19.8.10

How Do I Beta?

I just read Kathleen's entry in the Battle of the Betas and event where five writers/experienced betas critique the same page (via Sarah Enni)

If you haven't already, go check them out:


Beta-ing to me is all about giving your opinion on someone's writing in a positive and constructive manner.

You might think that everyone can do it, well they can, but there is such a thing as good Betas, and bad Betas. I'm not going to put myself in either category but I will say that I am a Motherly Beta.

By that, I mean I am nurturing. I try my best to be honest, without being harsh, and if I see something I don't like I explain to the writer why I don't like it and what I think they can do to fix it.

Good Betas don't just say things like: Oh I don't really think this opening sentence works or I don't like the personality of your main character. Good Betas explain why they don't like the opening sentence and why they don't like the personality of your main character.

If the writer understands the whys of your opinions/criticism it would help them to identify what they need to fix in their novel and how they are going to fix it.

And all of this can be done in a nice, well-mannered way.

Telling someone that their writing sucks and that you think the novel is horrible isn't going to get the writer anywhere and it certainly isn't going to get you as a Beta reader anywhere.

From my short-lived life as a Beta reader, I have learned that what you say is just as important as how you beta-read. Meaning, that you can't give off a negative vibe, because writing a book is a hard enough job as it is, and there are nicer ways in getting something across, than saying suck and horrible.

I trust that those of us who beta-read and write are aware of that, but just in case you happen to beta-reading for the first time, and you happen to read this post, know that there is a way to be constructive and firm without using harsh words.

So, when I beta, I try to be constructive, I try to be firm, I try not to be biased, because often times when people agree to beta-read someone's novel they *know* the person and like them and are afraid of being *harsh*

But, like I said, I'm the Motherly Beta, though I love you, I also care about your novel reaching it's full potential, and if I have to be constructive, and bare-boned for that to happen, then so be it.

  1. ANALYZING CHAPTER ONE

Chapter One is the most important chapter in the entire book, in my opinion. Here is your chance to establish the hook, your characters. Here is your chance to make your reader comfortable with your main character and your additional characters and hopefully, here is your chance to reel in agents who request partials and fulls.

So, yeah, Chapter One is really important.

I spend a lot more time on this chapter then any other one. I give it a good two or three read-overs making sure I have nothing to add, and when it comes to note-taking I usually put them in brackets and make the font color red, just so my words stand out, when the writer looks over them.

There were a few occasions when the person I was beta-ing for had good first lines, a good voice, a good grip on their plot, until I got to the middle of the book. And that's where my next topic comes in.


2. STARTING OUT STRONG, THEN GOING ALL WRONG

Personally, when reading, I start out very weak (because beginnings aren't my strong-suit) and hopefully in the end, I come out strong. I am always envious of writers who can start off strong. It makes the story so much more enjoyable, but it also makes the places that are weak obvious.

I try to point those areas as best as I can, because you don't want an agent to request a full or a partial, start off strong, grab their attention, and then all-of-a-sudden lose it because you lost your grip on your main character/plot etc.

I read every book like I actually picked it up at Borders or something. Therefore, I start reading having high expectations, and with that attitude, I'm able to determine what I honestly think should be changed, and what I honestly think the reader should to, because that's what constructive criticism is all about it. It's about being honest, and honesty is key to a healthy relationship between you and whomever you are beta-ing for.

They should feel like they can ask you anything, and if you say that their story starts out strong, but gets weaker towards the middle, then they should be able to ask you for help, and ask you to explain your critique a little bit more.

3. YOUR MIND WILL BE BLOWN

As a writer, I know that some people go through three or four drafts before they send their baby off to betas, therefore they probably put blood, sweat and tears, into their project, and from personal experience, that is when the writing really jumps off the page.

I can't begin to explain how many times my jaw-dropped because I read a passage so amazing that it just blew my mind, or maybe the character's said something outrageously funny or the plot just took a turn that I didn't expect, and I loved it.

So, what I'm trying to tell you is this, when you're beta-reading don't just point out the things that need some worked on, point out the things you like, because writers (I should know) love to hear about what they're doing write. It helps them stay confident. It helps them believe that they can polish up their novel.

4. QUESTIONS


It's important to ask what the writer wants you to point out, in general. Often times, they have insecurities but they forget to mention to say things like: Oh, I think my main character is weak. Do you think he/she is? or Oh, I don't like the climax? Do you think it works well with the story or should fix it?

Personally, I love asking questions, just so I can be able to add in additional notes when I send in my full-critique, but that might just be me.


5. GRAMMAR, PUNCTUATION, AND THINGS WE HAVE LONG SENSE FORGOTTEN ABOUT

I am horrible when it comes to pointing out tense-changes, grammatical errors, and what not. So, I make sure I mention that to whomever I'm beta-ing for just so they know that they'll need to find someone else who can focus on that area, better than I can.

It's okay to not be good in one or two aspects of beta-reading. Just let the writer know that something isn't your stronghold and they'll work out something.

Again, I am no expert on beta-reading. But that was a gist of how I beta-read. I don't know if I do a good job or a bad job, but I hope I am of some help to the writer.

Now, it's your turn. How do you beta-read?

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for linking us! I repped you on AW, too. :)

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  2. Dude, your method of beta reading is still my favorite. :)

    I remember getting SM's crit back and my jaw dropped because you hit the nail on the head (several times). :D

    I'm more of a line crit person, but I try to incorporate overall thoughts, too.

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  3. Nice, I think I'd like you as a beta-reader. I'm not really great at the grammar/tense things either. But I definitely appreciate when someone says what I'm doing right as well as wrong...and how they believe it could be fixed instead of just "it's not working." That just confuses me and gets me more frustrated. I know editing is a must, but I don't want to hate the WHOLE idea of it. haha

    --Lauren

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