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View Full Version : How Polished should a manuscript be before beta reading



Lisella
04-11-2012, 10:44 PM
Before you ask someone to beta read your manuscript, how polished is it usually?

I typically wouldn't ask anyone to read a full manuscript until I've got it pretty polished and solid, but I am beta reading and running into some problems, so I'm wondering what the norm is.

Thanks!

aoliver
04-11-2012, 10:55 PM
I think the manuscript should be pretty polished--beta reading should be the step before querying agents.

Unimportant
04-11-2012, 11:26 PM
Unless the author specifically tells me "I know the manuscript has X,Y,Z problems that I haven't fixed yet because I think I'll end up doing a major overhaul anyhow, so please just read through that and tell me what you think about A,B,C" I go on the assumption that the piece is as good as they can make it.

But I generally tell authors that I'm one of those readers whose brain stops at each typo, punctuation error, etc, so if someone's manuscript isn't polished at the sentence level I won't be able to read through it to look for structural problems.

Ol' Fashioned Girl
04-11-2012, 11:34 PM
I'm with Unimportant. My gears lock up on typos and errors in grammar, so if someone wants me to beta and give the best review possible, s/he'll give me a manuscript that doesn't make me want to throw it with force across the livingroom. That never ends well.

Jess Haines
04-11-2012, 11:51 PM
Unless the author specifically tells me "I know the manuscript has X,Y,Z problems that I haven't fixed yet because I think I'll end up doing a major overhaul anyhow, so please just read through that and tell me what you think about A,B,C" I go on the assumption that the piece is as good as they can make it.

But I generally tell authors that I'm one of those readers whose brain stops at each typo, punctuation error, etc, so if someone's manuscript isn't polished at the sentence level I won't be able to read through it to look for structural problems.

This.

I don't mind the occasional misspelling, homonym, misplaced comma, etc, but if it is obvious that the person does not have a grasp on basic sentence structure and grammar, forget it. This is why I'm super picky about who I offer to beta these days, and generally check a sample of the work first.

strandedhero
04-12-2012, 01:09 AM
I thought it was assumed that the writer would have polished it as best as they can, but lately I'm not so sure. I think the best thing is to swap a couple chapters first. It's going to be a requirement for me now.

MoLoLu
04-12-2012, 11:01 AM
I let my father beta read after first draft because he's excellent at plot and character critique but can't critique prose worth a damn (it's always excellent). By letting him read early I spare myself the trouble of running into large plot and character errors later.

Anyone else, I wait until many, many polish attempts. If I'm releasing my work to someone outside my intimate circle of trust, I want to know I'm releasing something representable of my best work, not a draft.

On the other hand, when it comes to beta reading, I'll read most anything starting with a few chapters. Based on those I can say: 'Okay this needs more work before anyone will read it' or 'yeah, I can critique this as a work'. For the former, I try not to waste too much time on it. For the latter, I'll invest more time.

blacbird
04-12-2012, 11:45 AM
It should be free of typos and grammatical errors, for starters. These things distract a reader into nitpicky fix suggestions, and reduce the likelihood of getting a decent critique of more substantive story issues.

caw

Fallen
04-12-2012, 02:32 PM
You do it to the best of your ability. But... sometimes an author just isn't aware of the problems, and I think you have to balance whether you continue as a beta on that.

I usually just ask for the first chapter. The first sentence will give me a sense of style (verb use, noun phrase packaging), the second will let me know how well they blend themes at sentence level, then paragraph, then page and chapter levels. By then I have a good sense of voice, style, continuity, congruency, language skill etc.

One thing I've noticed away from beta reading and moving into proofing, every author has their own quirks, there (mine are homophones ;)) own mistakes that act like a fingerprint. That kind of softens me. I see a person not a manuscript. Which is why I try and make time for beta reading now and again. It's good to work personally with authors.

I've stopped two beta projects part way through, but that was due to personal circumstances. The authors on both occasions were brilliant with their reactions. If you're finding it diffcult, try and talk it out with the author first. They might not be aware it's not up to what you, as a beta, expected.

Bufty
04-12-2012, 07:02 PM
There is nothing better - be it beta reading or here in Share-Your-Work than being able to read two consecutive pages (500 words) without one's eye faltering.

narmowen
04-13-2012, 05:42 AM
I'll be the dissenting voice here and say as soon as possible. :)

I got my beta reader when I had just started my novel, at around 7 k words. She's been there from the beginning, so she was able to tell me early on when something or someone just wasn't working out.

It helped, though, that I was betaing her novel at the same time.

Lisella
04-13-2012, 06:38 AM
I'll be the dissenting voice here and say as soon as possible. :)

I got my beta reader when I had just started my novel, at around 7 k words. She's been there from the beginning, so she was able to tell me early on when something or someone just wasn't working out.

It helped, though, that I was betaing her novel at the same time.

But would that really be considered beta reading? In my head, beta means you're reading the full manuscript after its been at least somewhat refined. If you're just critiquing smaller pieces in draft formats, I'd think of that more like a writer's group type scenario.

narmowen
04-13-2012, 06:43 AM
See, in my head, betaing means reading something that's still complete, even if it's not a full manuscript. We go chapter by chapter (or chapters), so to us, it's still beta reading. And it's not a first draft that we send, either. (Well, until the end of my story, but that's only because she didn't want to wait.)

And can it be a writer's group with just two writers? :)

Unimportant
04-13-2012, 07:04 AM
I don't know the correct terminology, but I think there are alpha readers and beta readers.

A beta reader is often a stranger to your work and to you as a person/writer. The beta reader reads your polished manuscript and provides a critique.

An alpha or first reader is someone who is more familiar with you and your work (either online or F2F) and who reads your WIPs and discusses their development with you. The alpha reader is the one who can not only discuss an individual manuscript but also look at it in the context of all your work and discuss similarities, ongoing themes, etc. They know your strengths and weaknesses. They may also beta-read the finished product. In many ways, the alpha reader is also a mentor.

I'll beta read for a fairly wide group of people, but I'll alpha read for only a very few individuals.

HoneyBadger
04-13-2012, 07:17 AM
Also here's who make good alpha readers for writers, like myself, who need insanely huge amounts of ego-stroking while working: people who are easily impressed by you.

cmi0616
04-13-2012, 08:06 AM
I think as long as the condition of the manuscript clearly expressed before the work begins, it shouldn't be a factor. I started beta-ing my ms right after the first draft. I made it clear to anyone interested, though, that it was a "very rough first draft" and it was probably not going to be easy to read.

narmowen
04-13-2012, 06:09 PM
I don't know the correct terminology, but I think there are alpha readers and beta readers.

A beta reader is often a stranger to your work and to you as a person/writer. The beta reader reads your polished manuscript and provides a critique.

An alpha or first reader is someone who is more familiar with you and your work (either online or F2F) and who reads your WIPs and discusses their development with you. The alpha reader is the one who can not only discuss an individual manuscript but also look at it in the context of all your work and discuss similarities, ongoing themes, etc. They know your strengths and weaknesses. They may also beta-read the finished product. In many ways, the alpha reader is also a mentor.

I'll beta read for a fairly wide group of people, but I'll alpha read for only a very few individuals.

That makes sense. I've never heard of an alpha reader, but I think (with your definition), that's what my "beta" is (at this point, as she didn't start out there).