By the time this posts, I will have finished beta reading two different manuscripts: one from my worrisome, yet talented, cousin Quita, and one from the brilliant Alex Mullarky. During this time, I had a lot of time to find out how to give the best feedback possible for writers that entrust their WIPs to me.
Enough yapping--here are my 3 Easy Steps to Being the Best Beta Reader:
1. Make Like a Step Team and Break it Down!
Both Quita and I have diagnosed ourselves with Adult ADHD. Needless to say, the older I get, the more my attention span recedes. It wouldn't be fair to the writers if I was thinking about what I'm going to eat for dinner while I'm supposed to be reading their prized possessions. So I give myself a daily page/chapter quota when I sit down to read. This way, for about 2 hours or so, the WIP has my full, undivided attention. Once I close their document, then I can ponder what's going into my belly.
2. Listen to Blink 182: Focus on All the Small Things
So, while I'm reading, I'll notice small things--like if the writer uses a clever line more than once, or if they slip in and out of the character's POV. Sure, this isn't the most pressing work that needs to be done, but the writer is so used to reading the material that he/she may not see these minor errors. I wouldn't want a tiny slip up like this to halt their path toward publication.
3. Throw on Your 3D Glasses and Look at the Big Picture!
And here's where I get down the to nitty gritty: issues with pacing, plotting, character arcs, and anything else pretty major. I usually take a notebook or open up a separate document and start jotting down questions I have about the story. I treat the manuscripts like a book I'd pick up in a bookstore. Which questions would I love to ask the author? What areas left me wanting more--and what areas had me glossing over the paragraphs? I make sure to address these moments and any other questions I had at the end of the manuscript. What I try NOT to do? Make suggestions--though I break this rule for Quita. She has to love me, no matter how obnoxious my critiques are.
So, those are the basics for me. Have you offered to be a beta reader for someone before? What do you feel works best for you AND the writer?