Do you like to read? Or should I say, snack, drink tea, and relax with a good book? That's my favorite pastime. Only now I get to write books too while snacking. And today I want to share a great way to enjoy new stories absolutely free even before they get published. Are you ready?
It's to beta-read.
What is beta-reading?
Before a book is sent out into the world, many authors like to test it out with a smaller audience. They ask for volunteers to read their novels and give them feedback prior to publishing. They are not looking for professionals, just people who love to read, preferably the ones from their target audience. If you're an author and have never taken this step, read my other article.
Why should you do it?
As a book lover, you'll get to
enjoy brand new novels before anyone else for free
connect with authors and get an inside scoop on their stories
share your thoughts and insights
participate in a book-making process and aid in improving it
This can be a fun activity for those who enjoy reading. And if you're also a writer, you'll be a better self-editor afterward. Personally, I love beta-reading for others.
How to know if beta-reader is for you?
Are you an avid reader? Usually, that's enough to qualify. You might also ask yourself the following questions:
When I read, do I usually
reflect on what I've read and how it made me feel
try to predict where the story is going
wish I could change a few things and know why
see holes, imperfections, and ways to make the plot more cohesive
have questions ringing in my mind long after I close the book
find myself reimagining parts of the novel I've read
discuss what I liked/disliked about the book with others
know fairly well what I'm looking for in a work of fiction
If you do any of this, well, that's pretty much beta-reading, only now you'll get to send all this valuable feedback to an author. I would say that anyone who reads a lot is already practicing these things.
Where to find authors who are looking for beta-readers?
I am always looking for readers who can provide feedback for my books. If you enjoy fantasy with an inspirational message, you can always sign up to be on my team. Just fill out the contact form and indicate that you'd like to be a beta-reader for my next novel.
Here are a few Facebook groups where you can find authors that are looking for beta-readers:
There is also a beta-reading group on Goodreads.
If you want to take it a step further, you can become a paid beta-reader on Fiverr or Upwork.
What is NOT beta-reading?
Providing feedback on a book can be a fun experience, but there are few things that could potentially make this process cumbersome. So, let's talk about pitfalls to avoid.
Beta-reading is not
editing - all authors should hire a professional editor and/or proofreader. Although you may point out a few grammatical mistakes or typos, don't feel like you have to correct all the errors. It will certainly be appreciated, but this is not the purpose.
fixing syntax - every author has his or her own style and voice that might not always be on par with what you've been reading. You could point out a few awkward phrases, repetitions or perpetual tendencies, but don't try to correct every sentence.
rewriting the story - let the author know about the parts of the novel that need more work, but leave the direction up to his or her imagination. Offer your suggestions, but ultimately the author will decide what to accept and integrate.
What are the expectations?
Now that I hopefully answered some of your questions, let's get to the actual process of providing feedback. As an author, I can say that this is something I look forward to and stress about at the same time. After working for months on the manuscript on my own, I am both eager and anxious to know what the readers think. This exchange requires a level of trust and commitment. A few important things to consider:
The creative work of an author is protected by copyright laws and cannot be shared with others unless otherwise explicitly stated - this means the story is for your eyes only and no part of it can be printed, downloaded, copied or shown to others.
The author has a deadline in mind, but if you already have a few hours set aside for reading, turning in your feedback on time shouldn't be a problem. Keep in mind that critiquing a novel might take longer as it will entail pausing and writing your thoughts down.
The author is looking for honest feedback. Keep it constructive, but don't sugar coat anything. The whole point of this process is to receive critique and improve the book.
How to provide helpful feedback?
Every reader is different. That's why I like having lots of people on my beta-reading team. Each one will see something that others won't, so don't be afraid to share your point of view. But that said, there are some general guidelines you can use:
Ask questions. Sometimes it's the best form of feedback. They stretch the writer and help look at things from the readers' perspective. So ask away. When questions come up while you're reading, write them next to the paragraph or phrase that instigated it ("why is this...", "how come is that...", "what do you mean when...").
Be specific. Don't make general comments. If you didn't like something, say what and why. If you find that something is confusing, make suggestions on what might clarify it. If you think the pacing is too slow, point out which parts you wanted to skip. If you feel like something is missing, take time to identify what exactly is bothering you.
Take a systematic approach. When you read, you can just observe your reactions, thoughts, and feelings or you can focus on specific areas of the story. Here are a few questions to ask yourself during this process:
- Is the opening paragraph interesting enough to want to know more? If not, why.
- As you continue reading, are there any scenes that you want to skip or can't clearly understand what's happening? Can you visualize the setting? Point out areas that are lacking or feel overdone.
- Do the characters come to life or fall flat? Do you understand their motives? Did you form an opinion about them? Can you relate to their struggles? Are their actions believable and consistent? If not, let the author know what's missing or out of sync.
- Did the dialogues sound natural to you? If any of it made you cringe, roll your eyes, crinkle your nose, point out what felt artificial, awkward, stiff, out of character for the speaker.
- Did the story illicit any feelings? Where you frustrated? Annoyed? Bored? Surprised? Hopeful? Did anything resonate with you? How did you feel about the book at the beginning vs the end? Did the plot and characters make you care? Let the author know why or why not.
- Did anything in the story caught your attention and took you out of the fictional world? Did you notice any discrepancies or inconsistencies? Plot holes? Did something seem illogical?
- Was there enough tension and surprises in the story? Did it hold your interest or felt lacking? Would you recommend this book to a friend? Explain what you felt is missing.
The point of beta-reading is to draw more of the story out of the storyteller. How awesome is that? I wish I could have interacted like this with my favorite authors, asked them questions and offered my take on their books. Writers need this connection to make sure that you as a reader can clearly see the picture that was formed in their imagination and related in written form. You get to tell them how it is perceived on your end. And even though everyone processes information differently, this valuable insight will make the book more alive and relatable.
So, happy beta-reading, and I'll be glad to have you on my team.
P.S. Another place to get free books is my monthly newsletter where I list dozens of book promotions for different genres. Check it out here.