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Old 09-27-2008, 03:04 PM   #1
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What do writers want from beta-readers?

Since I've been a member on here, I've offered to be a beta-reader for other people's work via the forums, emails and PMs. I have been given around eight pieces of work to read so far and have always given my honest opinion on each of them. I don't know anyone on here, so aren't going to lose any friends by being totally honest and unbiased, which I would also be to a friend too btw. And to be honest, I like to critique other people's work because it makes me see what's wrong/right with my own.

But what do people actually want from beta-readers? I'm honest with what I think and I do try to write my notes nicely to explain what doesn't work and that I personally don't like. I am often met with defensiveness, yes, which I can understand, I'm the same about my work. However, I do sit and think over what's been said about my work and I set about trying to put it right.
But some people don't even bother to get back in touch to defend themselves over what I've said. Beta reading takes a lot of time to do, time in which I could be writing and correcting my own work. Am I always supposed to say people's works are brilliant, even if they're not? If so, I don't think it's really worth doing, which is quite sad as I enjoy looking at other people's work. Does anyone else, who beta-reads, feel like this?


Samantha

If this is in the wrong forum, I apologise; please move it to the appropriate one. Plus I have spent some time doing searches on here, but couldn't find what I was looking for, so if there is already a thread on this, please combine them etc.
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Old 09-27-2008, 04:18 PM   #2
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Anyone who critiques or beta reads runs into some authors who only want fluffy 'I love it' responses. They're looking more for approval than help, I think. Mostly, though, writers want honest responses so they can better their work. That would be the purpose of a true beta read -- to get comments from a reader on what works and what doesn't, so the author can change those things that don't work, using the ideas from what does work as guidelines.

If someone gets defensive, I'd say they have an issue. It isn't your issue, unless you're being needlessly cruel in how you state your opinion. Those who do not respond back -- I'd send them a reminder email and ask if they have further questions, you'd be happy to discuss any issues with them. It usually works.

Stick to your guns. Remain honest. The benefits are worth it for both the author and reader.
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Old 09-27-2008, 06:23 PM   #3
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Sounds to me like you're doing well the way you are approaching beta reading. I've had frank appraisals about my work. I've not enjoyed reading it but it's the truth and it has helped.

So keep on being truthful and good luck.
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Old 09-27-2008, 06:39 PM   #4
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Perhaps it's better to ask the person whose work you're betaing what they expect from you. No one member will want the same thing. In the handful of times I've betaed, I always ask the writer what sort of feedback they are looking for and how blunt they want me to be.

The thing is, anyone whose goal is publication needs to get used to receiving blunt, uncensored feedback, without getting defensive about their work (I actually had this conversation with a co-worker yesterday). Because trust me, editorial feedback can be very, very blunt (but it always has the best interest of the story at heart).
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Old 09-27-2008, 06:45 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Samantha's_Song View Post
Since I've been a member on here, I've offered to be a beta-reader for other people's work via the forums, emails and PMs. I have been given around eight pieces of work to read so far and have always given my honest opinion on each of them. I don't know anyone on here, so aren't going to lose any friends by being totally honest and unbiased, which I would also be to a friend too btw. And to be honest, I like to critique other people's work because it makes me see what's wrong/right with my own.

But what do people actually want from beta-readers? I'm honest with what I think and I do try to write my notes nicely to explain what doesn't work and that I personally don't like. I am often met with defensiveness, yes, which I can understand, I'm the same about my work. However, I do sit and think over what's been said about my work and I set about trying to put it right.
But some people don't even bother to get back in touch to defend themselves over what I've said. Beta reading takes a lot of time to do, time in which I could be writing and correcting my own work. Am I always supposed to say people's works are brilliant, even if they're not? If so, I don't think it's really worth doing, which is quite sad as I enjoy looking at other people's work. Does anyone else, who beta-reads, feel like this?


Samantha

If this is in the wrong forum, I apologise; please move it to the appropriate one. Plus I have spent some time doing searches on here, but couldn't find what I was looking for, so if there is already a thread on this, please combine them etc.

Often when I see a post in Share Your Work and it's a subject that interests me and I think I can help the writer, I'll do a critique. Often the people make no response. And some give certain other posters a gushy response, but ignore mine. It's aggravating to be ignored, especially when I've done a good critique, but I I'm doing it for myself as much as I am for them. Now, maybe even more so since I'm beginning to see what a giant leap my own work is taking since I've been doing critiques.

So far I've been lucky in that no one has flown in my face over a crit. I know it happens.

Critting does take up a lot of time, but I view it as an investment in improving my own writing skills. If the original writer makes no response, I'll retain what I learned.

Critting makes me see my own work with new eyes. Almost every time I've done a critique, I've been able to apply it to my own work and make improvements in plot line, atmosphere, or something. And somehow what I learn in critting makes understanding lacks in my own work and solutions for them become something I don't have to consciously think about so much but something that I can automatically apply, if that makes sense. Looking at someone else's work critically opens my eyes to mine.

To me, critting is like casting bread on the waters. It really does come back and often tenfold. So, for your own sake, don't give up. If someone does brush you off just remember who and crit someone else next time.
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Old 09-27-2008, 08:23 PM   #6
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I'm a one-style Beta reader. I treat your work as I would my own. I line edit and nit pick. I'm honest.

One or two writers have asked me to Beta and been upset when I send my comments and suggestions. Not my problem. Most have thanked me, some profusely, which gives me the courage to do more reading.

In return, I ask for the same honesty and I get it. Sure, sometimes it upsets me, most often it points to errors and weaknesses. Either way, I'm grateful that someone took the time to help me, and I thank them.

Like Keyboard Hound, I've replied to writers on the SYW forums. Occasionally, I've had to take a deep breath before I post my reactions to something, because I'm honest there, too. Some writers don't bother to acknowledge replies, be they positive or not. Very unprofessional, yet the post different pieces and still expect others to reply. I wonder if some realise why no one bothers responding. Why would we waste our time on someone so rude?

Before a member enters SYW, there is a warning not to post unless you want others to respond. We post there because we know something isn't right and we want opinions. If what a poster wants is nice-nice comments, the work had better be error free and ready to publish.
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Old 09-27-2008, 08:50 PM   #7
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I want complete honesty from my Beta-readers. Be as tough as possible!! Crack the whip on me!

I need some more Beta-readers actually...
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Old 09-27-2008, 08:56 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Keyboard Hound View Post
I'm doing it for myself as much as I am for them. Now, maybe even more so since I'm beginning to see what a giant leap my own work is taking since I've been doing critiques.

So far I've been lucky in that no one has flown in my face over a crit. I know it happens.

Critting does take up a lot of time, but I view it as an investment in improving my own writing skills. If the original writer makes no response, I'll retain what I learned.

Critting makes me see my own work with new eyes. Almost every time I've done a critique, I've been able to apply it to my own work and make improvements in plot line, atmosphere, or something. And somehow what I learn in critting makes understanding lacks in my own work and solutions for them become something I don't have to consciously think about so much but something that I can automatically apply, if that makes sense. Looking at someone else's work critically opens my eyes to mine.

To me, critting is like casting bread on the waters. It really does come back and often tenfold. So, for your own sake, don't give up. If someone does brush you off just remember who and crit someone else next time.
I've recently begun critting on SYW. I can't agree with you more, KH, about the benefits to critting someone else's work and learning from those crits about your own writing.

Someone else posted recently, too, that if you want your work critted, you should consider offering a crit yourself. It's scary to put yourself out there with your opinions, I know. But we, as writers, bring so much to this forum particular in terms of perspectives.

To the OP: I agree with ChaosTitan that there should be a clear understanding of what the writer is looking for from your crit/beta read. Some people really only want a "do you think this is interesting" kind of input. Others want the "give it to me straight, hack at it" approach. Both of you benefit from the latter approach.

I admire you for accepting so many betas. I'm still working on chapter crits and loving it!
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Old 09-27-2008, 10:32 PM   #9
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I want complete honesty from my Beta-readers. Be as tough as possible!! Crack the whip on me!
I agree 100%. How else will we or anyone else learn?

The more a person can digest and learn from a crit, the faster their work will progress.

It's important to learn to evaluate a crit, too, to make sure it's justified. Even if not, it'll help a writer take a closer look and think more critically.
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Old 09-27-2008, 10:57 PM   #10
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Shadow Paetz, I do love some of the work I read; actually, I've never read anything that I didn't like and that's why I'm so honest with the parts I don't like, because I want to see their work be the very best that it can be.
I hope I'm not needlessly cruel with my crits but when I know I'm a little harsh, I do exlain why and apologise before and after I've said what I've got to say. I even sat on one crit for a while, before I sent it out, because I knew it was harsh. I did tone it down, quite a lot, and I apologised for each part that I wasn't too nice about, but I know the person doesn't like it.
I will stck to my guns as I don't know any other way to be.


Thank you Mumut and I agree, frankness might hurt a little at the time, but once you sit back and think about it, it's for your own good.


ChaosTitan, I usually discuss the story with the person before I read it and I always ask them if they want honesty, everyone says yes, but I don't think they always want it about the bad bits.


KeyboardHound, Yes, I get a great deal for myself from giving a critique too. I have learned lots about my own writing through them, especially the downfalls I have, of which I know are many. "Critting makes me see my own work with new eyes. Almost every time I've done a critique, I've been able to apply it to my own work and make improvements in plot line, atmosphere, or something." - Exactly.

No one's actually flown in my face yet, but I can tell the disdain that's written between the lines sometimes.
I haven't chanced critiquing on the actual forum yet, as I prefer to do this kind of thing in private, especially if I know there is going to be parts that I am going to pick holes through.
No, I won't give up critquing people's work, like you, I have much to gain as well as giving something.


Carmy, I nit-pick too. Sometimes I am asking myself questions about the story that aren't really relevant to the average reader, but I'd like the answers for my own piece of mind. I'm lke this with films too, like when loads of peole get shot dead by the hero and then the film ends-I want to know if he's going to get done for murder and sent to prison etc.

I recently sent out a chapter of an old story for someone to critique, whom I was critting at the time. The young lady pulled some of it to bits, but she was right and I've spent a lot of today going over it in my head and have come up with a better chapter now... I must write and thank her later on.


Glaze, if it's something I would read, send it on to me, I'll be as brutal and as masochistic as you want. But it's all for your own good, honest!


Vixey, to be honest, I'd rather have the whole story than just a chapter; I can't get my teeth into just one chapter, especially if it's a short one. I want to get the feel of the writer's voice, it makes me understand the story from their POV .
I don't actually mind not doing a swap of work, I simply enjoy reading other people's work as I get something out of it anyway.


Thank you very much everyone!
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Old 09-27-2008, 11:37 PM   #11
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Quote:
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But what do people actually want from beta-readers?
What I want in general: What reactions did you have as you read this? What, specifically, are you reacting to in the writing?

For each piece I may have specific things I want feedback about. About which I want feedback. About which I want feedback about. Bah.

Quote:
Does anyone else, who beta-reads, feel like this?
I want to know that there's a good chance that my feedback will be useful to the person.

In my local writers' group, our rule is that before we will review a long piece, you must submit a short piece (no more than 1,000 words). That allows all of us (author and reviewers) to test whether the author finds value in the kind of feedback we give. If so, then we can be confident that the time we put into a longer piece will likely be valuable. If not, we learned about the mismatch early, without wasting much of anyone's time.

That works well in person, in a small group with only a few new members each year.

Online, I find it a little harder to run small tests like that, to find out whether my feedback fits for any given author. Partly that's because there's a steady stream of new people seeking feedback, and I don't have prior experience with any of them. And then I forget who is who.

Mostly I give feedback online only when someone specifically requests my feedback. My local in-person writers' group keeps me plenty busy.

Another thing: Consider asking each author what feedback they're seeking for each piece.

In my local group, we noticed that authors weren't always getting feedback on things they most wanted feedback about. So we invited authors to submit guidance for beta readers along with their writing. That worked somewhat. We found that authors sometimes didn't know what kinds of feedback they wanted until they got the feedback they got. And the problem is never that the feedback we gave was unhelpful, but that we didn't comment on something that the author was concerned about. (The lack of comments about that topic may itself be interesting information for the author.)

We're still sorting out how to do that when we review short pieces. Often the author, after hearing what we thought to say, will ask a question or two about some additional element of the writing.

In our novel subgroup, we reserve time at the end of the session for the writer to ask questions. That helps to make sure that we cover the topics that most concern them.

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Old 09-28-2008, 03:29 AM   #12
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Hi Dale,
Sometimes I offer to beta-read I've seen the query/synopsis for on a thread, most other times people email me and ask if I would beta read their work for them. I actually haven't declined anyone as of yet either.

I always tell them that I don't do grammar and punctuation and that I don't do line crits. But I quite often do pick lines/sentences and tell them how it could be better if it seems awkward to me. Just recently, I went through a whole chapter and put bits in or took them out because I felt it would look a little better, then found out it was only a rough draft anyway.

Most of all, I take on a piece of work to go through the story and see how it reads, how it comes across to the readers, and to see if there are holes in the plots or bits that aren't really needed. I say what I think about the characters and how they come across to the reader. I also tell people if I think there's too much or too little of certain aspects, like emotions, sex scenes etc.
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Old 10-01-2008, 08:38 PM   #13
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Personally, I want the beta reader to be as honest as possible and offer constructive criticism that will effectively make me a better writer. I find the more frank the crit, the more I want to write to approve my work. I like the critiquer to point out issues that may not occurred to me before, catch inconsistancies, let me know if my characters seem one-dimensional or not ringing true and point out grammatical errors if need be. What I don't want is a beta reader to nit-pick over dialogue if it's not proper english. Not everyone talks like a Brit. I also don't want my beta to try to re-write my story to fit their own personal beliefs. For instance, if I'm writing a story about a 16 year old girl who gets pregnant and decides to have an abortion, I don't want my beta to say I should have the teen character carry the baby to term and then give it up for adoption or marry the father because he/she personally does not believe in abortion. Or tell me I should change the teens age from a 16 year old to a 18 year old so my story doesn't contain underage sex. That type of critique doesn't really help my story. IMO, it feels more like the beta is trying to turn my story into their own.
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Old 10-02-2008, 04:46 AM   #14
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I couldn't agree with you more. I am always honest with what I think is wrong or right with someone's work. I'll point out the plot holes and if I think the character has no, well, character, which you do see sometimes, but the writers of the stories do not. I have to care about a character, and aone-dimensional or absolutely perfect one will make me not care for them.

Everyone speaks differently, so no one should tell anyone else how to write their dialogue. I write about people with foreign accents sometimes, so their grammar might be a little different to an English speaking persons grammar, even when the foreign person is talking in English.

I would never want to tell them how to write their story and what to put into it, that's none of my business. I certainly wouldn't want people shoving their morals in my face either, that's not what critiquing is supposed to be about.

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Personally, I want the beta reader to be as honest as possible and offer constructive criticism that will effectively make me a better writer. I find the more frank the crit, the more I want to write to approve my work. I like the critiquer to point out issues that may not occurred to me before, catch inconsistancies, let me know if my characters seem one-dimensional or not ringing true and point out grammatical errors if need be. What I don't want is a beta reader to nit-pick over dialogue if it's not proper english. Not everyone talks like a Brit. I also don't want my beta to try to re-write my story to fit their own personal beliefs. For instance, if I'm writing a story about a 16 year old girl who gets pregnant and decides to have an abortion, I don't want my beta to say I should have the teen character carry the baby to term and then give it up for adoption or marry the father because he/she personally does not believe in abortion. Or tell me I should change the teens age from a 16 year old to a 18 year old so my story doesn't contain underage sex. That type of critique doesn't really help my story. IMO, it feels more like the beta is trying to turn my story into their own.
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Old 11-20-2008, 12:43 AM   #15
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This is a very interesting and useful thread for me.

I love beta reading and I try to do as much as I can. I've even started a screenwriting 101 blog in hopes of helping new writers.

I remember what it was like to be a n00b writer, if you will, and it was overwhelming. I just needed someone to help me and give me guidance, and being that I had no one like that, I learned everything myself, taught myself all I know and it has made me a better writer.

I'm passionate about writing, I live for it, and because of beta reading, I've realized that I also have a strong passion for helping new writers.

Just my two cents.
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Old 11-20-2008, 01:13 AM   #16
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Dif folks want dif things: some want nits and picks with grammar, commas, and the mechanical stuff. Others want the hairy eyeball on content, continuity, logic issues, etc. Some want fact checkers. Many want as much help as possible.

Depending on your ability, what can you give? Are you a whiz at finding /eliminating commas, or do you excel at rearranging lines to make more sense? Can you say for sure that no one in their right mind would pit a gladius against a scimitar or what the normal length of cloth is proper for a burial shroud?

If you have a non-comfort zone with a certain genre, don't edit it.

Best is to let those you edit for know what your strengths are, what you would rather not handle, and then ask what they need and the TA (turnaround) they expect.
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Old 03-07-2009, 03:51 AM   #17
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I want nit picks, honesty, bluntness, this works, that doesn't. Of course a compliment once in a while is nice, too, if it's honest, but I've been helped the most by straight on comments.

I'm kinda new at seriously trying to put things together into stories, so I need all the help I can get. Have been writing off and on for years, but no finished products. Lots of raw material, though.

I'd love to beta read. I'm critical, know grammar and all that, can give pointers on continuity, whether things work or not, and so forth. I've never done it though. I'm sure I'd learn a lot from it.
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Old 04-16-2009, 10:51 PM   #18
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I once did a beta swap, and went through the first chapter with a lot of feedback for the other writer. At that point they didn't want to give me the rest of the book.

Then they told me I needed to spellcheck mine, which I had repeatedly, so I guess we can't help getting defensive, especially when our friends and loved ones LOVE our books, LOL.

But on that note, I want as brutally honest as possible when people read my work. I'm not going to improve if people don't give the goods straight up. You have to look at criticism objectively though. And appreciate the work someone's putting in to help YOU. You know?
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Old 04-17-2009, 01:38 PM   #19
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I've had this happen to me. I swapped one of my works for another member's. I went through the chapter, very thoroughly, that she sent me, and then I contacted her and relayed my thoughts, one of them being it seemed very first draft.
She wrote back, snapping that it was first draft and then sent me a very small note about my own work. For myself, I would never swap work with someone else again, as it seemed that I did a thorough job and she didn't give a stuff about mine, she just wanted me to tell her she did good when she didn't. I won't tell lies to someone about their wotk, as that isn't doing them a favour, it's lulling them into a false security.

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I once did a beta swap, and went through the first chapter with a lot of feedback for the other writer. At that point they didn't want to give me the rest of the book.

Then they told me I needed to spellcheck mine, which I had repeatedly, so I guess we can't help getting defensive, especially when our friends and loved ones LOVE our books, LOL.

But on that note, I want as brutally honest as possible when people read my work. I'm not going to improve if people don't give the goods straight up. You have to look at criticism objectively though. And appreciate the work someone's putting in to help YOU. You know?
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Old 06-20-2009, 05:16 AM   #20
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What do writers want from Beta Readers?

This has been an interesting thread (I just joined. Lots of activity on this site!)

All writers have different needs. Some simply want a reader for their work. Beginning writers may need line editors most. This is the easy art of being a beta reader--not to denigrate its importance. It's the first step on the ladder and the skills most easily taught to a new writer.

More advanced writers have more subtle needs. I think my need for a beta reader is quite different from any I've seen discussed here so far. I'm a published (and award winning) author--though I only have one book out so far. (Google "The Infinite Instant"; it was reviewed recently on SFSITE). But I, too--any author, no matter how good, really--need a beta reader.

If I find a good one, I treasure that person. Because what I look for is fairly difficult.

I don't need a line editor. I rarely make those kind of mistakes, and I self-edit ruthlessly. Once in a while test readers have come back to me on character issues. Rarely much else.

What I really need is someone intellectually capable of grasping the whole novel and then being a useful sounding board for bouncing ideas off for THE SEQUEL.

THIS is tough stuff. It requires seeing underlying themes from the prequel and what should be developed in the sequel.

I write stories with fairly complex plots, and I think of themes and layers when I write. This is not easy stuff to work out--even for me.

So bouncing ideas off another person in that respect is helpful.

I think very hard when I plan a novel. Sometimes, though, I run into stuff that stumps me temporarily. For example, in my current sequel planning, I know I've got certain things I want or "have to have". But the path there isn't always clear, without a lot of that hard thinking.

Would you still call someone who is an intellectually astute sounding board a "beta reader"?

Perhaps, but I think this is the master class of beta readers. Folks who can do this service are rare--and appreciated.

- Danielle
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Old 06-20-2009, 05:30 AM   #21
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When I tell someone what doesn't work in their novels, I try and help them out with suggestions, even if that means altering the story a little in parts, but I still class myself as a beta-reader.
I beta-read an excellent crime story for a young man, over the last few days, but there was a small part about his character that needed fleshing out a little more. We discussed it, via email, after I'd passed on my thirteen pages of comments to him, and he can see where I'm coming from and is going to work on it. I felt well appreciated for my time on it too.

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Would you still call someone who is an intellectually astute sounding board a "beta reader"?

Perhaps, but I think this is the master class of beta readers. Folks who can do this service are rare--and appreciated.

- Danielle
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Old 06-20-2009, 05:30 AM   #22
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And I should add I AM looking for a test reader... for two sequels.

The first, "The Nihilistic Mirror", is a cross-genre thriller/sci fi (sequel to "The Infinite Instant"). I think readers who like hard-boiled noir ... James Cain, Elmore Leonard, John D. MacDonald, etc. might be good choices.

The second sequel is for a book yet to be published... but since one big publisher has let me know it's passed first reading, I have hopes. This one is a dark, dark, somewhat mythic science fiction. Let's say, if you read, say, Gene Wolfe--something literate, dark, with strong horror elements, you might be a good choice.

I don't know if I should have posted this here? But it follows on from my previous explanation.

And no kidding, good beta readers are worth their weight in gold. I treasure them. I wrote that dark sci fi I'm writing that sequel for in about 4 intense months. It was a solitary business. Writers are a bit like actors. If we don't have an audience (for our books, of course, in our case)... does anything we do matter?

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Old 06-20-2009, 05:34 AM   #23
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Danielle,

You might want to put your own posting up, asking for a reader, okay, more people will see that you need one that way. They might not bother to look at this, as this is quite an old posting.
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Old 06-20-2009, 05:42 AM   #24
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Re I beta-read an excellent crime story

And you obviously enjoyed reading it. That's important.

I think it's critical to match a beta reader's taste in reading with the author's work. And the level of reading they enjoy: simple, challenging, whatever.

It's fine if folks want to read, say, Tolkien-inspired elvish fantasies. Or R. A. Salvatore style slash-and-bash sword-and-sorcery.

But if that's what they like, they wouldn't be a good reader, for, say, something wildly different or much more difficult. Could I, for example, beta read James Joyce or Rushdie? No. Could I beta read erotica? I could, but I wouldn't want to, because it's not my thing in reading.

So when I look for a suitable beta reader, I want to know what THEY read, and what they like. You can tell if you're a good fit there.
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Old 06-20-2009, 05:46 AM   #25
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Thanks, (Samantha???), I will.

I may just have to have some nerve before I actually do it. It's really hard to get that comfort feeling at first, trusting strangers with your work.

But as I said, even the very best authors, with scores of published works, need test readers. In my case, to riff on the plans for the sequel. And that's tough stuff.
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