Embarrassing to say... I never heard the term 'beta-reader' before last year when one of our group members said a Twitter follower asked her to beta-read. Being that I am the slightest bit competitive, I jumped at the chance to beta-read for an author whose blog I had found useful, Nat Russo.
Being a beta-virgin, I was a little nervous opening the manuscript document to start editing and commenting. Lucky for me, Nat was prepared and sent all his beta-readers a list of questions to consider as they read. This list helped me focus and gain confidence as I made notes and comments.
Agent and Editors Conference. I'd had a good writing year, I was feeling more relaxed around other authors, more confident in my craft, and I was able to meet several new friends who offered to beta-swap.
Since then, I've read for three more authors; one historical fiction, one MG fantasy and one YA fantasy. I've given my book to five authors to read for me.
This is what I've learned so far:
1. Don't ask a family member to read your book. They may be avid readers and even enjoy your genre, but if they are not in the craft, then they are not beta-material.
2. Be clear about what you want from your beta-reader. Take a cue from the pro-it's okay to give your readers a list of questions or simple instructions while reading for you. They will appreciate it because the work will seem less ambiguous.
3. Grow some thick skin. The best readers are honest readers. Your manuscript will not be perfect. You want them to spot the problems before an agent or editor does. So, when the review comes back, don't panic because there are copious notes. Be happy you have a chance to fix things before finding out there is a difference between peaked and piqued or that your main character's eyes changed color four times.
4. Take a stand. Just because a reader makes a suggestion does not mean you MUST change your story. I found it useful to have several readers and then to compare their notes. If more than one person found a scene troublesome or had a problem with a patch of dialogue, then I knew it was something to put at the top of my priority list.
5. Set a due date. I suggest this because I was just recently a tad long on reading for someone else. Plus, I like to get my stuff back at a set date. It helps to keep me motivated.
6. Pick someone who likes your genre. If you didn't, it would be like taking a blind date to a Hibachi restaurant only to find out he has a fear of fire. No one will have a good time.
7. Root for your peers. I had a humbling moment. A gal I beta-read for a little while back wrote to me to tell me an agent just requested her full manuscript and that my comments and suggestions had been a big help. My first thought was not really kind-I was jealous, and for no good reason. After a few minutes to process, I realized I should feel proud of myself and of her. We both put in effort and her work is successful. I will, however, be looking for a thank you when her book gets printed *grins*.
8. Practice safe reading. Don't go sticking your manuscript just anywhere. Take time to find trusted readers. With the exception of one, I've personally met all my readers and I feel much more at ease knowing who is handling my prose.
If there is a beta, there must be an alpha, right? In my case I have several alpha-readers, those loyal souls who slog through my first drafts and still are kind enough to leave me encouraging comments. Here's a shout out to my alpha-readers!