Beta Reading Exchange is offered as a Member Only benefit. With a rotating 3 month system that allows members with complete pieces to find a beta reading partner.
If you'd like to sign up, fill out this form.
Beta Reading is one of the most powerful tools we can use to help guide us through our novels. It’s a more involved process than critiquing, but it’s an easier skill to master. It also helps make us better writers. It’s easier to diagnose problems in someone else’s story than it is our own. Like critiquing, it forces you to examine the experience of a reader as part of your craft and it forces you to become a better writer.
This is our guide to Beta Reading. In it, you’ll learn what to do and how to do it and how the system works.
At its most simple: A Beta Reader is a person who reads an early version of your manuscript before publication.
You’ve been able to polish your draft in a vacuum and have every t crossed and i dotted, but your story may still not work. It might not resonate with a reader. It might have plot holes or issues you can’t even see because you’re too close to it.
Beta Readers (you might have as few as two or three or as many as a dozen) will read looking for just these things and offer you a report after about what they thought of your book, what didn’t work and why, and how a reader might approach it.
You’re going to want Beta Readers that are familiar with the genre you’re writing in so they know what might be a cliche or a trope that you weren’t intending. You’ll also want Beta Readers that aren’t familiar to see where they land on things. You’ll want Beta Readers from different backgrounds and genders so they can tell you things you might not know from other perspectives.
And where do you find Beta Readers?
The Beta Reader Program
Well, we’ve set up a system to do just that.
You’ll need to submit via these forms and we will pair you up or assign you a group from within the members of the Salt City Genre Writers. You will be given books to Beta Read in return. Everyone in the system is both a writer and a Beta Reader. The more people in your group, the more books you’ll be Beta Reading. We’ll try to cap it at two books max.
You will have three months to provide notes. Failure to do so at the end of three months will result in a six-month waiting period before you can utilize the service again.
ESCAPE CLAUSE: Sometimes, writers think their work is ready for Beta Reading, but it’s pretty rough. It’s obvious they haven’t done the requisite self-editing to get to the Beta Reading phase. If you’re evaluating a piece and find that the work isn’t ready, leave detailed critique notes on the first three chapters of the piece and suggest to the writer that they go back and fix similar problems through the whole manuscript and then resubmit later.
Tips for the Writer
Develop a Tough Skin - Sometimes, you’re going to hear things you don’t like. It’s the way this works. Don’t take it personally. Understand every reader’s tastes and experience with your story will be different. Those critiquing are not looking to tear you down as a person. They’re offering their thoughts and expertise to make your story better. It is not an attack on you so if you feel offended take a deep breath and remember they are trying to help you. Feeling vulnerable can be an uncomfortable experience for many people, but we want these groups to feel safe enough to allow for that vulnerability.
Ask Questions - Are there things you were nervous about? Ask about them. Are there things you were particularly proud of? Ask about those, too. Have suspicions that something didn’t land right? This is your opportunity to ask ALL of the questions. Utilize it. You can do this either in person at a meeting or via email.
Weigh all the feedback first - Don’t race out immediately and work to fix everything a Beta Reader tells you. Weigh it against your feelings about the story AND the feedback of other Beta Readers. Maybe one person has a problem with some aspect of your story, but three other Beta Readers didn’t, maybe it’s just the one reader and not something that needs addressing.
Notes are optional! - If you disagree with a note, it doesn’t mean that you have to take it. Everyone has a different style, so remember their note is from their perspective.
Gauge the experience of the critiquer - put more weight on notes from critiquers with more experience and more knowledge of your genre
Tips for Reader
Identify the Writer’s Needs – Did they ask for line edits? Or are they looking to make sure the story works as a whole? Make sure you know what they’re looking for.
It is about Feelings & Symptoms – Tell the writer how things made you feel, what your initial reaction was and how it affected you. This is the most helpful feedback because the writer can gauge if the emotions are conveyed accurately. You’re the first reader, give them feedback along those lines.
Try to offer help or a way out – When you say something negative about a person’s piece of work, consider offering a way to fix it without writing it for them. Suggestions to improve the current story help a writer feel less trapped. BUT! While you may offer suggestions, leave them open-ended and always offer them as just that. This is not your piece.
Avoid simple comments – Only saying that it was good or bad is not at all helpful. Explain what worked and why along with what didn’t work and why. They need context in order to either fix or continue doing what they are doing with the sections you review.
This is usually not an edit - Commas, grammar, and spelling are not usually what a Beta Read is looking at. The focus should be on the content itself unless otherwise specified.
Draw on Your Experience - Have you been rejected for something specific or had an editor ding you for a bad habit? Is the writer you’re Beta Reading guilty of the same thing? Pass along that knowledge and explain where you got dinged for it. This is all about helping others learn from their mistakes.