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?