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.

Beta Readers | How They Function (Part 1 of 2)

Today I am posting the first of two parts on beta readers covering specifically what beta readers do. In the second part, I’ll look at what they don’t do and what writers’ expectations of beta readers are. 

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When you hear the word “beta,” what comes to mind? I usually think of the Greek alphabet as beta is its second letter, β. A jog down memory lane occurs at the sound of “beta” as I was a member of The National Beta Club in high school.

Then there is the word “Beta” with a capital “B” meaning the second brightest star in a constellation. And we can move on to chemistry where it means the second in any series or one of the possible compounds in an atom.

White betta splendens By Kingloovr via Wikimedia
White betta splendens By Kingloovr via Wikimedia

And, of course, there is the beta fish, sometimes spelled betta, an often savage and warrior-like fish sold in pet stores. Our son raised some of these in his teens, and their beauty does not make up for their rude personalities.

None of these definitions, however, explains the benefit of a beta reader to a writer.

A beta reader reviews a writer’s manuscript elements such as plot development, character descriptions and motivations, general readability, grammar, and logical inconsistencies. The writer may ask the beta reader to do all these things or limit the read to certain specific elements.

Note that beta reading is the step coming before the pre-publication edit done by someone with excellent professional editing skills.

With that definition in mind, what should a writer expect a beta reader to do?

Following are several steps requested by writers for whom I have performed beta reading and what I would expect, as a writer, for a beta to do for me:


  • Reads the manuscript through for fun. That’s right — I said FUN! During this reading, a beta reader should get lost in the story or in the purpose if reading a nonfiction book. After all, this allows the reader to report back accurately on how the book may or may not be received by the reading public. Here, the reader captures a general feel for the story line and characters, while looking for any issues that disturb the reader’s ability to follow the story. Example: A character mentioned on a page 121 as having done a particular thing suddenly appears, when the reader doesn’t recall having met that character in the earlier 120 pages.
  • Performs a second reading and focuses on specifics requested by the writer, making notes along the way. Recently, a writer requested what I call a “thorough” read, i.e. reviewing the elements above (see definition), and additionally based on my comments back to her, she queried me about some changes she was considering. Another writer pointed out she wasn’t looking for copy edits or proofing and provided a concise list of what she did want me to do. Each writer will have a particular process for moving the book toward publication. Each one will present a beta reader with different needs and requests.
  • Tells the writer when a particular character resonates with her or if a scene is especially moving. We all need to know when something is working well, and it costs us nothing to share the goodness along with the potential criticisms and errors that might be found and included in a reader’s response back to a writer. A good beta reader begins and ends his opinions with some of these good points and positives.
  • Makes personal observations as “asides,” if appropriate. These comments are helpful only if the writer understands they are not a part of your recommendations/feedback and are your personal reactions and feelings. Let’s say a particular character behaves in such a way you feel sorry for him. Tell the writer about the empathetic response you feel toward this character and why. Perhaps the writer did not intend the character to come across in this way. The reader’s personal reaction highlights this issue and in making this comment, the reader has alerted the writer so changes may be made. Or perhaps a certain scene wasn’t working for you. Passing this along with a good explanation will be helpful to the writer in reviewing that scene.
  • Points out issues not included in writer’s requests, when suitable.  If the reader notices an issue not included in the writer’s requested actions, it is permissible to it in the feedback. Example:Perhaps POV wasn’t included in the list. Suddenly, the writer is switching back and forth between first and third person. Or it takes too long at the beginning of the book to sense any action. Here come’s the test of a goodbeta reader — the ability to be as tactful and diplomatic as anyone serving as the U.S. Ambassador to a foreign country. The reader is respectful in explaining what he discovered and why it is included it in the feedback provided. And this is the perfect segue into the next point.
  • Presents in a considerate, tactful and diplomatic manner recommendations and feedback. This is an area where the reader should not be too direct or action-oriented in choosing words in preparing his opinions. A good beta reader makes suggestions, not directions, instructions or complaints. Recommendations or comments sent back to a writer should not produce negative reactions on the part of the writer.
  • Sits on recommendations, comments and/or feedback for at least two days before sending to the writer. This allows the reader time to step away and then re-read the work product. The reader can then assess her reactions if it were her work being read and commented on: Does anything raise negativity? Is anything too harsh? Are comments clear and to the point? How would I feel reading these comments about my work?

The beta reader and writer relationship is different from almost any other writing relationship and where it comes in the process of a writing project and how it performs depends on what the writer wants from the beta reader and what the reader is capable of offering. As in any working relationship, this is negotiable between the parties.

What I have offered today is based on my own opinions and beta reading process seeded in what I would expect from a beta reader if it were my book being read and what I want to give to writers who seek me out as a beta reader.

Let’s close this post with a couple of quotes on beta readers:

“Basically, the more eyes the book goes through before publication, the fewer issues
you will have later; and hopefully, the better the reviews are.”

Joanna Penn, Writer, Speaker and Blogger

“Beta readers provide us with differing viewpoints and show us flaws
in our own work that we were incapable of seeing ourselves.”

~ Chuck Sambuchino, Writer and Editor

(Quotes from WOW! Women on Writing article)

Part 2 of this two-part post will appear here on Tuesday, August 27th. Hope to see you back for what beta readers don’t do and what writers expect from beta readers.

Careful Self-Editing Could Save $$$$$ — Part 2

Flickr | Nics_Events
Flickr | Nics_Events

In Part 1 on self-editing and its cost savings, I shared a list of  items to give close attention to before handing off your manuscript to a professional editor. You might think finishing the items on the list means everything is ready for your editor.

But wait! There’s more . . . much more you’ll want to do before allowing your editor to take over.

After completing a first round of mostly structural self-edits as shown in the list, take a breather from your manuscript. Have coffee, perhaps tea, maybe something stronger.

Take a day, a week, or in a writer’s life maybe longer before you look at your manuscript again, so you can read it with new eyes.

And now settle in for another round of self-edits. Here you’re working to interpret any items you missed the first time through — redundancies in expression, poor to bad transitions, and sentence structure problems. Then read over your revised manuscript.

These two passes at self-editing may be likened to laying a foundation for your home. You don’t want to be stingy at this stage of your writing. You want a solid manuscript ready for your editor.

Zazzle T-Shirt Image
Zazzle T-Shirt Image

Here are some things that a professional editor, someone you are going to pay for services, would like to see in your manuscript:

  • Stop and ask yourself the question, “Is my manuscript finished?” No one wants a raft of emails saying you’ve decided to change something. The pages you send to an editor should be your final, very final draft.
  • Run one more spellcheck, just to be sure.
  • Formatting is another place to do a recheck. From an editor’s point of view, 12 point Times New Roman is easiest on the eyes. Double-spacing makes your manuscript easy to read.
  • Save your document in Word as a .doc document. If you use another writing program, other programs (such as Pages for Mac) will export your document into Word.
  • Lastly, helpful information for your editor is a short summary of your work and a page count.  Also, any tips for the editor about your story line or manuscript.  For example, let’s say Sally gave her history professor a correct answer in lecture in Chapter 3 but gave her soon-to-be former boyfriend an incorrect answer in Chapter 5 intentionally.  A watchful editor just may check Sally’s answer in Chapter 3 and be confounded at the provision of a wrong answer in Chapter 5.  Save your editor time!

At this point, you may want to have your manuscript reviewed by two or more beta readers. Beta readers are persons you trust to read your manuscript and give you honest feedback. In addition to spotting typographical and spelling errors, beta readers look at your work as a reader, not an editor. Their feedback can relate to: plot — does it move, does it draw you in, does it fall flat; characters — lovable, likable, despicable (if you intended them to be, then great!); story arc — does it work, are you pulled from one point to the other. Basically, your beta readers can give you critiques of your book pre-publication. A priceless commodity for the writer, which costs you nothing!

Before leaving this topic, here are a few links you may find helpful when you reach that final word, last paragraph, last page, and the words “The End:”

Agent Rachelle Gardner on “Should I Hire a Freelance Editor?”

Nathan Bransford, former literary agent, weighs in on the same topic.

Why it’s important to master the mechanics of writing yourself as explained by a professional copy editor.

Should you hire an independent editor, and if you do, do you mention it in a query letter? At Writer Unboxed, editor Jane Friedman answers both questions with why you may want to think twice on both counts.

Editor Nancy Peske debunks 7 common myths about hiring a freelance editor.

CAVEAT SCRIPTOR: There is an abundance of information on the Internet on this topic. However, be sure what you read is provided by a reliable source. Vet the credentials of the presenter and never be afraid to ask questions if there is something you don’t understand or makes you uncomfortable. It will save you in the end.

Careful Self-Editing Could Save $$$$$ — Part 1


Currently, self-publishing is a major topic at writing conferences, workshops and on blogs. Although I am not near the point of even beginning to check and edit a first draft, I try to stay aware of all that is happening with self-publishing vs. traditional publishing.

Based on my reading, it is my opinion that we all hope self-publishing requires a smaller outlay than traditional publishing. However, that may depend on how well you’ve charted your course through all the necessary avenues before actually publishing your book.

One cost which can be controlled by you, the writer, on the front end is the cost of editorial services.  Let me qualify that statement by saying that if you’re a first-time author, you will need to hire an editor at some point in the process. Here are a few suggestions to help keep the editorial cost down.

Most importantly, work with your manuscript diligently editing and revising it yourself so that you hand the editor of your choice the cleanest possible copy.

Content editing is one tool you can use to reach the clean manuscript for your editor.

  • Watch for repetitive words, avoiding where possible the use of the same word twice in a single paragraph.

Example: Jeff’s eyes met my eyes, and as we gazed into each other’s eyes, I knew our love would last forever.

Revision: Jeff’s eyes met mine, and as we gazed at each other, I knew our love would last forever.

  • Eliminate descriptors which weaken your characters and diminish them to less than they what they are.

Example: Sarah felt slightly afraid as someone rummaged through the downstairs rooms.

Revision: Sarah felt afraid as someone rummaged through the downstairs rooms.

  • Carefully construct character reactions so that they come afterthe action.  Otherwise, it confuses your reader.

ExampleEmily jumped into Sam’s waiting arms as the thunder rolled and the lightning flashed.

Revision: As the thunder rolled and the lightning flashed, Emily jumped into Sam’s waiting arms.

  • Past or past perfect tense is always tricky.  You should carefully check this.  Rule of thumb: When writing in past tense, anything occurring before the point your story begins is past perfect tense.

Example:  Dad had purchased (past perfect) a red Mustang convertible in 1964 and was (past) in love with it as much today as the first time he drove it.

  • And, as always, be sure you are showing and not telling. The best way to lose readers’ attention is to tell them, and not show them through rich detail the personalities of your characters, the scene you want to set, and the clever dialogue you use.

Telling: Max was mad.

Showing: Max doubled up his fists and gritted his teeth.

These are just a few of the steps you can take to make sure that your manuscript is in good editorial shape before you send it to your editor.In so doing, your editor will not need to spend as much time editing and revising your manuscript as she or he might have otherwise.

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In Part 2, we’ll look at thinking like an editor before the editor takes your manuscript for review.