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All About Beta Reading

Jo Ullah is Beta Reading

When I finished my first novel all I really wanted was someone to read it. I needed a reader, or preferably readers, to tell me where it worked and – more importantly – where it didn’t. As writers we all like the sound of our own voices. We just love (and sometimes hate) what we’ve written, otherwise we wouldn’t do it, would we? Whatever we feel about our writing it is undeniably passion. For that very reason it’s hard for an individual to see when their writing just isn’t working for the reader. That’s where beta readers come in. I was very lucky and persuaded several people to read my manuscript. I was even luckier that some of those people were prepared to give me tough love and express just what wasn’t working for them. During this time I started beta reading other people’s manuscripts, this is what I have found.

There are several ways to view and work on someone’s manuscript:

Get a hard copy and write on it with pen or pencil to return to them when completed.

Download it as a word doc on your computer, directly highlighting the text and adding in comments as you go. I have found it easier to divide this into two, giving interim feedback at the midway point and then an overall impression write up on completion.

Via Google docs. I’m currently beta reading for someone via Google docs and I find there are pros and cons. I can use the built in docs tools to highlight text and leave comments, but there are other beta readers working from the same document and I can see what they have remarked on. Personally I would prefer to be recording my reactions to the writing without bias formed from someone else’s views. Also the author will need to know how many beta readers see a complication with, or feel confused about, how a particular area was written. Unless an author’s beta readers write ‘me too’ next to a comment how will they know this is a shared insight?

How to beta read:

Constructive criticism; be constructive with criticism. I expect you have all heard the Yeats quote ‘tread softly because you tread on my dreams’. This is a good thought to keep in your head while beta reading. Say it like it is, but do it politely.

Balance; try to balance some good with the bad – find something you found particularly wonderful about the writing to balance things that didn’t work for you. Everyone needs a bit of stick/carrot balance.

Notes; keep notes as you go along regarding the story arc, or other larger impressions that don’t translate as a margin comment, as you may find you have forgotten some of these thoughts as you get further into the narrative.

Genre; some people advocate only beta reading in your genre. Personally I have read inside and outside of my genre, I find that interesting prose works in any category.

Read the manuscript regularly so as not to lose the flow of the narrative. Set aside an hour a day if you can.

If possible give interim feedback or at least the occasional nod that you are still reading their MS. It’s hard, as an author, waiting for feedback.

Why I like beta reading:

I have learnt so much from reading other’s writing. From the common mistakes we all make, to some lovely writing ideas and techniques. I believe that beta reading is helping me become a better writer. I also enjoy seeing the creative process in its raw state.

Reading other genres teaches me about their mechanics to some extent.

By helping others hopefully I am building up a stockpile of authors to beta read for me.

Where to find work to beta read:

If you are a member of ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors), sometimes authors put up requests on the ALLi website for beta readers. They will include genre and word count.

Word of mouth with your writing friends.

Facebook groups. I recently joined a Face Book group called BetaReader Connect where authors post up requests for readers. I put the question regarding IP protection to Jonas Frid who created and moderates the group. Boiling down his answer = he feels that most authors are too consumed with their own work to steal the writing of others and the very fact of sharing your MS with others gives you a group people who can provide ‘proof of ownership’. Jonas is also the founder of - a system for authors and beta readers. The website describes it as a system that allows authors to share their work securely and see their beta readers progress through it in real-time. It’s still in its early prototype form but worth a look?

I have signed up on the mailing list of with a view to finding beta readers for my next novel when it’s ready. They do have a fee though. I haven’t applied to beta (or ARC) read for them yet, but I most likely will do.

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