Beta Reading and You

When I started as an indie writer, I didn't know what a beta reader was, but it turns out to be the most important part of indie publishing. Beta readers help indie authors turn good stories into great ones. If you are going to be a beta reader for someone, it is important to know what is expected from you, and what is not (and if the author is asking for more than he or she should). I've had several people tell me they are interested in beta reading, but also concerned about the demands. So, I've created a short primer on what to expect during your beta read experience.

Q: What am I supposed to do (as a beta reader)?
A: A beta reader is volunteer who reads an early draft of a short story or book to give the author feedback.

Q: I don't remember all the grammar rules, am I supposed to edit?
A: Beta reading is not editing. If you see something that you aren't sure about grammatically, you can mention it in your feedback or not. If you see something glaringly obvious, it is kind of you to mention it in your feedback, but even that much is not necessary. Personally, I edit my draft and my editor does a pass of the draft before I send writing out to beta readers. My editor and I will both do another pass before publishing and will hopefully catch things that are still lurking in the text.

Q: If I'm not editing, then what am I doing?
A: What I really need from a beta reader is feedback about the story itself. Does it flow well? Did anything happen that took you out of the story? Does the ending make sense? Did anything leave you feeling unsatisfied? Sure, you can say nice things, but it's the problems that the author needs to know about before he or she starts charging money for the story. The best example I can give is from a beta read I did for one of my fellow indie authors. He wrote a zombie story where someone had her arms torn off, but in the next scene the same character grabbed something in her hands (with no arms!) I (along with others) was able to catch the error and the story was fixed before publication.

Q: How fast do I have to give feedback?
A: I usually ask for a two-week turn around, but the author should let you know a time frame.

Q: What if I cannot finish the beta read in time?
A: Just give feedback on what you did get read or let the author know you were unable to read the story. We all have things come up, but I would like to know for sure if you cannot beta read so I am not sitting around waiting for feedback from you if I won't get it.

Q: The manuscript you sent me to beta read is unreadable it is so awful, do I have to finish it?
A: Nope. If you think the writing is terrible, that is good information for the author to know before they publish, just give feedback on what you did read. If it happens to be unreadable because of a massive amount of typos, let the author know that as well. As I said above, what I send out is not a completely edited version, but it has had a couple passes and should be readable.

Q: Do I get anything for beta reading?
A: You get cool points. You get to know that you helped an indie author compete in a world with big name authors who can afford professional readers. You get to preview stories for free and make them better. These are the only things I can offer. Some indie authors, more successful than me, can offer signed books or other memorabilia.

Q: So, I give you feedback within two weeks, is there anything else I need to do?
A: Yes! I always ask that you consider leaving a review of the story on Amazon or Goodreads after it is published. On both those websites you can leave reviews even if you have not bought the book. Reviews are more important than sales to an indie author because reviews help people take notice of your book.

Q: You want me to leave a review, but what if I didn't like the book?
A: If you leave a review, I want you to be honest. If you liked it or didn't like, I still want an honest review. Of course, I may have fixed the things you didn't like after getting your comments so you may want to ask me for the final version if you'd like to know. Also, it is considred good form to put in your review that you received an advanced copy of the story.

Thank you for taking the time to read this beta reading primer. Please take a moment to sign up for my newsletter (on the right side of the website) while you are here.