Friday, September 18, 2015

Beta Readers: Thoughts from the Other Side

Over the weekend, I got a few of my beta friends together and interviewed them. And I think that it went splendidly! (At least I hope it did. I think so.)
So, before I give much ado about nothing, here's what was said. 


How would you describe the way it makes you feel to beta read?


Cana:
I feel like beta reading is really, really fun. It’s a chance to 1) read a book, 2) help someone out, 3) get experience with editing and improve my own writing, 4) build a friendship with the author, and 5) possibly make the story turn out more to my liking. (Just kidding about number five. I can advise the author if there is an actual problem, but I never try to change their story!)


Mandy:
To be honest, it depends on the book. There are some books I have absolutely loved to beta read. I love the story, get deeply involved in the characters, and I get very, very excited for the next part. Breathless even, if it is a good enough book. And then there are some that are just… eh; when the story is uninteresting or the characters don’t interest me. It all really depends on the project. :)


Katie:
Beta reading is a special experience, because the author is trusting me with his or her story and expecting helpful feedback on how to make it better. Being one of the first people to read that story makes me feel like I’m being let in on a secret, and as an aspiring editor, I also appreciate the chance to hone my editing skills.


Do you ever get tired of it?


Cana:
I don’t get tired of beta reading in itself. I need breaks, of course, so I don’t fry my brain. Sometimes the story itself is boring, but part of my job as a beta reader is to help the author fix that kind of thing. That is rewarding rather than tiring.


Mandy:
Aye, sometimes. Being dyslexic and all, it is very difficult for me to read books, especially if the grammar is poor to where I have to decipher the meaning of things. Because of this, I often pick and choose what books I choose to beta read.


Katie:
I’m relatively new to beta reading, but I haven’t gotten tired of it yet!


How does it make you feel when you get asked to beta read a book that isn't in your interests?


Cana:
So far, I haven’t actually had that happen for a full book. I’ve beta read excerpts of books that aren’t in my interests, though. In that case, it’s not like I have to deal with the story for very long, so I don’t mind.


Mandy:
A bit wary. Especially with having difficulty reading, it’s very hard to get through books that I don’t enjoy or don’t interest me.


Katie:
So far, I’ve never been asked to beta read a book that isn’t in my interests‒but then, I enjoy reading books from every genre and for every age group. I have read a book that wasn’t very good, due to a cliche storyline and rather poor writing. Since it was my first experience beta reading, I didn’t feel confident telling the author any of this, and I ended up just pointing out such grammatical errors as the comma splices which permeated the manuscript. If I could go back, I’d draw the author’s attention to aspects of the story and the writing that could be improved. I’ve since become more comfortable with doing this, and I’ve also been so fortunate as to get better stories to read. ;)


What is the most common flaw you come across in the things you read?


Cana:
I don’t know which flaw actually shows up the most, but the area of flaws that is most common is basic English grammar. This makes me sad, because it’s the kind of stuff anyone should know and can easily learn, such as its vs. it’s, or the correct placement of commas, or how to avoid run-on sentences. People could take their writing to the next level if they took a little time to review basic grammar rules.


Mandy:
Errors with commas. Almost no one that I’ve beta read for knew how to properly use a comma. For instance, they would not have stuck the comma after “for instance” in the beginning of this sentence. It seems people, almost universally, are uncertain of the rules surrounding the comma.


Katie:
Grammatical errors and sentences that don’t flow properly are probably the most common flaws I’ve come across when beta reading. This isn’t surprising, since the author is bound to be more focused on the story itself than the nitty-gritty details of grammar and sentence structure. I’ve also found that it’s common to run into aspects of the story world that aren’t explained well. This too is understandable‒the author is immersed in the world he or she has built, and it can be easy to forget that no one else has such a complete knowledge of how that world works.


What is your favorite phrase to use when correcting something?


Cana:
“Perhaps you could change this to something like ____ ?”


Mandy:
“I really like this part. It shows a lot of promise. The only thing you might like to consider changing would be ________________”


Katie:
I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite phrase, especially since it’s a cliche, but I’ve said more than once that my advice on a certain matter should “be taken with a grain of salt.” I never want to be presumptuous enough to believe that my way of thinking is always the right one.


What is your advice to other beta readers or people who are considering it?


Cana:
Study, study, study. Read articles and blog posts about writing, especially niche details, such as how to make likable characters or the correct usage of the word lay. Read as many different views on whatever you’re studying as you can, since writing is so subjective. When you are beta-reading, you should know what you’re doing. But remember that the author is the boss, not you.


Mandy:
Remember that these aren’t published books. They aren’t going to have the perfect phrasing, wonderful grammar, and no plot holes. Don’t expect to be reading a shelf-ready book. If you get so caught up in the problems with the book, you’ll never enjoy the story. Try to forget the little things and look at the big picture: the plot, the characters, the feel of the book.


Katie:
Be kind in your corrections, but don’t be afraid to make them. You aren’t doing the author any favors by not pointing out the flaws you discover. Realize too that some things are subjective, and that the author probably will not‒and probably should not‒take your advice on every single thing. There are points which come down to matters of personal style. That style may not always be to your taste, but that doesn’t make it wrong.


What is your advice to writers?


Cana:
Writers should also study, study, study. You want to get it right the first time, not have a beta reader or editor tell you you need to completely rewrite your book. Again, read everything you can that has to do with writing. You should have some good starting points based on what is in your story. For instance, if you have a lot of fight scenes, read about how to write them. If your character loses a loved one, read about grief.
Also, since you’re a person whose tool is grammar and materials are words, you should know how to wield both. Learn the rules of punctuation. Study good sentence structure. Know correct word usage. Your writing will go from okay to awesome.


Mandy:
Be picky who you let beta read your book. There are helpful beta readers and there are those that will simply pick your story apart until you feel it has no hope of ever succeeding. Remember that your book is not published, and it isn’t perfect yet. Don’t let negative comments dissuade you. There is almost always gonna be that one person who is dead-set on pointing out every flaw. Don’t take it as law. Enjoy the good comments, consider the bad, but don’t let it dictate you, either. It’s your story, after all.


Katie:
First, realize that good writing involves lots and lots of re-writing. Your first draft probably isn’t going to be that great, and that’s okay. Second, don’t be afraid to get feedback on your work. You can’t fix mistakes and weaknesses if you don’t know what they are. Lastly, while getting published is a wonderful goal, ultimately a writer should write for the sake of writing. If you love it, keep doing it‒no matter what.

~


Isn't that an awesome interview? I was blown away with how awesome the answers were--even though my questions were less than fabulously deep.

Thank you so much, Cana, Mandy, and Katie, for agreeing to be interviewed! You all are the best. =)
Well, I hope you have enjoyed this post! Next week, I plan to do a post on character development... the story-building kind. And it's going to be AWESOME.

Stay tuned and stay writing,

~Alyssa

4 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for this post Alyssa! I'm currently polishing off my novel so I can send it out to beta readers :)

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  2. I'm so glad that you liked it! =) Good luck with your beta readers! =)

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  3. Thanks for interviewing us all, Alyssa! This was a cool blog topic.

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