I have to say, I really enjoy beta reading. It’s like being allowed to read books for free. But if you want to help someone’s book along its path to publication, there are a few tips you can follow.
1. Make notes.
Making notes as you read along is great because the writer can see just where you got hung up. The note function in Word is really helpful for this, or if you have a paper copy you can just put it in the column. As a kind of bonus tip, be sure to note grammatical errors and not just correct them. The writer probably won’t be copy-and-pasting it in, so they’ll need to know to fix them in the main document.
2. Be specific.
I feel this is of the utmost importance. It drives me nuts when I hear “this isn’t working” and there’s no follow up on that. True, it can be difficult to describe some things, but if part of the story doesn’t make sense to you, try explaining what would make sense so the writer has something to springboard off of. I know it would have helped me a lot if, instead of just saying she didn’t like it, a beta reader had told me that it took too long for the relevance of a certain scene to become apparent.
3. Be kind.
This is the golden rule for all of life, not just beta reading. Obviously you should tell the truth and point out when something doesn’t make sense. It’s what betas and crit partners are for. But it’s a lot easier to take criticism when it’s tempered with encouragement. Be kind. Tell when you love something as well as when you hate it.
4. Be prompt.
You could also call this “set up a schedule for responses”. Let the writer know when you’ll have the pages read by. If you need more time, ask for it, but don’t disappear without keeping up your end. It’s very frustrating, and it also means the writer won’t be there for you when youneed beta reading.
After sending your notes and thoughts, the writer may have some follow up questions and it would be great if you could answer them. For example, after receiving notes which were confused about a particular detail, a writer might want to know if a particular character trait/world-building element/plot point wasn’t clear, and if an explanation would work or if it could wait.
That’s all for now. Anything to add? Do you have any tips for beta reading/critiquing?