…Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things… okay, I’ll stop. But seriously, after beta reading for a while with my book, I feel like I’m an expert now. There are upsides, and there are downsides. It’s helpful when you luck out and find a genius and also when you get desperate and start throwing Benjamins around.
First, I would like to point out that going into writing, I had no idea that I would need to get so many opinions on my writing in order to make it readable. But it’s a thing I guess. My first instinct was to safeguard my book as if my life depended on it, threatening anyone who dared steal any of my ideas. Unfortunately, that makes you look like a crazy person as I learned the hard way.
I would also like to point out that it can be really discouraging when all you want is for a complete stranger to do a big whopping favor for you, and you get nada. You go from website to website, forum to forum, and you get no replies. Even more discouraging is watching other writers get offers left and right. Did they sell their soul? Did they use some sort of magic that I’m not aware of? I’ll tell you what they did.
It’s the beautiful art of scratching backs in order to have one’s back scratched… as well.
I mean, maybe you’ll get lucky and people will just be nice and give you what you want when you want it. But in every beta reading group I’ve ever been in, there’s always people upset that no one is responding to them.
My first tip would be to swap reads. There’s always the chance that you’ll beta read someone and then they’ll never get back to you, but that is literally the worst case scenario. You get a free read. And you’re a writer so you should love reading anyway. If you don’t have anything to swap, then just beta read for other people. News flash, others are more likely to help you after you’ve helped them and you’ve developed a sorta partnership. You might actually be getting closer to a critique partner at that point, but who cares about terminology.
My second pro tip would be to go into an offer with your toe. I don’t know if short stories have much of a problem with this, but when you have a daunting 80-120k manuscript and you ask people to read it, chances are going to be slim to none that you’ll get any takers. Try making the request with just the first chapter.
I’d say my strangest beta reading experience would be when I was starting to wrap things up and I just wanted some eyes to give some finishing glances. The first red flag should have been when I received an email from her written in almost complete gibberish with half her words being exchanged for numbers. I figured she was just a casual emailer. Nothing wrong with that.
When she gave me my manuscript back, she pretty much followed Microsoft’s incorrect grammar corrections that I ignored before I handed it in to her… for the first chapter. Then, left the rest of the manuscript blank except for an encouraging note at the end, telling me I was an amazing writer and should follow her webpage.
After asking her a few questions about my book, it became apparent that she didn’t read any of it. I’m still not sure if I was being schmoozed into her web group or if she hated my writing from the getgo and just couldn’t tell me.
Which brings me to another point. COMMUNICATE THAT YOU CAN’T/DON’T WANT TO READ SOMETHING. At least for me, I completely understand when someone can’t read a manuscript that I poured my heart and soul into. It’s okay. It doesn’t feel good, but at least there’s closure.
I’d say my favorite beta reader was my first one. You never forget your first. He was a brilliant fantasy writer with a lot of insight into the professional writing world that I was still very fresh to. What up, Josh.
After a while though, it was difficult to find another good beta reader that would actually read my whole book so I hired a few to do it for me. It felt dirty and wrong for some reason. Really, if you’re considering hiring a paid beta reader, you should take the following into account:
- With my (originally) 75k manuscript, it cost anywhere from 75-100 dollars. Depending on who I was asking to do it.
- They are definitely more in depth than if you were to ask someone to do it for free. Sort of like a step below an Editor.
- Do your research before you throw your money at someone. Obviously.
- Normally beta readers are unpaid so that you can get a reader’s perspective rather than someone who does this for a living.
If you lucked out and found a good assortment of thoughtful beta readers, then you’re probably fine. Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ll do it again. I would say the worst part about paid beta reading in my experience has been the customer service side to it. I like to ask questions with my beta readers to get to know what they thought about specific things and also go over what they wrote in the notes. They’re not usually up for this.
BY FAR the worst part of beta reading is (drumroll) the self-doubt. Listen to me. You’ll never appeal to everyone. One beta reader says you need more dialogue while the other one says you need less dialogue. One says they were moved by your book while another says your book was boring and didn’t have enough sex. You’ll take one chapter of your book out because you think it’s terrible and the next day hear from another beta reader that it was their favorite chapter. And you look back at it and realize it was your favorite chapter too. Obviously, take your beta reader’s opinions into account, but at the end of the day, it’s always going to be your book. Write about what you want to read about. It’s a cliche by now, but it’s true.
P.S. I totally published a book and you can check it out here. I feel like I’m letting my baby go off into the world. It’s a strange kind of feeling of emptiness but fulfillment.
Hardcover and ebook: