Beta Connections

It’s been such a long time since I’ve opened a post to actually write that I was a bit at a loss for a subject. I remember when I re-booted this blog last July (almost a year now. Jeez.)  I couldn’t stay away from day to day, always with crazy thoughts running through my head. So what happened to that? The novelty wore off and and…what? Thinking got harder? Nah, I think what happened is that people started reading (thank you!), so I started writing for an audience, but that’s a whole other blog post in itself.

What I really wanted to touch on today was beta (or test) reading.

I love it. If I had the option to beta for an author I know well, or read a bestseller for pleasure, I’d probably go with the beta.

Beta-reading is not necessarily critiquing, which  is a whole different level. With crits the brain is looking for plot gaps, grammar/spelling errors, whether a character that had blue eyes a chapter ago is suddenly being admired for their green ones. There’s a lot going on, and while it can still be incredibly rewarding – not just for what you’re helping with, but also for what you learn about your own writing – it’s still a lot of work.

Reading for pleasure requires no work (unless you really want to close read, but that’s up to you). There’s no commitment to finish, no deadlines. But there’s also no dialogue with the author, no chance to point out what sentence you really loved, or that this wording sounds pretentious, or that bit of dialogue, crummy.

Beta-reading is right in the middle. It’s all about honest reactions. It’s an opportunity to tell the author directly as you go what worked and what didn’t. I recently finished a beta project for someone that was easily the best read I’ve had in a while, and I loved leaving comments from start to finish, throwing in my interpretations of what was going on, what I suspected might be about to happen. I basically went for a whole running commentary about everything from the characters to the dialogue to the setting, and it was a blast! I was also able to point out where my interested waned, or if the pacing was slow; if a sentence didn’t read right or where a semi-colon would fit better than a comma.

It’s not the sort of connection/interaction you get from reading a finished, completed, published work. It’s more intimate, in a way, offering a closer connection not just with the author, but with the piece you’re reading. On the other side, I love knowing what my readers were thinking during a particular scene, or the emotions a certain character or line provoked. For me, a beta read isn’t just reading, and it’s not just an edit – it’s reading on a richer level that gets so much more out of the story.

What are your thoughts? Are you one to beta or you ask people to beta? Any pet peeves on either side?

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17 comments

  1. I’ve done loads of beta reads, I love doing it. Mostly because I get to read stuff before anyone else, but also because It’s nice to help people with their stories. I’ve had a fair few beta my work too, and it’s always incredibly helpful. Every writer should have beta readers. And if you don’t, you need to get them.

      1. The early read is a plus! Not to mention the fact that if/when the book gets published you have bragging rights to say “hey, I helped get that book to publication”. 🙂 Even if it’s just bragging rights to your close family/friends…

  2. I love beta reading! It helps everyone involved improve their craft. One pet peeve I have is when the author refuses to be open to reactions, comments, and suggestions from the reader.

      1. The #1 rule I was given up front about using beta readers was to NEVER argue with or even debate the critiques you receive. Just listen and process. It’s not about right/wrong, it’s about how some readers react to your work. Every criticism is worth reviewing, even if in the end the writer doesn’t take the advice offered.

  3. I am with the others. Beta reading is fun. In my case, it is hard to get away form the mechanical points.

    We need to set up a website to connect beta readers with writers. It seems like it is hard to find them when you need them.

    1. That’s a really great idea! Kind of like a car-pool service – Betas searching for something to read; writers needing betas. It would open up the readers outside of the person’s comfort circle as well.

  4. One aspect of beta-reading I like is building writing friendships – when you’ve built up a connection with someone during a beta-read then it’s often reciprocated the other way. Beta reading each other’s writing is a great way to get to know someone, and that makes it easier to give and receive helpful critique. I owe some favours, and I’m looking forward to them being cashed in (you know who you are 😉 ).

    1. I’m working on something! But you’re right, TJ. I think it takes a lot of trust to let someone read your work. You’re trusting them not to smash it to bits, and also not to do something unethical with it. I always feel honoured when people ask me.

  5. I’m having a lot of fun with beta reading. I love getting to read what other writers are working on and (hopefully) helping them with the editing process. 🙂

  6. I do not know what I would do without my beta readers. I value them more than gold. I am blessed to have friends who are excellent writers and are willing to take the time to give it to me straight…which is what I need. Would rather hear it from friends than critics.

    Me? I’ve tried beta reading for other people and I have a lot of trouble being honest because I’m so worried about hurting their feelings. I’m not a good beta reader. But I do try to give back to those who help me in other ways. We all have our gifts.

  7. I’ve really enjoyed beta reading and have found most beta readers helpful to me. It’s a nice exchange of ideas and thoughts. Plus, I’ve been able to read things I’d never ordinarily get to read.

  8. I know I’m a subscriber…how did I miss this post?!
    I agree completely – betas are the little gems behind a polished book. I’ve always appreciated every tiny detail pointed out by my betas – they help take a decent manuscript and make it great.

  9. Finding those magical beta’s that will help you polish those nuggets is as you said like finding gems. Its hard and you have to do a lot of digging to get the good ones.

    Definitely a post I can subscribe to and agree with. At some point when I’m looking for Beta’s myself I’ll definitely reread this again. Thanks Krista.

    1. Thanks for coming by Gareth! It’s true – good betas are hard to find. It’s all about honesty, courtesy, and a lot of trust! It’s why I’m always honoured to be asked 🙂

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