How to Be a Good Beta Reader for a Fellow Author
A new book is like a new born child and an author will seldom risk judgment of his/her book from a complete stranger. Hence at some point of time in your career as an author, you might be invited/ requested to beta read a fellow author’s work. Beta reading is extremely important for an author and the final turnout of the upcoming work. A beta reader’s job is not an easy one. Once you become a beta reader for a book, you do sign up for certain responsibilities, more so as you are also a writer. I will help you with tips and tricks about how to become a good beta reader for your fellow author in need.
Ask clearly what is expected from you
It is always better to ask the author exactly what kind of feedback they are looking for. Some authors mention, while giving a book for beta reading, that they need inputs regarding the plot problem, or development of a particular character. It is always easier to beta read when you know what is expected from you. So be clear on that from the beginning.
Honesty is the best policy
Accept it, that the book’s future depends a lot on you. Hence it is imperative that you be brutally honest with the work. Often writers, while beta reading for a fellow author whom they know personally, refrain from being too harsh or honest about it. Now that is a wrong approach. Once you are assigned the responsibility to beta read a work, it is your foremost duty to be brutally honest about it, no matter what your association might be with the author of the book.
Think like a potential reader
Every book has its own target reader group in terms of age, gender, interests etc. If you do fall in the category of the target reader group, well then it is all good. But in case you do not, as a beta reader you have to learn to think from the perspective of the target reader. You have to become a hypothetical reader in order to justly beta read a book.
Keep personal judgments aside
It does not matter what your personal opinion is about an author. If you are entrusted with the job of beta reading a work, you have to keep personal biases aside and judge the work solely as a reader. You have to overlook your opinions about the author, whose book you are beta reading.
Many writers, while beta reading a book for a fellow writer, especially the ones with whom they have a rather informal association, do not bother taking hand written notes and mostly rely on mental notes. That is entirely wrong. When you are assigned the responsibility to honestly judge a book, in depth, always keep a pen and paper handy and keep taking notes.
As a fellow writer you would know how difficult it is to write an entire book. Hence respect that about other authors when you are beta reading their work. That does not mean you will curb your honesty. But do not get very judgmental about the author. Remember, you are supposed to judge the book only, not its creator along with.
You are beta reading and not proofreading
This is something many beta readers do. The job of a beta reader and a proof reader is not the same. As a beta reader, your job is not to point out typos or a missing hyphen; that is a proof reader’s job. You need to get over the typos and look into more content related stuff like the narrative, the style, the progression of thought, development of characters etc.
Avoid making it about ‘you’
Here I am talking about two kinds of ‘you’. Let me explain. While you are giving feedback after beta reading, do not say ‘ you could have given more background story for the protagonist’. Always put it as ‘the protagonist could have had a more extensive back ground story.’ This is the first type of ‘you’ that needs to be avoided. Apart from this, do not make this book about yourself as an author. Do not say stuff like ‘if I was writing I would have done this’. Understand that beta reading requires your opinion as a reader than as an author.
Learn when to say No
If you find out that you are unable to give any helpful feedback, or you just dislike the book in its entirety and think it is beyond repair, inform the author that it is not possible for you to give any kind of constructive criticism as your personal taste/ style/ bias is coming in the way. This will surely offend your fellow author a bit, but it will definitely be better than giving them a made up and vague feedback.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published on e-Books India (the former name of Writing Tips Oasis) in January 2015.