Our Masterpieces...Err, Our Novels

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Teach Me How to Beta!

Beta'ing Song of the Day: "I Bet it Stung" by Tegan and Sara

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?


Abby Stevens said...

First of all, I just noticed your header graphic has changed - I love it!

Also, Blink 182? Weren't they awesome! :)

These are great rules for betaing. I prefer betas who are willing to point out smaller issues as well as the larger things.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Great post. :) It does take a combination of looking at the big and the small, doesn't it?

A.J. Mullarky said...

Wow, I've never been prefixed "the brilliant" before - thanks Pam! xD

You are the perfect beta. Really. Your help has been invaluable to me. I hope you got all my fangirly emails thanking you profusely hehehe!

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I beta for several people and what I look for varies all the time. It's also neat to beta for someone on their first MS then beta for their 2nd or 3rd and see how much they've improved. :)

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Great tips for beta readers! I think, too, it helps to discuss with the author what they are hoping to get from their beta.

Racquel Henry said...

This was a great post! I really like how you presented this, Pam. I have offered to be a Beta but I've never actually done it. I have critiqued tons of short stories and pieces of novels and I sometimes make suggestions, but not always. I also focus more on the big picture. This is great advice for whenever I do Beta something. Thank you! :)

erica and christy said...

I try to be really honest before I read anything - I'm good at editing and catching mistakes in punctuation, wording, spelling, etc. But I'm not great at "big picture" stuff - I can pick out a dropped plotline, but pacing is definitely not my specialty (maybe because my favorite books are character- rather than plot-driven?). Another good reason to have more than one reader!

Alicia Gregoire said...

One thing I try to do is read it through once without marking or commenting. That way I'm reading to get the story. Once I know that, I can go in again and comment, question, reword. I'm one of those critters that will move parts of your story around if it works better. (Something I probably should've warned both of you about beforehand.)

Small Town Shelly Brown said...

Great post.
I'm glad I'm not the only one who points out the small things. When people read thru my stuff I want them to tell me anything that seems awkward or jumps out at them.

KO: The Insect Collector said...

excellent advice, and now I've got blink 182 in my head! Cool!

Ghenet Myrthil said...

These are really great tips! I've only beta-read one but I think I'll be doing it more often for a few of my writing friends soon. :)