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View Full Version : Tips on how to be a good beta reader



sugarhit
08-23-2013, 01:00 AM
As a soon-to-be published author, I am going to call in some troops to beta read for me. Of course, where possible, I'd like to return the favor.

I haven't beta read since college and am extremely rusty. What, in your opinion, makes a good beta reader?

Kerosene
08-23-2013, 01:19 AM
There's some stickies in the Beta Readers forum you might want to read.

What I like from a beta reader:
- Someone who knows the genre that they are reading and understands the common tropes and what is accepted. You can't step into a romance and say, "There's too much romance, and I'm more interested in blah."
- Someone who asks a lot of questions, and aren't afraid to ask stupid ones and tough ones. I like it when I can tell what the reader is thinking and questioning at certain times, and if I'm having them question the right or the wrong things. Some questions can be left alone if I know they should be asked then, others can lead me to fixing the areas where the questions were asked.
- Someone who pokes holes in my story without arguing or trying to persuade me over their points.
- Someone who knows it's not their story, and I am not writing it the way they wish and are accepting of that.
- Someone who withholds suggestions until asked.
- Someone who knows what is more/less their opinion, rather than something shared between the majority. They might not like a certain character, but they should know that others might like that character.
- Someone who's able to compile a list of general "problems" that occur in my writing (problems as, a common mistake that's repeated and grates). Like the overuse of a certain word, phrase, punctuation, or piece of grammar.
- Someone who likes to point out when the tension, suspense, etc. died off for them and they believe it's something that I wouldn't of wished to have happen.
- Someone who knows that they aren't writing a review, but instead trying to help me with my story.
- And, finally, someone who actually likes my story and my writing. If they don't, they shouldn't be reading.

Old Hack
08-23-2013, 10:52 AM
I'll move this from Self Publishing to our Beta Reading room.

hikarinotsubasa
08-23-2013, 02:10 PM
I think the above post hit most of the big points! As to what I want from my betas specifically...

1. I want to know what you're thinking as you read. That can be "Hey, here's a typo!" or it can be "Whoa, this reminds me of Star Wars!" (depending on what I was going for that could be a good thing or a bad thing... it doesn't have to seem like a criticism to the beta to BE a valuable one to the writer) or "Hey, I wonder if this is what the characters were talking about a couple of scenes ago?" (Again, depending on whether the connection was intentional or not the author may be happy to hear that, or know they need to edit!), or "Wait, when did this guy get awake and dressed, I thought he was still in bed nursing a hangover?" or whatever. Stream of consciousness is great for me, I just want to know what my reader is thinking and feeling.

2. DON'T rewrite my story, especially not without telling me why. "This sentence construction is awkward" is great. "Instead of <my sentence> use <beta's sentence>" is not helpful. Their style is not my style and if I don't know WHY they didn't like the original sentence, I don't know what I should change it to. "This is awkward to me. How about something like <beta's sentence>?" is okay. Give me a reason, don't just rewrite something.

3. Please, please PLEASE put your comments as Word comments or in red or purple or some other color text. Writers don't TAKE every suggestion that their betas give them. If you just delete a comma without saying anything about it, I may never notice that it was deleted. Highlight it and make a note "Nix this comma." Then I can see that you didn't like the comma and remember why I DID want the comma, and decide which feels right.

Those are the three things that I've had happen again and again and again, and they drive me crazy! Otherwise, everything WillSauger said goes for me too! :)

Chris P
08-23-2013, 02:36 PM
Great posts above. The only thing I would add is to be sure both of you are on the same page about expectations.

Putputt
08-23-2013, 02:50 PM
Hrmm, I've been lucky when it comes to my betas, so let's see...what made them great...

-They were extremely honest.
-They explained very clearly why whatever it was they took out didn't quite work for them.
-They weren't afraid of pointing out issues which would require a major rewrite.
-They were open to discussion afterwards, and I never felt pushed into taking their changes.

Also, this is a bonus for me, but I feel like you get to know someone a lot better through the beta-ing process, and I love when my beta's notes are something like: (note, these are actual beta notes I have received...)

-"WTF STOP MAKING THE SAME MISTAKES AGAIN AND AGAIN, HIPPO, or I will hunt you down!!" (This made me laugh.)
-"Hippo! No!" (Again, made me laugh.)
-"Um, I want to rearrange this para so this sentence goes here...but maybe I'm just nit-picking because I have nothing useful to say buhbuhblurgh." (This made me want to hug that beta because so many of her comments, which were fucking awesome, were peppered with self-doubting shit like this.)
-"You have a bad habit of hitting the reader over the head again and again. You can write subtly, I know it. Pretend you're on a date, and the guy you're with takes out a dildo, waves it, and yells, "I so want to get this dildo in you, and my cock too!" He's more likely to get lucky if he goes about it subtly. You can get the message through to the reader without waving the dildo." (I looked up how to file restraining orders. :D)

fdesrochers
08-23-2013, 05:57 PM
-"You have a bad habit of hitting the reader over the head again and again. You can write subtly, I know it. Pretend you're on a date, and the guy you're with takes out a dildo, waves it, and yells, "I so want to get this dildo in you, and my cock too!" He's more likely to get lucky if he goes about it subtly. You can get the message through to the reader without waving the dildo." (I looked up how to file restraining orders. :D)

I just had to explain to my boss's executive assistant why I snorted half of my coffee onto my desk, via my nose, after reading this beta comment and your response.

Yours and WillSauger's post are pretty much the money for summing up expectations for a beta. Lining one up seems to be the harder part of the process....

quicklime
08-23-2013, 08:40 PM
-"You have a bad habit of hitting the reader over the head again and again. You can write subtly, I know it. Pretend you're on a date, and the guy you're with takes out a dildo, waves it, and yells, "I so want to get this dildo in you, and my cock too!" He's more likely to get lucky if he goes about it subtly. You can get the message through to the reader without waving the dildo." (I looked up how to file restraining orders. :D)



holy shit, someone said that to you?



*looks away

quickWit
08-23-2013, 08:46 PM
Pretend you're on a date, and the guy you're with takes out a dildo, waves it, and yells, "I so want to get this dildo in you, and my cock too!"

Sonofabitch! That's my move!

Putputt
08-23-2013, 08:49 PM
holy shit, someone said that to you?



*looks away


Sonofabitch! That's my move!

*Suddenly has an image of the two Quicks sharing dating tips with each other.*

*shudders*

quicklime
08-23-2013, 09:01 PM
man, i feel like you assume I would be a horrible date now....all at a fancy restaurant mis-ordering things and saying inappropriate shit

:-(

sugarhit
08-24-2013, 04:51 PM
thanks for all the really great advice. I didn't expect to laugh so much reading a thread about beta readers.

Mutive
08-24-2013, 09:04 PM
In addition to what everyone else has said, I like someone who's willing to brainstorm suggestions to major changes.

A lot of the time, I sort of know something's wrong. The beta definitely knows. Unfortunately, I have no clue as to how to correct it. My absolute favorite betas not only say things like:


"You have a bad habit of hitting the reader over the head again and again. You can write subtly, I know it. Pretend you're on a date, and the guy you're with takes out a dildo, waves it, and yells, "I so want to get this dildo in you, and my cock too!" He's more likely to get lucky if he goes about it subtly. You can get the message through to the reader without waving the dildo."

They also help me figure out that I'm more likely to get lucky if I just subtly move his hand over to my crotch and ask him to wiggle his fingers. (Or, um, ask him back for "coffee". Although I actually did that once, he accepted, and all he wanted was coffee. Damn you beta readers for your bad advice!!!)

Putputt
08-24-2013, 09:21 PM
They also help me figure out that I'm more likely to get lucky if I just subtly move his hand over to my crotch and ask him to wiggle his fingers. (Or, um, ask him back for "coffee". Although I actually did that once, he accepted, and all he wanted was coffee. Damn you beta readers for your bad advice!!!)

How do you subtly move someone's hand to your crotch?

quicklime
08-24-2013, 09:40 PM
point the other way....

"look, bird!"

Grab hand, place on crotch

when they look at you, raise an eyebrow, to say "really, you think this is appropriate? I'm kinda embarrassed, but if you want to just flop your hand there, I'll let it go this time."

wait for them to proceed

buz
08-24-2013, 10:02 PM
I think everyone pretty much always agrees on decent ways to crit something, except for this one issue of "making suggestions":



- Someone who withholds suggestions until asked.




2. DON'T rewrite my story, especially not without telling me why. "This sentence construction is awkward" is great. "Instead of <my sentence> use <beta's sentence>" is not helpful. Their style is not my style and if I don't know WHY they didn't like the original sentence, I don't know what I should change it to. "This is awkward to me. How about something like <beta's sentence>?" is okay. Give me a reason, don't just rewrite something.



In addition to what everyone else has said, I like someone who's willing to brainstorm suggestions to major changes.

A lot of the time, I sort of know something's wrong. The beta definitely knows. Unfortunately, I have no clue as to how to correct it.

I think this depends wildly on the author's preferences. Personally, I love suggestions, or at least examples, with the major stuff as well as the minor. I have a harder time understanding The General than The Specific, so I like specific. I like to be shown. :) So I tend to try really hard to offer suggestions when I beta, because...Golden Rule and all that. :p Unless I really can't think of anything. It didn't occur to me until recently that this might piss off other authors. So, I think...it might be a good thing to clear that up beforehand. Or, again, it might be a situation where just doing a "sample chapter" or whatever to see if you're compatible with the beta could prove useful.




-"WTF STOP MAKING THE SAME MISTAKES AGAIN AND AGAIN, HIPPO, or I will hunt you down!!" (This made me laugh.)
-"Hippo! No!" (Again, made me laugh.)
-"Um, I want to rearrange this para so this sentence goes here...but maybe I'm just nit-picking because I have nothing useful to say buhbuhblurgh." (This made me want to hug that beta because so many of her comments, which were fucking awesome, were peppered with self-doubting shit like this.)
-"You have a bad habit of hitting the reader over the head again and again. You can write subtly, I know it. Pretend you're on a date, and the guy you're with takes out a dildo, waves it, and yells, "I so want to get this dildo in you, and my cock too!" He's more likely to get lucky if he goes about it subtly. You can get the message through to the reader without waving the dildo." (I looked up how to file restraining orders. :D)

I need to be more assertive and use more dildo metaphors.




3. Please, please PLEASE put your comments as Word comments or in red or purple or some other color text. Writers don't TAKE every suggestion that their betas give them. If you just delete a comma without saying anything about it, I may never notice that it was deleted. Highlight it and make a note "Nix this comma." Then I can see that you didn't like the comma and remember why I DID want the comma, and decide which feels right.


For those who have not discovered Word's Track Changes feature (http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/word-help/track-changes-while-you-edit-HA001218690.aspx) yet...it's a nice thing. :D


How do you subtly move someone's hand to your crotch?

Start off nicely holding hands. Provide subtle distraction ("that dog looks like his owner!" "look at my phone; it plays episodes of Toddlers and Tiaras!" or "eat a spoonful of my chicken feet"). Now slowly move hand to crotch area.

Apply glue.

Putputt
08-25-2013, 12:35 AM
point the other way....

"look, bird!"

Grab hand, place on crotch

when they look at you, raise an eyebrow, to say "really, you think this is appropriate? I'm kinda embarrassed, but if you want to just flop your hand there, I'll let it go this time."

wait for them to proceed



Start off nicely holding hands. Provide subtle distraction ("that dog looks like his owner!" "look at my phone; it plays episodes of Toddlers and Tiaras!" or "eat a spoonful of my chicken feet"). Now slowly move hand to crotch area.

Apply glue.

Are you two related?

Mutive
08-25-2013, 06:59 PM
point the other way....

"look, bird!"

Grab hand, place on crotch

when they look at you, raise an eyebrow, to say "really, you think this is appropriate? I'm kinda embarrassed, but if you want to just flop your hand there, I'll let it go this time."

wait for them to proceed

You see, Putputt? Some of us have useful advice. :p

Mutive
08-25-2013, 07:03 PM
I think this depends wildly on the author's preferences. Personally, I love suggestions, or at least examples, with the major stuff as well as the minor. I have a harder time understanding The General than The Specific, so I like specific. I like to be shown. :) So I tend to try really hard to offer suggestions when I beta, because...Golden Rule and all that. :p Unless I really can't think of anything. It didn't occur to me until recently that this might piss off other authors. So, I think...it might be a good thing to clear that up beforehand. Or, again, it might be a situation where just doing a "sample chapter" or whatever to see if you're compatible with the beta could prove useful.


I think a lot of "how to crit" depends on both parties.

I had a crit buddy who would merrily mock me in her critiques. She'd be like, "This totally made me think that she was about to track him down in a dark alley and grab his crotch." It made me laugh and made me not mind the critique so much. (Plus, was true.) But I know other people do *not* want humor injected into their critiques, or to feel like they're being mocked.

I strongly recommend the sample chapter stuff. If you find that you're just not getting anything out of someone's critique, it's nice to let them know. If you find them rude or offensive, why keep going? Alternately, if they're loathing the story and desperately want to stop...they're probably not providing a good critique.

(It also helps if you can have an honest discussion about what you're both expecting. If they want spelling and grammar only, it's very different than if they mostly want to know whether their plot made sense at a macro level.)

penguin girl
08-26-2013, 03:36 AM
This is the first thread I've ever read where I laughed so loud that the people at the next table in the café looked at me. More than once.

hikarinotsubasa
08-26-2013, 02:18 PM
Good points all around... it depends on the author. I guess the best thing is for the author and beta to just be blunt up front about what they expect. I don't mind snarky comments at all... I agree that they can make the criticism easier to take, and foster a friendly author/beta relationship, but they might not be for everyone. :)

bearilou
08-26-2013, 03:06 PM
This is why AW is such a grand place.

Where else can you get writing advice AND dating advice?

Pure gold.

Little Ming
08-26-2013, 10:27 PM
I need to be more assertive and use more dildo metaphors.


Metaphors? Oops. :gone:

buz
08-27-2013, 07:23 PM
Metaphors? Oops. :gone:

Little Ming, everyone has their own process. You use as many of whatever you need as you like. Just make sure you have a spotter to prevent you from injuring yourself.

tko
09-09-2013, 07:26 PM
Old thread, I know, but that suggestion thing bothers me. Maybe I'm in a minority, but I love suggestions. I'm going to say that 8 times out of time, when a beta doesn't like something, they have an alternative in mind.

"You wanna go out for steak tonight?"

"No."

How useful is that? There's a reason they don't want steak, and they're not telling you.

"You wanna go out for steak tonight?"

"I ate earlier, kind of heavy, I was thinking of that new salad bar."

Now you have something to work with.

Many times the writer knows something is wrong, but couldn't think of anything better. Maybe they needed confirmation to push harder, or maybe they got locked into a mindset they couldn't break out of. A suggestion, even a wrong one, can lead to a creative breakthrough. Plus, that suggestion tells me very effectively why the beta didn't like the section. Even if I don't take their advice, it still helps me.

"How about Italian, they have pretty good salads at Guido's?"

quicklime
09-10-2013, 12:53 AM
I like suggestions too. Even if I ignore them, just thinking about why they are wrong can sometimes help me find what is right.

WriteMinded
09-10-2013, 06:36 PM
I like snarky. I like suggestions. I like snarky suggestions. A little praise is good, too.