Beta Readers' List of Don'ts | Writers' Expectations (Part 2 of 2)

Last week I posted on what beta readers do. This week we'll take a look at what they don't do and what writers expect of a beta reader.

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In the last post we determined what beta readers are not:

Beta readers are not fish, or fishy! By Kingloovr (modified) via Wikimedia Commons

Beta readers are not fish, or fishy! By Kingloovr (modified) via Wikimedia Commons

  • A beta reader is not related to the fish of the same name, i.e. beta or betta.
  • Nor is a beta reader a part of any alphabet, Greek or otherwise, and he or she has no need for membership in The National Beta Club.
  • And we eliminated any relationship to any star in any constellation or in chemistry compounds.

The write-beta reader partnership is a unique relationship. It is an agreement to carry out a set of instructions provided by the writer.

The point of the work effort is for the beta reader to see with a different set of eyes what the writer's work looks like to an outside reader.

That being said, each party to this relationship has certain responsibilities. From the earlier post, we know what beta readers do. Now let's look at what beta readers don't do:

  • Don'tmake insensitive comments. Attacking the writer is not requested or required of you.
  • Don'tgive your own opinion of how you would write the book. How the book finishes is the writer's prerogative and decision. Not yours.
  • Don'tlimit your reaction to a list of "here's what you need to do." Also give comments on what you enjoyed, what moved you, what you thought was well done. We all respond to positives, and the writer needs to hear these.
  • Don'ttake it personally if your suggestions and/or comments are not incorporated. Here again the writer is in charge of the finished product and therefore, h/she has the right to choose which beta reader suggestions make it into the book.
  • Don'tassume the writer has passed along every bit of information you need. Ask questions if you need to clarify a point on your list of responsibilities to the writer. It never hurts to ask.

And let's not forget that the writer requesting help from a beta reader also has responsibilities. In order to have expectations met, a writer needs to offer clear and concise instructions. 

Attribution: Hakan Dahlstrom via Fotomedia

Attribution: Hakan Dahlstrom via Fotomedia

A writer will expect to receive the following from a good beta reader:

  • Expect to look beyond family and friends to enjoy a completely unbiased and fair assessment of your project. If you are comfortable with using family or friends, that is a personal choice, but not highly recommended.
  • Expect both positive comments and some suggested "areas of improvement." If you believe your work is perfect, do not engage a beta reader. Remember, every work could use improvement.
  • Expect to feel some emotional reaction, perhaps any negativity, on reading your beta reader's comments. This is perfectly normal. Have some dark chocolate, a cup of coffee. Go for a stroll in the park. Release that initial tension.
  • Expect an urge to respond to the reader right away. STOP! No knee jerk reactions should send you to the keyboard to type out an email or to write a blog post about a bad beta reader. Set aside the comments for a day or two or more. When you feel ready, pick them up again and read them. And remember you wanted an honest opinion. Perhaps a calmer you will see that your reader has some good points, and perhaps you'll begin to think of ways you want to respond.
  • Expect your beta reader to help you make your story better. The beta reader is not in place to "fix" your story. After all, he or she is not a ghost writer. You handed off your baby to see what other eyes could see. Now that you have responses in hand set about thanking your readers and revising that manuscript.
  • Expect and be ready to give your beta reader certain information about your project.
    • How far along you are, i.e. fourth or fifth draft or more.
    • What kind of review you want, i.e. broad or detailed with specific requests.
    • Your genre, i.e. memoir, fiction, etc. Although your reader may not write in your genre, knowing the genre helps to know what to be aware of while reading.
    • Specific time frame for turnaround, i.e. 4-6 weeks. Pssst! Beta readers have lives too. Be respectful here.
    • Software you are using and decide how you will receive your comments, i.e. track changes or in a document format.
    • Reciprocity, i.e. will you read for this reader when the time comes or will you perhaps exchange another skill. Whatever you decide, remember to follow through!

If you have read both posts, you should have a good overview of what beta readers do and don't do and what writers' expectations are.

As a writer, do you have expectations not mentioned here. Or as a beta reader, is there something you'd like to comment on with respect to-dos and don'ts? 

Today, Porter Anderson has the last word on this topic:

"You see a lot of 'I love my beta readers!' traffic online, which is heartening. But as in the case of good editing, strong pre-publication reading needs to offer insightful reaction and guidance. Encouragement is great. Actual evaluation is better. The best work at this stage of a project is less about supportive community and more about critique." ~ Porter Anderson on Publishing Perspectives

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NEXT UP: Knowing When It's Time to Take a Breather coming up on Thursday, August 29th.