5 Steps to a Better Beta Read by Deb Rhodes

Deb Rhodes' Beta Reading service is an invaluable and thorough resource. She has the innate talent of grasping your story’s depth and bringing to light all of its strengths and weaknesses in such a professional and positive way while still giving you the honest truth needed to make your novel outstanding. She takes Beta reading to a whole new level and I would highly recommend her service to anyone who is serious about their craft and getting published. I valued her in-depth critique so much that I hired her to edit my novel as well. She’s amazing!

I asked Deb to pen an article so that other authors might see what a professional Beta Read entails and how to get the most out of yours.  Having a professional Beta Reader is crucial if you are serious about seeing that manuscript on a retail shelf some day.  If an agent can clearly pick out the mistakes, what's the point of sending it?  Without someone like Deb, your manuscript will be in the bottom of your favorite Agent's slush pile without anyone having ever really given it any attention.  

Please visit Deb at www.betterbetareads.com  to see all of the glorious services that she has to offer.

Until next time~

Merry Christmas!




5 Steps to a Better Beta Read

By Deb Rhodes

When I was asked to write this article I had no idea what I would say. After all, beta reading is pretty simple. Someone sends a manuscript, you read and add track changes as you go, then write up a beta report at the end. Then on to the next one. Only, once I gave this more thought, I realized it's not as cut and dried as it sounds. Not for me. Every client is unique, and so then is their fiction. And what a wonderful thing that is! I would hate to have to read the same type of story over and over.

What I've come to love about beta reading is the behind-the-scenes look at a novel in progress. Rather like watching the dress rehearsal of a Broadway show, and knowing how the play is going to look and sound in advance of theater goers, who will have to wait until opening night to find out after all the kinks have been worked out, and the whole thing spit-shined to within an inch of its life. I like the kinks, personally. Therefore, I beta read.

I love beta reading because I'm witnessing a creative work in the process of being formed into something that's one-of-a-kind. I've found this never gets old for me, regardless of the genre or the writing skill of the author. There is magic of a sort in creating something out of one's imagination, and that's what gets me every time. These are not just words that I read robotically to hurry through the beta read so I can get on to the next one. This is creativity at its finest, meaning (to me anyway) while it's yet solidified, with rough edges and corners still intact. Before all typos have been corrected and sentences deleted or smoothed over, I see the story's awkward beginnings, or its gawky middle stage. And I hope that this will be one of those novels I can sink into with that delicious sense of rightness you feel when a story has the ability to open a door for you into a whole new world, and generously invite you in, no questions asked.

It's impossible for me to not read a beta story as a reader. This is what is needed, for it is too early for an editor. What I bring to a beta read is over 50 years of voracious reading. Every story I've ever read has become a part of me. I bring them all with me as I read—all of these wonderful characters who have taken up residence in my soul—and their perspective and world view informs my reading.

I become absorbed in each beta read as if it were an already published book I'm reading for my own pleasure. When the characters are compelling and their motivations credible, I get lost in my work. There are some things, however, that can slow down the beta reading process and make the entire procedure more difficult. I'll list them in no particular order, and if you care to take heed and tweak your story (or, ahem, attitude) a bit before submitting it, that's great. But if you don't, you will be the poorer for it, for you will have passed up a chance to learn something of value.

1.  Nothing is more distracting while beta reading than to have the tense change constantly. This is jarring; it jolts me out of my concentration and I am suddenly all too aware that I'm reading a story. You don't want that. You want me to so identify with your protagonist and all that great action you have going on that I feel as if I'm right smack in the middle of your fictional world. But I can't lose my sense of self, as I need to while reading your words, if I am being constantly tugged from present to past tense—sometimes within the same sentence. Unless this is a deliberate writing technique you're using for some reason I can't even imagine, please don't. Don't do this to me or yourself. If you do it to me, I will have to comment on it, many times over, and sound like your nagging mother. You will then have to waste time fixing this. You could, of course, leave it as is and let some editor further down the road deal with it, but why? You don't want to be that person, do you? A little discipline goes a long way. A simple once over is all I'm asking. Just go through it once before sending it off, and if it sounds reasonably like human language, well okay. Pat yourself on the back, hit the send button, and call it a day. And be a little bit proud of stretching yourself.

2.  This one is a little more complicated. I want to say, please don't assume once the beta reading is over that I am available around the clock to answer any follow up questions you might have. I want to say that, but it's not quite what I mean.

If I sent my story to someone for a beta read, I'd want to feel I could contact them if I had a question or two about their report. I don't want anyone to feel they can't ask questions after everything's over and done with. That's not me. (Please note, though: sometimes it may be necessary to charge extra, depending on the degree of extra time this requires. Every situation is different.) I've gotten to know a handful of my clients pretty well, and we communicate back and forth quite regularly. They feel comfortable enough to occasionally ask for an extra bit of advice, and I don't take offense. Some of them even give me advice too as one writer to another.

I think what I mean to say is, please don't have a sense of entitlement about the beta reading process. I haven't encountered this often, thank goodness, but often enough to begin to be troublesome. I have no problem responding to questions, or giving my input when requested. Like you, I am a person with a personal life and it can get pretty hectic. Even when I'm willing to get back to you after the beta read, it may not be possible to do so immediately. If you bear this in mind I won't have a problem with your attitude because your patience will shine through.

3.  I hate to even have to bring this up, it seems so obvious. If I have listed on my website a particular genre I do not care to read, please don't disregard this and send it to me anyway. No one likes to feel forced into anything. Why would you want to prejudice me against your story from the get go? You would do much better to find someone who loves your genre, or who is at least willing to read it.

I take this as a matter of respect. In the same way that I make an effort to treat each client with kindness, that's the way I'd like to be treated. For instance, I won't deal harshly with your typos and unfinished sentences and plots that are all over the place; you're a human being first, and I will honor that. By the same token it would be nice if you would have the courtesy to not cross one of the few boundary lines I've put in place. That's a kindness to both of us, for then I don't have the burden of disliking you and resenting your work.

4.  Try to have a bit of empathy for the person (me) who will be reading that first draft. I don't ask for perfection. Misspellings and typos can be waded through, issues with quotation and punctuation marks are easily handled as long as they're not so prolific I can't read the darn thing. My job isn't to clean up your spelling, grammar or typos. I bring this up by way of saying, if it's so messy I can't make sense of it you've wasted your money. You won't get your money's worth out of me because I won't be able to focus on your story as I should in order to give an accurate assessment of it.  And if I'm constantly distracted (please refer to complaint comment #1 regarding distractions) by the fact that you make no distinction between there, their and they're, that's a bad thing.

5.  Let me gush a bit if I love your work. Seriously. I can't help myself. When a novel arrives that is so beautifully written it makes me want to weep and break out into angelic singing, I must gush. Indulge me if you will. Ignore the superlatives sprinkled throughout your beta report, they can't be helped. Another literary work of pure beauty (if not genius) is about to be let loose on the world, and for me this is cause for rejoicing. So let me praise away while you blush like a schoolgirl . . . and just know that even if I lay it on a bit thick I really do mean every word of it.