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June 19, 2012

Why I Love Beta Reading

Pills scattered over a surface with text "Beta Reading Addict"

I mentioned on Twitter yesterday that I didn’t have much time to write my blog post for today.  Why?  Because I was beta reading a story, and I could not put it down.

I’ve had several posts about finding beta readers or what to look for in beta readers, but I haven’t written about the experience from the other side of the computer monitor: what it’s like to be a beta reader.

Those who know me probably know I try to be generous with my offers of beta reading.  And yes, part of that is my natural outreach to the writing community and being supportive of other writers.

*leans close and whispers* But a part of me offers because I’m selfish.

I’ve gotten to read some fantastic stories as a beta reader, some of them already contracted with a release date.  And I’ve been able to read them long before everyone else.  *resists the urge to do a “nah, nah, nah” here*

I know beta reading takes away from our writing (and everything else) time—says the woman who didn’t get to cleaning the house quite like she was planning to yesterday—but I believe it’s time well spent:

  • We get to read some great stories before everyone else.
  • We get to influence stories.  (“Hey look, I suggested that idea! Cool.”)
  • We get to build relationships with other writers.
  • We get to compare how different authors approach the creative process.  (Can we tell which stories were plotted in advance versus written by the seat of their pants? What about stories that used a beat structure versus an organic plot?)
  • We get to explore new worlds with the author.  (“Why does A work like that? What about B? Should C be a consideration?”)
  • We get to become fans who help get the word out when a beloved story is finally published.
  • We get to save a beta-reading credit to cash in by having someone read for us.
  • We get to talk back to the author of the stories we read. (“Ack! How could you kill off so-and-so. *sob* This had better have a happy ending, or I’ll give you the stink eye.”) (Note: Yes, my beta reading comments often are that emotional, as I comment in stream-of-consciousness style so the author knows how readers react to the story.)
  • We get to save on buying reading material.  (Hypothetically, this could happen. I mean, sure, I have the To-Be-Read pile of scary proportions and yet I keep ordering new books, but I could theoretically cut down on those purchases and still have stories to read. *grin*)

In other words, before you decide that you don’t have time to beta read, or that you don’t know if you could be a good beta reader, stop.  Think about the bigger picture for a minute and see if you might be willing to give it a try.  As I mentioned in my last post, anyone with a critical eye can be a beta reader.

My house won’t fall apart just because I got sucked into a story for a day.  Honestly, if we’re writers, we should love stories that much.  For many of us, a genuine love of books brought us into this profession.

So I extend my congratulations to Angela Quarles for the time-travel romance that broke my schedule yesterday.  (*Shh* Let her bask in that for a minute and don’t tell her I wrote 142 comments on my first pass—and I’m not done commenting yet.)

When we share the good things about stories, even if they aren’t perfect, writers know their story is worth all the effort to revise and edit.  And maybe that’s the best reason to beta read:

  • We get to encourage writers to make their great stories fantastic.  *smile*

Have you beta read for someone before?  What’s your favorite thing about beta reading?  What’s your least favorite thing about beta reading?  Are you able to point out the good with the bad?  Do you have other items to add to the list?

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Michele Shaw

I have done a lot of beta reading and tend to make a good deal of comments as well. But it’s not all bad. I like to stick goofy jokes or randomness in with any questions or concerns I have. I enjoy beta reading and always try to be as helpful and honest as possible. Giving all smiley faces and LOL’s doesn’t help anyone. As long as it’s constructive and the author remembers it’s just one opinion, things usually work out. As in, I’ll be asked to read for them again:)

Carradee

I beta read sometimes, but due to my “day job” of freelance line editor, I’m a terrible beta reader for rough drafts (unless you’re the type to produce pretty clean first drafts).

I’m also picky about whom I’ll beta read for. I have to know you fairly well, because I’ve been burned far too many times by folks who say they want critique but actually don’t. And then there’s the detail that I do need to pay the bills, so I can’t afford to give away too much of what folks pay me for.

Sorry if that sounds crass, but I prefer being honest. 🙂

Buffy Armstrong

I have done some beta reading in the past. I’d like to do more. I agree with all of your reasons, Jami, but I’d like to add one, and a selfish one at that – sheer nosiness. Yes, I’m nosy. I like to know what other people are writing. There are great stories out there that haven’t been published yet. I want to read them!

The hardest part of beta reading is holding my breath after I’ve sent my comments to someone. I try to be as honest as possible. If I don’t like something, I say so. I give them reason(s) why. I also make sure to tell them I liked/loved something and why. I hope the writer takes my comments in the spirit they were given – an attempt to help them make their stories better. I have yet to get back, “Buffy, you are a stupid jerk.” But I still hold my breath.

Angela Quarles

I love beta reading too, for the reasons you state. Sometimes it *was* purely because I was selfish–I’d seen the premise and some snippets of the writing and I just *had* to read the story for my own pleasure 🙂 Not everyone likes to get the feedback though, and I get a chuckle when beta readers give me their notes and preface it with, you’re probably going to hate me now, or some variation thereof, and when I read it, I don’t see anything but honest constructive criticism (gold!!). I guess they’d gotten burned before. But this is *why* I ask for feedback. If I just get back smiley faces and LOLs I’m disappointed (I know I’m able to say this here because I already know I won’t get that from Jami). I know my story isn’t perfect and that kind of feedback doesn’t help fix it.

Maybe I’m a dork, but I’m super excited about all the notes, Jami! Thank you!

Kimberly Gould

I enjoy beta reading. I find, most often, I can trade services with someone (i.e., they beta read me and I beta read them) but I haven’t found many returning customers. I don’t know if that because of the style of my critique or because they just don’t have any new work for me to look at.

I miss beta reading. So if you have something that needs to be read, feel free to ask me! I’m on twitter (@kimmydonn) and you can email me: Kimmydonn at gmail. I have one piece still looking for active readers but I’m happy to read with the return favour (at the moment)

Thanks Jami for the great article and reminding me how long it has been since my last beta read.

Melissa

I love beta reading for many of the same reasons Jami has outlined. The one thing I dread though is beta reading for someone who believes it is perfect and only gave me the material because they want to told how wonderful they are. They normal get offended because I want to help them make their good story amazing. They just want platatudes and accoldates and any ounce of constructive feedback is thrown out because they aren’t willing to hear it.
But normally (thankfully) that isn’t the case and people happy to share their little world and get unbias feedback that it is a great experience for both of us.

Amanda

I was beta’ing a friend’s last WIP and I was so impatient to get to the end, I did what my boyfriend hates: I skipped ahead and read the ending. My friend, of course, was pleased as punch that I’d been enjoying the story so much I HAD TO KNOW RIGHT NOW what was going to happen. That’s my favorite part of beta reading…and the knowledge that some day I’ll be able to see it in print and be all like, Oh yeah, totally already read it, it’s awesome!

Jami's Tech Guy

Great post Jami!

*laughs* I’ve beta / critique read for half of the commenters to this post. 🙂

As a non-writer, beside most of the above reasons, it’s fun because I get to see the sausage being made and can follow my friends along their writing journey.

But the absolute best part of beta reading is knowing the author trusted -ME- to read and give feedback on their creation…their baby. Whoa! That’s a big deal.

I’m still beaming from an email yesterday from one of ‘my’ authors saying she was naming me in her acknowledgements. What’s even better is she’s doing it even after receiving harsh feedback (with lots of details and suggestions on how to fix). *does happy dance again*

-Jay
@jaytechdad

Taurean Watkins

I’ve done this off and on for the last five years (Been at writing for 10 myself) and I do see merit in it, but it’s still hard for me personally to beta-read for others, simply because I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of painful, and in at least one case this decade, outright abusive critiques of my own writing. I take the “Treat others as I wish to be treated” approach. I always tell the truth of what I like and what I don’t, but in a way I could live with and ideally benefit from, if I was the one being critiqued. Equally important, I strive to give the WHY something I read in other’s work doesn’t work, especially when it’s technical stuff I learned the hard way myself, and it’s key to share the WHY, or it will sound condescending, even if your critique style’s not abrasive by nature. Some writers want that abrasive nature, I don’t, and often didn’t take advice that might’ve helped me, but was given in such a distasteful or harsh manner, I was turned off. Which is why (To some degree) you need to recognize what’s going to annoy ANY reader versus your personal preference as a writer. Though sometimes the two are more linked than I feel lots of more  plot-centric, and/or pragmatic writers, don’t easily respect or understand the differing POV a non-pragmatic writer, like me, feels about things. While I may personally be averse to gross humor, I won’t ask…  — Read More »

Reetta Raitanen

I would beta read for all the reasons you mentioned, Jami. How fun that you got an early sneak peek of a book you loved 🙂 You sound like a perfect beta reader. The stream of consciousness approach is propably close to how many authentic readers read.

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

I’ve beta read many times and I truly enjoy it for many of the reasons you stated. Just recently I read for a good friend of mine, commented on loads of things, good and bad and was delighted when her agent sold the manuscript, a three book deal!
I’ve beta read for people who’ve then sold novels, and novellas. I’ve also helped many new writers out by judging a host of romance fiction contests. I don’t know if that’s actually considered beta reading or not, but regardless it makes me feel good to help. Especially when the author finals and then wins.
When you took the time out of your busy day to read for me and make all of those valuable comments it helped me immensely. I liked that you pointed out the good and the bad. I do the same thing. If all we do as betas is blow sunshine up an authors skirt, we’re not really helping at all.
I can’t imagine submitting without first allowing more than one honest beta to read my work.
Three cheers for betas!
I bet Angela Quarles is just as thrilled to have a great reader like you critique her work.
Have a fantastic evening!
Tamara

Patrick Thunstrom

I definitely think your last comment is the most important. Good stories, or even just stories with potential can be given a good kick in the pants and be made great. And that’s the fun part, especially when the writer is willing to work with you.

Leslie S. Rose

I’d drown without my awesome beta buddies. Their eagle eyes catch so much. I love being a beta reader – the notes I make for others are often points I need to address in my own stories. Agree-agree with your list of why to beta.

Kat

I have just started beta reading and I will definitely continue to do so. The only bad thing is that sometimes you don’t completely ‘connect’ with someones story. I still do my best to give good comments but I admit I am not too excited to keep on reading. On the other hand finding those gems of stories that suck you in make up for all that!

Char

I used to beta read a good bit of fanfic and enjoyed giving authors feedback. It’s important to give the 🙂 and LOLs, but you are so right. The critical eye is wonderful – I know that’s what I want in any feedback I get. The beta comments, and words of wisdom from from my crit group, have helped me grow tremendously as a writer…and I still have a lot to learn.

Great post, Jami.

J.M. Dow

I don’t often volunteer to beta read. I love it. I love to pick stories apart and examine what works and what doesn’t. I love to give advice or voice concerns, and I am as thorough as possible to ensure the author gets good feedback. My friend, Brooke Johnson, had me beta read a novel of hers a while back. Unfortunately, Life often prevents me from having the time to beta read, which, in turn, often makes me feel bad for wanting other people to beta read my stuff, because I can’t usually return the favor in kind like I would like.

Jami's Tech Guy (Jay)

Hi J.M., we may both have read for Brooke. Was it CC?

*hums the “Small World” song*

-Jay
@jaytechdad

J.M. Dow

I actually beta read for the last rendition of The Wizard’s Heart. I didn’t get to beta read for Clockwork Giant because I was busy with Life things. I’m hoping to get to beta read whenever she finishes her current thing.

*it’s a smaaaall, smaaaaaaaall, wooooooooorld!*

That will never leave my head now.

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[…] Writing Stuff The last couple of posts have been about beta reading, beta readers, and authors helping each other.  I love positive, uplifting conversations like […]

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[…] Jami Gold tackles both sides of the coin, explaining what we should look for in a beta reader AND why she loves being a beta reader. Chuck Wendig waxes Western in his “Ode to the Editor” (after which he invites you to share […]

Alli
Alli

Are there any Spanish speaking BETAs on here??

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[…] Jami Gold had a few excellent posts on Beta readers, if you haven’t read them yet you should. They are here and here. […]

E.R.
E.R.

I love to beta read for people, though I’m often conflicted with my feedback because I don’t want to discourage newer writers, but I also want to be honest if it’s not there yet.

When I beta read for my long-time writing partner, Maria, I can be very frank with her. In the beginning, I wasn’t that way, I was more cautious with my comments. Now I’m secure enough in our relationship to know she won’t get pissed at me, so I let her have it. lol. With others that I’m not as close to, I have to be more careful so as not to hurt their feelings or discourage them. It goes against my nature to sugarcoat anything, so this takes a GREAT deal of self-control. But I love helping people, and being apart of their process and maybe giving them ideas.

As a writer, I treasure beta readers as highly, highly valuable tools in my process. There are things you just can’t predict how they’ll be received until someone actually reads it. And all my beta readers aren’t writers, which is a huge help, too. Bookworms analyze differently than other writers do. Sometimes other writers approach it from how they would have done it, but I’m not them. So I want to know how it impacts a readers of different ages, experiences, and genders. I LOVE MY BETA READERS! (even when their feedback stings)

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[…] to know how the characters work, how the plot flows, and if it makes sense. (For further reading, here’s a post by Jami Gold that talks about beta […]

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[…] column. Angela just released her debut novel (a story I gushed about years ago, when I discussed why I love beta reading) and is going to walk us through how she created the trailer for Must Love […]

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[…] are the advantages of being a beta reader? Check out Jami Gold’s “Why I Love Beta Reading.” Anne R. Allen’s post “What is a Beta Reader” is also a great post. The value of a good […]

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[…] Jami Gold tackles both sides of the coin, explaining what we should look for in a beta reader AND why she loves being a beta reader. Chuck Wendig waxes Western in his “Ode to the Editor” (after which he invites you to share […]

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