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Unimportant
06-22-2012, 05:06 AM
Spinning off from another thread: How much time do you put into beta-reading? To read and critique, say, an average 4000 word Chapter 1 of a novel?

I'm curious as to whether I'm anywhere near normal, and it might be useful for authors who are new to beta-reading to get an idea of how much time they might be committing to when they volunteer.

meowzbark
06-22-2012, 06:10 AM
It really depends. Most chapters I read and critique in 15 or 20 minutes. Other chapters can take me hours. Sometimes I have to read a section, stop and think about what about it doesn't make sense, and offer suggestions. I've done skeleton plot outlines when the plot starts to lag. I've done character profiles when they seem inconsistent or one dimensional.

Chapter one is always the fastest chapter for me. Its an introduction and from there I can already figure out

- If the author has a basic understanding of the English language
- If the characters have depth
- If there is a plot
- If I like the story and characters (Most important for me.)

If any one of those four aren't met, I deny critiquing further.

The middle chapters are the hardest and longest for me. I'm committed, so even if the plot disappears and the characters fall flat, I have to force myself to keep reading. And then I also have to check and double check previous chapters to see if yes a plot twist happened with zero foreshadowing or if I missed the clues; to check with consistencies and give examples for personality shifts; and to decide if the boring back story in an earlier chapter was actually needed to explain an occurrence in a later chapter or if it was fluff.

But as long as the author says thanks, it's worth it to me. This is also why I refuse to do the manuscript in one submission. I like to know that the author understands and appreciates my feedback, even if he/she doesn't agree with it. My goal isn't to make it my baby, but it is to genuinely help the author achieve their goal of publishing.

EDIT: It also depends if my kid is awake. This post alone took me a half hour to write, simply because my kid kept interrupting.

Violeta
06-22-2012, 06:12 AM
I haven't critiqued a chapter that long yet. But, from my experience, it depends. If I'm beta reading a whole MS, where no line editing is necessary, I spend on it as much as it takes me to read it. Say, between 7 to 12 hours. Plus another hour to tell the author my opinion. In this case, all they need from me is to see character development, story structure and stuff. So it's fairly easy to do.

But if I am critting early drafts, then I read, do line edits, and sometimes (not usually), I comment on characters, plot or misc. This doesn't take me much. More or less, maybe 2 hours tops for a 2k piece and a comment to the author.

But this is an interesting question. I'll keep it in mind next time I beta read/critique something.

Maryn
06-22-2012, 06:37 AM
If I'm truly beta reading, which I define as reviewing something which is polished and ready for submission, I can be pretty quick, maybe 15 to 30 minutes for 4000 words or so.

But in my experience, a great many people who seek a beta reader are not offering a polished manuscript. They're sharing work which still needs line-by-line feedback, corrections, questions about character motives and plot holes, or necessary information which is absent. 4000 words like that can take me three or four hours.

To me, that amount of time is more than I'm willing to give for someone who can't be bothered to give me their best, most careful work for a beta. If they are asking for critique, that's different, and I know the risks of time required going in.

Maryn, a notoriously hard sell for beta reading

Karen Junker
06-22-2012, 07:14 AM
I read and crit fast -- so 1/2 an hour even for unpolished work. I nitpick the hell out of it though. Right now, I'm supposed to be reading a chapter for someone and I'm putting it off because I'm in a burnout. A writer won't get my best work as a beta when I'm feeling uncharitable :)

LJD
06-22-2012, 07:34 AM
two to four times as long as it would take at my normal reading speed.
Sometimes I'll spend a little more time if I'm just reading a short excerpt.

Unimportant
06-22-2012, 07:55 AM
If I'm truly beta reading, which I define as reviewing something which is polished and ready for submission, I can be pretty quick, maybe 15 to 30 minutes for 4000 words or so.

But in my experience, a great many people who seek a beta reader are not offering a polished manuscript. They're sharing work which still needs line-by-line feedback, corrections, questions about character motives and plot holes, or necessary information which is absent. 4000 words like that can take me three or four hours.


Ah, yes. Very good point. It really does depend on the author.

So-- I guess my times are about the same as Maryn's. If I beta-read a polished, ready-to-submit manuscript written by someone who's probably going to be receiving an acceptance letter on that manuscript from a pro market, then it's quick. (It's easy to tell when I'm beta-ing for an author like this. I get sucked into the story and read right over any typos, and when I reach The End I'm all ohshitIforgotIwascritting and have to start again. Yes, eqb, I'm looking at you!) If I beta-read a chapter written by someone who's not yet at the top of their craft then, even if they have polished it to the best of their ability, it'll take 3 - 10 times longer.

But I'm seeing that maybe I'm going overboard. So, it's not expected or necessary that you go through the ms with TrackChanges and fix every typo, flag every grammatically correct sentence and suggest corrections, put in comment bubbles whenever a sentence is overwritten or a metaphor doesn't work or the POV wanders or there's a factual error, and then write up a commentary of "what I got out of this, what worked, what didn't, what you might change, how you might fix the problems I see" thing?

meowzbark
06-22-2012, 08:04 AM
Ah, yes. Very good point. It really does depend on the author.

So-- I guess my times are about the same as Maryn's. If I beta-read a polished, ready-to-submit manuscript written by someone who's probably going to be receiving an acceptance letter on that manuscript from a pro market, then it's quick. (It's easy to tell when I'm beta-ing for an author like this. I get sucked into the story and read right over any typos, and when I reach The End I'm all ohshitIforgotIwascritting and have to start again. Yes, eqb, I'm looking at you!) If I beta-read a chapter written by someone who's not yet at the top of their craft then, even if they have polished it to the best of their ability, it'll take 3 - 10 times longer.

But I'm seeing that maybe I'm going overboard. So, it's not expected or necessary that you go through the ms with TrackChanges and fix every typo, flag every grammatically correct sentence and suggest corrections, put in comment bubbles whenever a sentence is overwritten or a metaphor doesn't work or the POV wanders or there's a factual error, and then write up a commentary of "what I got out of this, what worked, what didn't, what you might change, how you might fix the problems I see" thing?

I personally don't fix every typo or comma error. If I notice a mistake like "like like" or a using effect instead of affect, then I fix it. Typically I only fix what distracts me from reading. If a sentence is confusing, then I offer a suggestion for a rewrite.

And of course, I post my emotional reactions to scenes. Like, I'll say if its scary, intense, cute, or boring. I sometimes even write notes to the character like "Sarah, don't you remember Adrian sucking face with that hottie last chapter? I'm pretty sure he is NOT available."

Karen Junker
06-22-2012, 08:20 AM
But I'm seeing that maybe I'm going overboard. So, it's not expected or necessary that you go through the ms with TrackChanges and fix every typo, flag every grammatically correct sentence and suggest corrections, put in comment bubbles whenever a sentence is overwritten or a metaphor doesn't work or the POV wanders or there's a factual error, and then write up a commentary of "what I got out of this, what worked, what didn't, what you might change, how you might fix the problems I see" thing?

I do exactly as you do -- I don't think it's going overboard for someone who responds and appreciates the help. It's just so hard to tell who that is going to be! I am much more cautious these days and only beta for people I know pretty well.

lastlittlebird
06-22-2012, 09:45 AM
I always read through whatever it is once, without making a mark and then go back through it again a few days later.
I'd say 4000 words would take me... maybe 45 mins to an hour on the second go through? Depending on the work of course.
But that's because I'd already have a rough idea of what I want to point out. So, cumulative time would be tough to measure exactly.

katci13
06-22-2012, 10:56 AM
For me it depends on how polished the story is. I like to read and edit as I go. I've tried to do a read through and not edit but I can't stand it. It can take me 2 weeks to go through an entire ms. I like to cover everything: things that don't make sense and bad sentences, major plot issues, and grammar and mechanical mistakes. That's why I don't help people when I have my own crap to work on. I like to give people my full attention because I would want them to do that for me.

The only time I read over something multiple times is if they only sent me a chapter or two. Then I read and edit. And read again to make sure I didn't miss anything.

I won't help people if they have a history of not listening though. I can't stand it if I'm doing a second ms for someone and they still haven't fixed the big issues I pointed out the last time. It's a waste of time then.

lorna_w
06-22-2012, 04:43 PM
Two to three hours. "You do this throughout the ms." is what I write the second time I encounter a problem, and then I quit marking it. If I have to say that too often, I'm done after Chapter 1. The author should fix those errors throughout before finding a second beta, imo, if s/he didn't know about them before today. If s/he did know and didn't fix automatically while writing or editing, that lack of care and professionalism at this stage bodes ill for a professional career and I'm not going to play the game "serious writer" with them when they so clearly are not one.

I'm a tough-sell beta, too. (Though I did one of Chris P's stories from here when I was new, and that was a delight, so I'm glad I offered). I look at most of what's up on SYW and think, "nope, no way, never would beta for this person. Never ever ever." It's rude to ask others to do your basic high-school-level corrections for you. You should do every single thing you can to make a ms. good before showing it to a stranger and asking them to use up a portion of their life on helping you. For free. (And even a decent SYW offering where the person didn't give me a "thanks" for taking my time out to help them/encourage them makes me doubt I want to beta for that person. If I'm going to do unpaid labor for you--and your mother should have told you this when you were but a child--it's polite to say "thanks.")

I was going to put up a beta offer when I was done with my WIP draft, but after seeing so much slop on SYW, I've decided against it. Sorry to be blunt, but I'll pm you if I think you're worth my time and are writing in a style/genre I like. (and if you never put up SYW, as I don't, we'll never know about each other, which is also okay. No doubt we each have other beta options.)

I digressed, didn't I? 2-3 hours.

mccardey
06-22-2012, 05:05 PM
I've read some really gorgeous things beta-ing - about half-a-dozen complete novels and quite a large-ish amount of other things - novellas, short stories and orphan chapters as well. Generally the novels were quickest for me, and generally orphan chapters and bits take longer: but it depends on the work itself and how pretty it is.

And I follow lorna_w's route - I lurk in the SYW forums a bit and then PM people I'd like to beta for. Sometimes I have to beg a bit, but it's worth it.

I don't ask for betas in return, 'cause I've got a real life one. That's all I can handle, frankly... ;)

Violeta
06-22-2012, 05:34 PM
Sorry to be blunt, but I'll pm you if I think you're worth my time and are writing in a style/genre I like.

Amen. :e2headban There's nothing worse than feeling your beta-reading work is a chore.

Bufty
06-22-2012, 07:04 PM
I have not beta read many novels at all but found it very time-consuming. I remember a whole novel taking up to a week of work.

Depends from what knowledge base one is working, I guess.

The last one was like wading waist deep in treacle and I would hesitate to consider doing another beta read unless I had prior knowledge of the person and their work.

Even critting here is very time-consuming for me, and I sometimes gawp at the speed some critters go judging from elapsed time between crits.

shadowwalker
06-22-2012, 07:53 PM
Agree with the above comments about the author's skill level. Some take only as long as reading through, because there's very little to mark up or comment on. Others take much longer. But I never read through it first; if I have questions at Point A, I don't want to dismiss that problem just because I know they're answered at Point B - there was still something off at Point A. And I don't hesitate to stop and email the author with a "do your grammar/spellcheck and then resend", especially after the first chapter.

DeleyanLee
06-22-2012, 08:09 PM
4K is the size of an usual scene for most of the novels I've beta'd recently (and most chapters have 2-3 scenes in them), so that doesn't sound so big to me.

When I beta, I read as a reader and comment as a writer, so assuming I can read the chapter to start with, it takes me as long as it takes to read it, and think about it. Sometimes it's as little as 10 minutes, sometimes it's several hours. Depends on how much work it needs.

Unimportant
06-23-2012, 01:00 AM
Two to three hours. "You do this throughout the ms." is what I write the second time I encounter a problem, and then I quit marking it. If I have to say that too often, I'm done after Chapter 1. The author should fix those errors throughout before finding a second beta, imo, if s/he didn't know about them before today. If s/he did know and didn't fix automatically while writing or editing, that lack of care and professionalism at this stage bodes ill for a professional career and I'm not going to play the game "serious writer" with them when they so clearly are not one.
You make some very good points. Lots of good stuff here for me to think about.

Kitty27
06-24-2012, 08:36 AM
I read fast but I am not the best when it comes to correcting grammar and the like.

But I excel at catching continuity errors,plot messes,WTF-ness and character development. I am laser like with these things because they are my pet peeves as a reader. Even if it's not market ready,I still enjoy reading most of the stuff I beta. I love to see a story that just needs a little tweaking and like to help fellow writers.

I comment as a reader and not a writer when I beta. It takes me a week because I go through the entire MS and comment as I go.

JoNightshade
06-24-2012, 09:13 AM
Beta reading takes me roughly the time it would take me to read a book, plus composing maybe 3-6 emails during the course of reading. I highlight as I read, then take time out now and then to compile my impressions into feedback and send it off.

I don't correct spelling or typos or punctuation or details like that. If you've got issues with those things, you probably need to take some basic English courses before you even think about seeking publication.

I see beta-reading as essentially giving feedback to the author about how I view the story. If my feelings and reactions are what they were after, all's well. If there's a mismatch, then it's the author's job to figure out what needs to change so that the disconnect doesn't happen.

Elizabeth Holloway
06-24-2012, 02:46 PM
It really does depend on the skill level of the writer.

If the work is polished and *almost* ready for submission, it usually takes me 6-10 hours to read a full ms. I will only read a piece once, since most readers will only read a book once. In my opinion, if something doesn't work on first pass, it's not working, period.

While I read, I take notes of any plot holes, errors of logic, character inconsistencies, and anything that doesn't work for me. I take those notes and write up a thoughtful (usually several pages long) letter detailing the problem areas. That takes me about 2 hours.

That is for polished work. I have beta-read for writers who needed much, much, more than that. It is very hard for me to overlook basic grammar/spelling issues and just read, so I try to avoid writers who haven't mastered the written English language. As someone else said, if beta-reading becomes too much of a chore, it's just not worth it.