How To Beta Read: Dos & Don’ts

If you’ve been in any writer circle by now, you’ve likely heard of beta reading. You’ve also likely heard that you need to get your story beta read to work out where it’s going right and where it’s going wrong. Well, in order to get, you need to give, and that means that you may need to beta read for other people in order to get them to beta read your manuscript in turn.

When I delved into the fascinating purgatory of getting Shadow Herald beta read, I found that most folks who are new to beta reading don’t realize that it is not the same as being an editor.

“What? It’s not? How?”

It’s simple. When you give your story to an editor, what you expect to get is the benefit of their expertise. They are there to make suggestions, implement revisions, and remove any errors that they find.

Unlike an editor, a beta reader does not give expertise. Beta reading helps the writer to understand what it’s like to casually read their story for the first time, which means that beta readers should report mainly on their reading experience.

As a beta reader, you should read the story at your own pace (but preferably, make sure you can actually get around to reading it). If the author gives you the option to comment directly on their doc, you should feel free to write down your feelings on the story as you have them.

Here is what you should do in order to give your writer the commentary that they need…

~ § ~ § ~ § ~

You should try to:

• Focus on your experience and mood. Did you become confused or bored? Did you feel sad, or get excited?

• Note places that stood out to you. Did you find an event unrealistic? Or too graphic compared to the rest of the story? Did you love that twist ending?

• Note which characters you do and don’t like, and why.

• Summarize whether you enjoyed a given chapter or not, and why.

~ § ~ § ~ § ~

You don’t need to:

• Go out of your way to fix grammar, spelling, etc (though you can point it out if it makes your reading experience frustrating).

• Suggest solutions to problems you noticed. Unless the author directly asks for suggestions, just pointing out the problem is plenty helpful enough; remember, you’re just here to give perspective.

• Read the story more than once.

• Feel obligated to read the story the whole way through if you don’t have the time to keep reading.

• Feel obligated to read the whole story through if you lose interest.

~ § ~ § ~ § ~

If you can’t continue, you need to let the writer know where you stopped reading and why. It’s incredibly helpful to know when and where a reader is no longer willing to keep going. If everyone wants to stop reading at Chapter Fifteen, then the writer needs to take a look at Chapter Fifteen and what comes before it.

It’s also worth asking what the writer wants out of the process. Some writers use beta reading to find plot holes to plug up later. Others just want a little positive feedback to give them the courage to keep going. And writers like me want to make sure that their work is eliciting the intended emotional response. Some writers are writing just for fun, while others are trying to write something publishable, and these different goals can change what you need to pay attention to.

Now, if a writer who intends to publish their work wants you to focus only or mainly on fixing their grammar, spelling, etc… or if they want to to show them exactly how to fix their plot… they’re using you. That is the job of paid copy editors and content editors. Not a free beta reader.

And that’s it for beta reading. If you find my advice helpful, then you can support my journey as a creator by buying me a Ko-fi. Thank you, and have a lovely day!

2 thoughts on “How To Beta Read: Dos & Don’ts

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