognize is that just about anyone can be a beta reader.  Our mom. Our neighbor. A random Twitter follower.  Unlike a critique partner, who might comment on grammar and whatnot, a beta reader gives high-level feedback.

Can our mom be honest and point out confusing sentences or plot events?  Where her attention wavers?  Whether she finds the characters likable or sympathetic?  If so, she’d make a fine beta reader.

Next question is to ask ourselves if we can answer yes to those same questions.  If so, we’re qualified to be a beta reader as well.

For example, the last time I sent out a manuscript for beta reading, this is what I asked people to mark:

  • Anything that takes you out of the story (confusing wording, voice/characterization seems off, too repetitive, no conflict/tension, etc.).
  • Pacing issues (too slow, feels too “one note,” not enough of an arc, scene goes on too long, etc.).
  • Emotional feedback (I’d love to see stream-of-consciousness emotional reactions when you notice them/think of adding them).

That’s it.  Beta reading is not about the reader’s knowledge of the craft of writing, but about what works and doesn’t work for them as a reader.

We shouldn’t discount our ability to provide useful feedback because we’re not perfect writers ourselves yet.  I can’t write a query letter to save my life, but I can still point out if someone’s query letter mentions too many characters by name, has a confusing-sounding plot, or reads flat.

Here, Beta Reader, Come Out Wherever You Are

Now that we’ve addressed why we shouldn’t think we’re “not skilled enough” to beta read for someone else, my advice to Amanda in the comments of the last post might make more sense.

“I think the key is to be a good beta reader yourself and then offer to help others with their work.  If they find your comments helpful, you can usually work out a beta buddy exchange arrangement.”

It’s that simple and that hard.  We offer our services to others.  I’m always looking for readers with fresh eyes to check a reworked project.  Probably many other writers are the same way.  We welcome offers of beta reading.

This advice assumes we’re targeting other writers as beta readers, but  I didn’t start off that way.  My first readers were family members.  I then “graduated” to one critique partner I met through the comments of an editing blog we both visited, and we gave each other line-by-line feedback.  After I was experienced enough to take high-level comments and figure out what I needed to do to fix the issue, I switched over to using beta readers.

I met one at a conference, I offered to read for another because I love her blog and her writing, I answered a call for readers on Twitter for another, etc.  If we’re being social on blogs or other social media, we’ll meet people we “click” with.  Offer to read for them.

Are We Ready to Give as Well as We Get?

Why do I use mostly writers even though I pointed out above that non-writers can provide helpful feedback too?  Professionalism.

Most non-writers don’t understand our deadlines, whether those are self-driven, contest deadlines, or an agent request.  Non-writers are more likely to blow off the seriousness of our statement, “I’d like to have all feedback returned to me by such-and-such date.”

Even other writers might not take our deadlines seriously.  Some of us are more professionally oriented than others.  That’s not a bad thing.

The trick is finding people who match our level.  The second trick is making sure we hold up our end of the bargain.  We can’t expect professionalism from a beta buddy if we’re not willing to do the same.

Yes, that means sometimes we have to make their writing a priority over ours.  If we promised them feedback by a certain date—and we want them to keep their promises to us—we have to be willing to put our work on the back burner and read theirs instead.  If we want to get deep, helpful comments from them, we have to spend the time to give them the same.

Are They a Good Match?

Some writers might not know what it means to be a good beta reader, but will learn if they have it modeled for them.  We should give others the style of feedback we’d like to receive.

To avoid burning a bunch of time on someone who might not be a good match, we can offer to give feedback on a query letter, synopsis, a short story, or the first chapter of their novel.  See how they react to our feedback.  Are they defensive, or do they blow it off?  If so, we’ll keep looking for a better match.

If they seem appreciative and seem to “get” our feedback, we can ask them to check something small for us.  Are their comments helpful and insightful?  Are we able to take their style of comments (the harsh and honest factor)?

Yes, there is a give and take aspect to being beta buddies with others.  We can’t ask others to spend time giving us feedback if we’re not willing to do the same.  But I usually learn something new when I’m helping others, so I find that I win both when reading for someone else and when getting comments from readers.

Have you offered to beta read for others?  Do you think you’re a good beta reader, or could you use more pointers?  What drives you crazy when others read for you (they never get back to you, etc.)?  Have you used writers or non-writers so far?

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63 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Angela Quarles April 5, 2012 at 6:36 am

My first beta reading experiment was a disaster! For my first novel I ever wrote (not the one I’m currently shopping), I made the mistake of giving it to my mom to read. The problem was, that it was the rough draft, and I knew it had big problems and wanted to have someone to help me figure out what those problems were/bounce ideas off of, etc. Her being an artist and a big reader, I thought she’d be great. Well, a reader is not the one to help with that. I was too much of a n00b to know that it was a critique partner I needed at that stage. She read it, making snide comments in the margin and basically her feedback was that it wasn’t polished like novels she’s used to reading and proceeded to hand me books she felt were great and that I fell short. Well, duh, mom! That’s NOT what I needed! I already knew that, just didn’t know why, LOL. I learned my lesson and waited until the proper stage for a Beta reader for this last one (for me it was the 3rd draft) and it worked out much better! I wrote a blog post about it: “Why I’m Happy My Mom Hates the Ending…” http://wp.me/p1SxbT-1L

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Jami Gold April 5, 2012 at 8:35 am

Hi Angela,

Oh no! I’m sorry you had that experience. *hugs*

Yes, thank you for reiterating that we need different types of feedback at different stages of our writing ability. When we don’t know how to get to the next level, a critique partner can be more helpful than a beta reader, especially if their strengths match up with our weaknesses and vice versa.

As I mentioned in the post, I’ve found beta readers to be more helpful when we’re already pretty skilled at self-editing, and once we know where issues are, we know how to fix them. Sometimes at that point, we need an outside opinion pointing out where we can do better to push ourselves to the next level. Thanks for the great comment!

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Carradee April 5, 2012 at 7:02 am

*chuckles* Is something in the water? I posted about this today, too, because I’d had a question on my own blog, though I focused more on when you want them and how you find the type of person you want for a beta reader—and how to process their advice.

Some of my best betas are the ones who read and then don’t get around to getting back to me until I ask them about it—because, if it’s been a few days or weeks since they’ve read the (“finished”) story, then I’m hearing about what left an impression.

For Destiny’s Kiss, one friend on her own brought up a scene that had the exact emotional impact on her that I was aiming for. (She called it so funny but so sad.)

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Jami Gold April 5, 2012 at 8:47 am

Hi Carradee,

LOL! That is funny. :)

Everyone, Carradee’s post is a great complement to this topic, and she goes into what to watch out for in beta readers as well. Helpful information that I didn’t have room to go into. :)

You bring up a great point about the type of feedback we usually want from beta readers: impressions and emotional reactions. When I beta read for others, I give comments in the document for specific lines or sections, often with stream-of-consciousness emotional reactions. At the end of each chapter, I’ll usually give an overall impression on pacing and character likability (“Not much seemed to happen plot-wise, but we got more character development, so that’s good.”) Then in the email with the feedback document, I’ll give an overall impression of the story, characters, and anything I didn’t touch on in the comments.

Yes, that all takes time, but that’s the kind of feedback I find helpful, so I have to be willing to do the same. Being willing to do all that is what makes us good beta readers. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Buffy Armstrong April 5, 2012 at 7:27 am

Jami, this post is timely. I’ve been asking myself this question for a while now. I have a manuscript that I want to send out, but I think it needs some work. The only person who sees my work is my writing buddy. She is great. She’s freelance editor. She works with writers all of the time, but I can’t dump everything on her. I’ve sent it out to a cousin who reads paranormal romance (a non-writer) and a Twitter pal who is a writer. We will see how it works out. I would like to be a beta reader for someone, but thus far no one has asked.

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Jami Gold April 5, 2012 at 8:52 am

Hi Buffy,

I have no doubt you’ll find beta readers, just keep offering until something sticks. :) In fact, I know of someone who’d be willing to do a trial run with you. *cough*

Besides, don’t you know my Tech Guy (@jaytechdad)? He’s my non-writer beta reader and he loves beta’ing for people. :) Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Buffy Armstrong April 5, 2012 at 1:32 pm

Any chance that person would have an interest in looking a 50 page novella of the paranormal romance variety? I’d do the same for this person (up to a full length novel!)

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Jami Gold April 5, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Hi Buffy,

I messaged you about it. :)

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Juli Page Morgan April 5, 2012 at 7:45 am

You’re so right, Jami. To get good beta readers you have to reciprocate. When I ask writer friends to beta read, I make sure they know I’ll do the same for them since I know what a huge undertaking it is. When reading a published work it’s okay to think, “Are you kidding me? Why is this here?” *skip skip skip* But when beta reading you need to tell the author, “When Barbie stopped right in the middle of her argument with Ken to flash back to times her parents fought, it interrupted the flow and made the argument less relevant. Perhaps her memories could occur after Ken storms out.” To do that through the whole book is time-consuming and a huge commitment. I won’t ask anyone to do that for me unless I’m willing to do the same for them.

I’ve found that fellow writers are more apt to heed my plea of “Please be honest! You won’t hurt my feelings!” more than non-writers. Three of my beta readers were non-writers; one is a voracious reader of romance novels (my genre), one was curious as to what I’d been working on for so long, and the third, well, he just likes to read. The romance reader’s feedback was thorough, but the other two initially responded with, “I really like it. Good job!” I had to sit down with each of them and quiz them until I got, “Well, there WAS this one part…” It took some work on my part, but they finally opened up when they realized I really meant it when I said I needed to know what didn’t work for them and I wasn’t going to have a meltdown and cut them out of my life if they said they didn’t like something. Which brings me to…

If you’re going to ask for beta reads, you’re going to have to have a thick skin. After all, you asked for this and you can NOT get all huffy when every one of your readers tells you that beautifully written chapter you worked so hard on is unnecessary and/or an info dump or the part you thought was so funny fell flat. You need to know this before you send it out to agents or publishers.

Finally, when I beta read for someone I make sure I tell them when something does work! No one wants to get back a doc full of “no, no, no” so when I come across things that blow my sock off, I let them know. “The dialogue here is absolutely stunning!” or “Wow! Didn’t see that coming. Great job!” In fact, in the last thing I beta read I had to keep putting in, “Just so you’ll know — I really am reading, I’m just not finding anything wrong! Loving this!”

Good beta readers are invaluable, so when you find yours, hang on to ‘em! :)

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Jami Gold April 5, 2012 at 9:29 am

Hi Juli,

Yes, I’m waiting for the week I’m deluged with beta requests because I’ve been pulling favors from so many. LOL! But that’s what I signed up for by asking for help.

Fantastic point about how we shouldn’t ask for beta readers if we’re not ready for really honest feedback. Or if we’re not sure, we should let our readers know when we ask them to read. Even so, not everyone will match our level of honesty. I found that to be a problem with writers when I hadn’t beta read on a smaller project for them first. Maybe they didn’t believe me when I said I can take harsh feedback. :)

All the beta readers I have now are great at giving that “no holding back” feedback. That’s what I want. Sure, a part of me would love for them to come back with only rainbows and unicorns, but that’s not going to help me get better. One of them hates giving that type of honest feedback because she’s lost a friend that way before, and I’m so grateful she trusts me not to hate her for her comments. (In fact, I love her for them!)

And you’re absolutely right about giving positive feedback too. Part of my stream-of-conscious emotional reactions in my comments are always along the lines of LOL!, Love this!, etc. On one story, my emotional reactions were very emotional (Gah! How could he do that?, etc.), and I added another comment to point out that me getting that emotional was a great sign that I was really into the story. :) Thanks for the fantastic comment!

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dave w November 30, 2012 at 10:14 am

any chance you could suggest where I could send my finished book for review by others .. before I take it further would really appreciate some feedback

many thanks

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Jami Gold December 2, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Hi Dave,

Have you looked at Critique Circle or places like that? I’ll don’t have a master list of places to recommend at this time, but it’s an idea for a future blog post. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Amanda April 5, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Thanks, Jami, for answering my question in such great detail! :)

I have a friend who I thought would make a great beta reader. She’s got a minor in creative writing and she, well, actually writes for a living. And as much as I love her, she turned out to be one of the worst. It took her two and a half months to get back to me on the short story I’d sent her, and her feedback wasn’t terribly helpful. Grr.

I actually used my mother as a reader for the same short story, and after I got over the initial embarrassment (because she’s my mother and OF COURSE she loves whatever I do), she ended up providing some of the most useful feedback I’ve ever gotten. So much so that when I get around to turning that short into a novel, I feel utterly confident I’ll be able to go to her with plot points and problems.

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Jami Gold April 5, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Hi Amanda,

Thanks for sharing! Yes, that’s exactly what I was trying to say, but you summed it up in a clear example. :) We shouldn’t discount ourselves or other people because of perceptions of writing knowledge. Some people are simply more insightful than others when it comes to evaluating others’ writing and what works/doesn’t work for them and why.

As I said, one of my beta readers isn’t a writer at all. As for the writers, some of them are “above” me in skills and some aren’t. The commonality is that they all give helpful feedback–and that’s what matters. Thanks for the comment!

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Rebekah Loper April 5, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Wow, such a helpful post!

I’ve not reached the stage yet where I had to recruit beta readers for my own stuff, but I have done quite a bit of beta-reading for friends with shorter works, and recently attempted to beta-read a novel for someone, but real life got in the way (my family is so dysfunctional it’s not even funny), and I had to drop it.

There was also the issue of the fact that there were so many grammar errors that the poor writer didn’t need a beta-reader, he needed a CP. I tried to tactfully point them out in the first few pages, and sent it back, and I hope that he’s found someone who had the time to help him!

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Jami Gold April 5, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Hi Rebekah,

Ooo, great point! Sometimes when we beta read for someone, it can be painful. :) I’ll point a grammar issue out the first couple of times and let them take it from there. Beta reading is not about the grammar (although one of my beta readers is a crack shot at finding missing words! *head slap*). If someone needs grammar help, they’re not ready for a beta reader yet.

And if the problems are really bad, I’ll stop after the first several pages or the first chapter, and send them what I’ve done so far with a note about “let’s make sure my comments are helpful to you before I go any further.” When they get something back with 20-30 comments per page, they recognize they have work to do and tell me not to bother with the rest. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Marcy Kennedy April 5, 2012 at 12:39 pm

This was a really great post. I may try asking fellow writers to beta read next time. In the past, I’ve tended to use readers and that was fine except for the not understanding deadlines part you mentioned.

The other biggest problem I’ve found is that I’m not a sugar-coating type of person when it comes to my writing. If you can tell me what’s wrong, I’m excited because that means I can get down to work on fixing it. Sometimes people are too afraid to tell you when something doesn’t work for fear that they’ll hurt your feelings or hurt the friendship. I think another writer would probably understand that it’s not a personal attack if there’s something they don’t like and point it out, but non-writers don’t always see that dividing line.

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Jami Gold April 5, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Hi Marcy,

Yes, there are good and bad things with having non-writers as beta readers. It can be great to get the “real reader” type of feedback, especially if we write YA or MG and want a kid’s perspective. But then we have to worry about deadline issues or them having a harder time knowing what kind of feedback is helpful (because they’ve never been a writer to be on the receiving end). Thanks for the comment!

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Melinda Collins April 5, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Oh how timely this post is, Jami! I’ve actually had a WIP out with a Beta since September (I requested feedback by October – at least 3 weeks). I’ve since requested for feedback about 4 times, and saw on FB that she was reading through it, but that was weeks ago. *head desk* And she’s a writer too. Unfortunately there are times where even fellow writers – who know and understand deadlines – fall behind, or better yet, don’t prioritize the tasks they’ve committed themselves to. *rolls eyes* I wish I had done what I originally intended to do by sending only the first few chapters for feedback first, but it was offered and I needed it, so I accepted knowing that I would one day return the favor. And I have to say, I’m such a nice person that if I received her WIP via email tonight asking for a Beta read, I’d go ahead and get it done and send the feedback with or without getting mine back. :)

So, needless to say, I’m back to looking for at least another one or two Beta’s so that when I get done with these deep edits, I can get feedback within my deadline so I can begin the query stage during the fall. *sigh* It’s seems for far away but it’s literally just around the corner.

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Jami Gold April 5, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Hi Melinda,

Since September? Seriously? Wow, yes, that’s a prioritization and/or over-commitment issue. I try not to make promises without the ability to follow through. Of course, that said, I’m already committed to various projects and promises through the end of April, and I’m not ready to think out to May yet. *head desk* I really, really need a pause button for life. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Serena April 5, 2012 at 3:03 pm

I beta-read for two writers before. One especially wanted help because her first language wasn’t English, so my edits were almost all linguistic ones.

Now there’s a website called http://www.thenextbigwriter.com , you might have heard of this before. This is where writers post their stories or poems online. You need to review enough people’s work before you can post, and they must be constructive reviews.

My problem is, often when I read someone’s work, unless their mistakes or weaknesses are obvious, I only see their strengths. I see all the things that are really good about their piece, but am at a loss to say what could be improved. Is that a bad thing, or is it good to only see strengths for now, and later develop more as a writer and consequently see more?

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Aldrea Alien April 5, 2012 at 4:40 pm

From what I can see on that site, you have to pay to post your work. Reviewing is free, posting cost ya a monthly fee. At least, that’s what it asked me to do when I went to sign up.
I used to put up my first 7000 words (that’s their max) at http://www.youwriteon.com/ which ask that you critque others in exchange for ‘points’ that you can put towards the story you want. The choice is randomised and you judge their writing out of five based on eight points (as well as having to pass a test based on the piece), then give’em your feedback.
I haven’t been there for a while though, my daughter tends to suck up most of my free time.

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Jami Gold April 5, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Hi Aldrea,

Thanks for checking in to that site! As I said, I haven’t used any website like that before. I know I’ve heard of several that don’t charge (and just require you to review in return), but I can’t think of the others off the top of my head since I don’t use them. Thanks for the comment!

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Jami Gold April 5, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Hi Serena,

I haven’t heard of that website, but there are similar ones out there. I’ve never used any of them, however, so I don’t have a good grasp of the pros and cons of going that route. It would probably work great for some, but I have my doubts it would work for me.

If I don’t know the reviewer, I fear I’d be more likely to blow off their feedback. (Why yes, my first reaction to feedback is often “What? They’re nuts” followed closely by “Oh. Huh. Okay, I see their point.” :) I’m afraid the anonymous comments wouldn’t make it to stage 2 in my mind.)

That’s an interesting point about seeing someone’s strengths and not their weaknesses. Honestly, seeing weaknesses is a dangerous skill to have. Once you see weaknesses, you’ll never be able to fully enjoy a pleasure read quite the same way again. :(

Even with published books, I’m likely to analyze the plot, characters, and pacing. There are definite trade-offs in having the skill to find faults in books. Enjoy what you’re doing for now (while you can). When you want to push yourself to the next level and want to develop that skill, you can start paying attention to those things in published books–use them for training grounds. :) Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Amanda April 5, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Scribophile works in much the same manner, and there’s no word count limit (although for novels they do want you to post chapter by chapter, not the entire manuscript). They do have a pay service, but basic is free, and that includes access to critiques and forums. Sometimes in the forums I noticed people offering to beta. I’ve used it before, and I did get some helpful feedback, but my issue with the site was it became so…clique-ish. I felt like I was back in high school half the time.

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Jami Gold April 5, 2012 at 6:31 pm

Hi Amanda,

Ah, yes, the cliquishness can be a problem too. Sometimes in those situations we’d even see the mob mentality of “piling on” with criticism. Ugh. Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee April 5, 2012 at 6:49 pm

I’ve been on some of those sites, and I found that most of the feedback was useless. Those sites attract folks who love to “critique” (read: tear things to shreds). For example, I had more than one person complain that I misspelled “fairy” (when I wrote “faerie”).

FictionPress.com actually got me the most useful feedback, but I had to put feedback into the site, too, to make clear to others there that I was willing to take what I could dish out, which was honest feedback. That was some years ago, though, so I’m not sure what the site’s like, now.

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Jami Gold April 5, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Hi Carradee,

Ooo, that’s what I was afraid of. Thanks for the feedback!

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Shain Brown April 5, 2012 at 6:59 pm

For me, I am still trying to find the right crit partners. But this is definitely something that I will hang on to for a later date. Whoever you decide to work with, in whatever capacity, takes time to build a level of trust. I think your point regarding professionalism and possibly using a writer is spot on. Thanks for the great information.

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Jami Gold April 5, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Hi Shain,

Yes, there’s always a time for getting to know each other’s styles and build that trust. And as I pointed out, our needs change over time, so the right person for us now might not be the same person we need later. Thanks for the comment!

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Aldrea Alien April 5, 2012 at 7:22 pm

Okay, been having a think about this, digging up old critiques and stuff and, according to the definitions, when I -do- comment on someone’s writing, I stick myself somewhere between critique partner and beta reader and stay there.
Looking over some of the critiques I’ve done on some sites: I can be quite harsh (probably to the point of being rude, but I try to scale that back), I can stop part way through a work if I’m not drawn in, and above all, I’m a bit of a genre snob who’ll be even harsher on fantasy works (though I’ve hundreds of them on my shelves and write in said genre. In fact, that may be the reason I’m so harsh. It’s what I know).

In short, who the heck would want someone like me as a permanent CP/BR?

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Jami Gold April 6, 2012 at 11:34 am

Hi Aldrea,

Honestly, I probably fall somewhere between critique partner and beta reader most of the time too. Many beta readers will just provide an overall impression in an email or at the end of each chapter. However, I give more feedback than that because that’s what I like to see in return–and writing up a few emotional reactions while I’m reading doesn’t add much time. Like I said in another comment, I tend to give stream-of-consciousness feedback because that’s what I want to know about my work–how does the reader interpret this section.

When I beta read, my initial comments are often on the harsh side too. :) Before I send my feedback, I read through my comments and see if any of them can/should be reworded or softened. Instead of the “you should”s, I’ll change them to “maybe try.” :)

In other words, none of those issues you bring up have to prevent you from being a good beta reader. If someone writes fantasy, they might love having someone so knowledgeable about the genre help them figure things out. Many of my beta readers aren’t in my genre, and I appreciate when the ones who are point out something the others would have never thought of. Take heart and thanks for the comment!

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Aldrea Alien April 6, 2012 at 6:57 pm

It’s good to know I’m not some uber-harsh bitch.
Maybe it just feels that way when I look over what other people have said and find little beyond cries of ‘how much they loved it’ and ‘how this was so funny’ and that ‘the dialogue was really good’ and all I can see is something that’s okay as is but could be better.
I occasionally have to go back and do the “suggest-not-order” bit. My ‘shoulds’ have been whittled down to mainly pointing out misspellings (once I’ve figured out if it’s UK or US) and obviously absent words.

Now if I can just get up the nerve to ask people or find someone who’d be willing to swap for an adult fantasy …

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Jami Gold April 6, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Hi Aldrea,

“It’s good to know I’m not some uber-harsh bitch.”

Absolutely not! In fact, those other people sound worthless. ;)

Remember how I said I received 1000 comments from beta readers on this last WIP? About 30-50 of them were along the lines of “love this!” The rest–950+ comments–are all of the “uh, no” or “try harder” types. I don’t want my beta readers to baby me in any way. I’m a perfectionist, so I want to know everything that can be improved. :) I’ll let you know if I hear of anyone with adult fantasy. Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Jami's Tech Guy April 5, 2012 at 8:19 pm

Great post Jami.

As most of you know, I’m obnoxious. :) So I have no qualms about playing matchmaker and asking those in the pool of authors I read for to do so for each other. Especially since it will probably be 2030 before I need a beta reader.

Yes Buffy, I do love to beta read. (Or more accurately, something between critiquing and beta reading.) Even ‘girly’ stories. It’s so much fun getting into the story voice and the characters’ heads and sometimes helping them argue with their creator. “No, I absolutely wouldn’t do it this way, I’d do this *much more devious* thing.”

My first beta read request was from someone who just wanted me to check the science of a scene.

I posted on Twitter how much fun it was and someone else asked me to read a scene. She seemed embarrassed since it was a romance and her husband wouldn’t read it for her. (Lame!) Her request email was along the lines of *blushing* “ignore the romance stuff, is this close to how a guy thinks?”

From there author #1 sent me a spicy paranormal romance. It was good but I absolutely hated one scene. It felt forced and didn’t make sense. The Hero was acting completely out of character and I pointed this out and gave some suggestions. Turns out she hated the scene too but needed a way to get the Hero to go somewhere. The next version was awesome.

Now I’m reading everything from MG to Spicy Romance and luckily, TechWife is amused by it.

When I read for a new author, I’ll send the first chapter back with comments as soon as I finish it and ask for their feedback of my feedback. :)

It’s no good for either of us if I’m not doing what they want and it more quickly builds the trust needed for each of us to be comfortable dealing with potentially tough comments.

Anyhow, I could write much more about it but I’m 2 stories behind and would rather be reading than writing.

-Jay
@jaytechdad

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Jami Gold April 6, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Hi Tech Guy,

Thanks for sharing your experience with beta reading. :) Even though you’re not a writer, you understand us well enough that you can still take that professional attitude when it comes to deadlines and commenting. All of us that you read for appreciate that. And as a bonus, you’re able to give us feedback on technical or guy issues too. ;) Thanks for the comment!

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Gene Lempp April 6, 2012 at 5:48 am

Interesting ideas. I’ve been looking “long term planning” wise to having beta readers, well other then my wife and one good friend – you know, someone that doesn’t protect the relationship in their comments to a higher degree. This post gives me a new angle to consider.

Thanks, Jami – always the best :)

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Jami Gold April 6, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Hi Gene,

I hope it helps. I’m sure when you’re ready for other beta readers, you’ll be able to find them. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Julia Tomiak April 11, 2012 at 11:40 am

My first beta readers were the girls from my book club. They were nice, probably too nice, but that gave me the encouragement to continue working on the project. Since then I found a critique partner through an agent’s website and did exactly what you suggested – we swapped the first few chapters, provided feedback, and assessed the relationship from there. I’m sure I’ll want a few more eyes on my ms before I start the query process, and this post helped me get ideas about where to find them! Thanks!

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Jami Gold April 12, 2012 at 11:35 am

Hi Julia,

Exactly! The type of feedback we need at each stage of development is different, and sometimes when we’re first starting out, we want encouragement that we’re not completely crazy for trying this writing thing. :) Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Julia Tomiak April 11, 2012 at 11:43 am

Also, I think it helps to use beta readers you know only through writing/social media connections – they are more likely to be honest than your friends and family, who want to protect your feelings.

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Jami Gold April 12, 2012 at 11:36 am

Hi Julia,

Great point! Sometimes it’s easier to give honest feedback if we don’t have to look people in the eye. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Jadzia Brandli July 19, 2012 at 11:09 am

So I’ve found a site that’s great for in depth critiques, chapter by chapter, and I am nearly halfway done with my first revision of my MS. But I wanted to get some big picture thoughts on the book, so I went in search of a beta reader.

I found my first beta reader and it’s only been a week. I am beta reading something for her as well and I enjoy her book and am giving her the feedback I would like to recieve from her, only, she tends to keep it short. Telling me what she liked and pointing out a thing or two that stood out to her, while I give more thourough thoughts. I’m wondering if we’re just not right for each other and if I should continue our beta reading relationship, or end it? :O I don’t feel like I’m getting the feedback I need. Maybe, as time goes on, she’ll be more willing to dig in deeper, but for now, I’m really confused.

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Jami Gold July 19, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Hi Jadzia (love the name!),

That’s a great question. People are often more timid with their comments when they first start reading for someone, as they don’t want to be too harsh. It sounds like you’re doing the right thing with trying to model the type of feedback you’d like to receive.

So my next suggestion would be two-fold. A) See if the modeling leads to more in-depth comments from her the next time around (this worked for me with one of my beta readers–if nothing else, guilt might lead them to spend more time on your work ;) ) And B) Follow up her feedback with questions. Look at the chapters/sections she’s already checked and see what specific questions you have for her. (During x part, did you think y or z or something else? What did you think when character did z?) If her answers are still vague and modeling doesn’t lead to improvements, that might indicate she’s not an analytical person.

I touched on this problem in the post about what we should look for in a beta reader. Some people don’t have a critical eye. That doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t be beta readers for us, but we have to recognize that we’ll get only very high-level feedback from them and that we need to search out additional beta readers who can be more nitpicky.

I hope that helps. Thanks for the comment! :)

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Jadzia Brandli July 21, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Thanks for the reply. You had some good points. And thanks for the link to that post, I’ll give it a read. I’m thinking about looking for another beta reader, so I can compare thoughts and see how a different set of eyes would see it. Hopefully this will give me a better idea of what I need to work on. Thanks so much for getting back to me! :)

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Jami Gold July 21, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Hi Jadzia,

No problem. :) Good luck with your search!

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Hanako Stephens October 30, 2012 at 8:45 pm

I’m having real issues FINDING beta readers and i’ve got a 70-80k word novel first draft to get beta read so i can edit it :(

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Jami Gold October 30, 2012 at 9:01 pm

Hi Hanako,

I’m working on putting together a list of places to find beta readers, but in the meantime, I’ve heard great things about Critique Circle. I hope that helps! :) Thanks for the comment!

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