No lie: I’ve beta-read hundreds of manuscripts and novels. At times I’ve been too severe, but I do my best to follow this motto:
— For every element you critique when completing your review—be it characters, plot, setting, etc.—include at least one comment that’s encouraging. Every writer should know what they’re doing right; we build upon our strengths. So where did they excel?
What keeps me going is hearing that I’ve helped a writer – that is reward enough.
Then again, in 2016, my goal has to be less beta reading and more time spent getting my own novels published at last. I’ve critiqued, proofed, flagged syntax errors and clumsy wording, offered encouragement and suggestions–usually with small returns and often with no returns on the favor–for hundreds of authors. Kristen Kieffer’s blog speaks to me (and for me). She’s a fantasy novelist and a writing coach at ShesNovel.com ; Twitter handle @shesnovel. Let me call attention to some of her most salient points:
—beta-reading is difficult and time-consuming work
— If you reached out to beta readers, it was likely with the expectation they would offer you valuable insight you could use to better tailor your novel for success. You should give this same kind of value in return.
— Writers are busy, but offer to beta read your beta reader’s latest manuscript in return
— If you simply can’t make the time to critique a beta reader’s manuscript, let them know. Don’t let their hard work go unappreciated, but be honest in what you can and cannot make the time to do. The only thing worse than not reviewing their book is sending a poorly constructed critique because you couldn’t spare the time to do it right.
— If a beta reader doesn’t need you to critique one of their upcoming projects, ask how you can return the kindness they’ve done you
— if your beta reader isn’t a writer, offer to send them a copy of your novel once it is published
Carol’s experience here: You’d be surprised how many authors try to guilt-trip me into buying a book I’ve beta read and reviewed and promoted via social media.
I don’t expect much. I don’t ask for much. But, after too many years of giving without getting back, I’m ready to say if you want me to read your novel, be prepared to offer more than a verbal “thanks” in return.
If, however, I find you and offer to beta-read, I’m not obligating you to return the favor.
Below, excerpts from Kristen Kieffer’s guest post at Jane Friedman’s blog:
3. Don’t Ask for Beta Readers—Offer to Be One
Unless you’ve built incredible friendships overnight, your potential beta readers probably won’t be too inclined to read and critique your novel without receiving something in return.
… I recommend sourcing your beta readers from the writing community. When you finally get in touch, you won’t have to beg or plead for their help; you’ll be able to bring your own offer to the table.
That’s right! When you ask your new acquaintances for help, you should offer to beta read their latest manuscript in return. Not only will this make the experience beneficial for both parties, but you’ll gain more practice in reading with a critical eye. This will help immensely as you continue to edit your own works.
….Simplify the critiquing process for your beta readers by including a list of questions you’d like answered. You can inquire about characterization, plot and character arcs, pacing, the quality of your prose, and any errors or inconsistencies your betas may have noticed.
… Be upfront and honest about the type of critique you’re looking for, but never believe you’re entitled to receive it simply because you’ve offered to beta in return. Writers lead busy lives, and sometimes they simply don’t have the time or desire to meet your needs.
…. recognize critiques as advice rather than admonishments. The manuscript you send to your beta readers is not perfect. No story is, not even the most critically acclaimed works.
…If your beta readers have sent you truly constructive criticism—feedback that encourages as much as it critiques—you can trust it to be an inside look at what future readers would think if your novel were published as is.
This means their criticism comes from an honest desire to see your work improve, rather than the chance to tear you down. Seize this opportunity. Recognize your chance to take these critiques and use them to your benefit. Better your novel and you’ll better its chances of success.
With that said, don’t make every change your beta readers suggest. They’re only people. They may not see or understand your vision for the book or have the same desires as the rest of your beta readers.
If you don’t agree with a critique a beta reader has pointed out, take a step back and put that critique in context. A good rule of thumb is to only make a change to your manuscript if it’s something you wholeheartedly agree with or if more than 50 percent of your beta readers made the same critique.
And finally, if your beta reader isn’t a writer, offer to send them a few copies of your novel once it is published. Make sure to sign each copy. You may also want to include a personalized note of thanks to show your appreciation.
… If your beta reader appreciates your critique as much as you did theirs, let them know you’d like to maintain the relationship. Rather than finding a brand new set of beta readers for your next work, you’ll have a group you know will put in the time and effort to do the job right.
On the other hand, if you don’t want to maintain a relationship with a beta reader, be honest but kind. Let them know you appreciated their work and was happy to return the favor, but be clear about ending the relationship.