Interpreting the Beta Reader

Beta readers are one of a writer’s greatest resources. This is usually an unpaid endeavor, done by friends or colleagues. The favor is often returned, the service reciprocal.

It takes guts to be a good beta reader. Simply praising the writer and patting them on the back is sweet, but not productive. I once read a story someone sent me, made a few not-too-in-depth comments, and didn’t think much of it. Then he mentioned that he was about to submit it to a publisher or contest, and a voice in the back of my mind went uh oh…

I went through the story again, and ripped it apart.

He was very grateful.

He revised it, and it was accepted. I don’t think it would have been in its original form.

Beta readers have eyes that are separate from the writer. This is important. If I want a second look at something after I’ve done the beta-reader edits, I try to find someone who hasn’t seen it yet. It’s not that I don’t like or trust my beta readers, it’s that they’ve already read the story, and no longer have “fresh eyes.” This is why I spent a year volunteering as a proofreader for a small publishing house… I was “fresh eyes” for them. Sometimes the errors I found were quite obviously the result of something that had already been fixed, but for some reason a word didn’t match in tense or something after everything around it had been revised.

One of the awkward things about beta comments is the huh? question that often comes in the beginning. Like seeing the words “her wife” and extrapolating “Oh, they must be a same-sex couple.” It’s hard to tell whether the huh? is taking the reader out of the moment, or whether it’s leading them forward to find the answer. Of course a beta reader should point out the huh? moments. But that doesn’t mean the author should fix them. They do serve a purpose.

Most of the time when I’m reading beta comments, I’m nodding my head and saying “OK, good… you’re right… that can go…” However sometimes I find that everything I love about a scene is marked for cutting. When that happens, I have to decide. I could go with my beta reader’s instinct, and cut all those great parts. Or, I might realize that what I was trying to evoke in the scene was just not coming across. Instead of cutting it out, I might need to add something instead.

There is an understanding between writers and those who beta read, proofread, or critique. It is up to the reader to point out anything and everything that might possibly be holding back the story from being the best it can be. It is up to the writer to look at all the cumulative comments and decide which to cut, which to keep, and which to just tweak into place.

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About AmyBeth Inverness

A writer by birth, a redhead by choice.
This entry was posted in Commentary & Musing, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Interpreting the Beta Reader

  1. Zen A. says:

    I used to try very hard not to offend the writer in any way when I beta-read, but now I’m not worried about making a “huh?” comment, as you put it. My fiancé is my beta, and I trust him to always offer harsh critique when the need arises, and I do the same to him. =]

    • You’re lucky to have such a useful hubby! My hubby isn’t a big reader, esp when it comes to romance. He’ll read something if I ask him to, but his comments are usually just “Oh, I liked it!” and he can’t think of how I might change anything. At least he does let me know when a particular line or scene strikes him… I make sure to keep those!

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