A Quick Guide to Beta-Reader Etiquette

A Quick Guide to Beta Reader Etiquette

Writers love their beta readers. But let’s be honest. Beta readers also kinda drive us crazy. Some of them are perfection: as polite, professional, and talented as any in-house editor. But others… well, let’s just say their lack of tact and their questionable knowledge of the craft can sometimes leave us howling in frustration. Why isn’t there a manual for beta reader etiquette–for how beta readers should conduct themselves and how writers, in turn, should respond?

A few weeks ago on Facebook, a reader asked if I’d written a post on beta reader etiquette. I hadn’t, so today I’m remedying that oversight. Because trading critiques is the time-honored mode of reimbursement between writers, most of us will end up wearing both the beta-reader hat and the being-beta-read hat more times than we can count. In the interest of keeping peace and patience amongst ourselves and, even more importantly, maximizing our helpfulness to one another, let’s consider ten bits of beta reader etiquette and eight bits of writerly etiquette in response.

The 10 Rules of Beta Reader Etiquette

1. Be Honest

You can’t be useful to fellow writers unless you’re willing to be honest with them: about the good and the bad of their stories. No, you don’t want to hurt any feelings, but just assume that any writer who asks your opinion will be big enough to handle even a negative response.

2. Be Specific

Generalities like, “I loved it!” or “Your plot was boring!” aren’t going to be much help. Even if you start out with only a gut feeling about the story, do your best to figure out why you liked or disliked something. Give your writer friend something concrete on which to build his revisions.

3. Couch Criticism in Praise

The whole point of a critique is the criticism. But be a sport and don’t be too rough on a writer’s delicate ego. Say what you gotta say about the book’s faults, but couch your criticism in praise. Whenever you can, be lavish in your comments on a bo0k’s good points. Open your critique by telling the writer what you liked best, and sum up with either a generally positive opinion or a belief that the author will be able to refine his rough draft into something good.

4. Avoid Negative Absolutes

Insofar as honesty allows, try to avoid negative absolutes: “This book is awful.” “I hated this character.” “Your theme is nonexistent.” Focus on the fix, rather than the problem: “I recommend using a more cheerful tone.” “What if you let this character pet a dog?” “Have you considered a theme for this story?” Even writers who want to hear all your criticism will grow resistant to accepting it if you put them on the defensive.

5. Observe Deadlines

Aside from the fact that most writers will be chewing their fingernails with anticipation from the moment they send you their precious manuscript, they’ve also probably got some serious deadlines to meet. So once you agree to a timeline, try your darndest to meet it. Yes, you’re doing the writer a favor, but he’s also depending on you. If you’re going to be unable to meet the deadline, always take a moment to let the writer know about the delay.

6. Observe Standard Editing Protocol

Make things easier for both yourself and the writer by observing standard editing protocol. Either use Word’s Track Changes to mark your comments and corrections right into the manuscript, or use standard editing symbols for marking up a hardcopy. No need to waste either the writer’s time or you own with comments he won’t be able to access or decipher.

7. Respect the Author’s Guidelines

If the author says she’s only looking for a general overview of the story–not a line edit–then respect that. She knows what stage her story is in and what kind of opinion will be most helpful. An unasked for line edit at too early a stage may not only end up wasting your time, but also killing the writer’s confidence in her story.

8. Check Your Personal Agenda at the Door

Remember: as a beta reader, you’re there to serve the writer, not the other way around. If you have a personal dislike for characters with red hair, the word “stupendous,” or rainy scenes, keep it to yourself. There’s a difference between pet peeves based on technical mistakes and pet peeves that are specific only to us and our personalities.

9. Identify the Author’s Vision

In the same vein as #8, your job is to help the author realize her vision for the story. It’s definitely not your job to try to impose your vision (or worldview) onto the writer’s story. If she wrote an adventure story, but you wanted a romance, don’t take it upon yourself to rewrite the genre. Do your best to figure out what type and tone of story the author is going for, and shape your comments to help her figure out where she’s falling short of her vision.

10. Respect the Author’s Autonomy

No matter how much effort and time you spend critiquing this story, there is no guarantee the author will make the changes you’re suggesting. Once you’ve turned over your critique, let the story go. You’ve had your say; you’ve fulfilled your duty. It’s not your responsibility to talk the writer into using all your suggestions. When the book comes out and the main character still has red hair, resist the urge to throw up your hands in frustration or write the author a scolding email.

The 8 Rules of Writerly Etiquette in Response to Beta Readers

1. Show Gratitude

Taking the time to read and comment on a manuscript is a humongous favor. Never take that for granted. Even if you should get your manuscript back and end up disagreeing with every single thing the beta reader said, never discount the effort that went into making those comments. Always thank beta readers profusely and let them know you’re aware of the effort they put into trying to help you.

2. Don’t Argue

Upon reading some (or all) of a beta reader’s comments, your first instinct might be to argue. But don’t. Just… don’t. If you’re face to face with a beta reader, simply nod and smile as they explain their thoughts. Only challenge their opinions if you need clarification on a point, and even then make sure you do it with graciousness and humility. No need to let a bossy beta run you over, but try to keep any knee-jerk negative reactions simmered down to a professional, “That’s a good point. I’ll take that into consideration.”

3. Don’t Take Offense

Yes, you’ll occasionally run into a nasty beta reader with a personal axe to grind. But generally speaking, most betas aren’t out to get you–even when they may sound less than kind in their critiques. Give your betas the benefit of the doubt and assume they just want to help you. Even if they’re dead wrong about your story, don’t take offense. This isn’t personal. It’s business.

4. Give the Edit Some Time

Most of us need a little time to process a critique–especially if it’s harsher than we expected. Before outright rejecting a beta reader’s critique, always give yourself a week or so to process the comments. Step away from the manuscript and just let those initial emotions brew for a while. When you’ve cleared your head, come back to the critique and evaluate the true worth of the beta reader’s offerings.

5. Remember the “Two People Have to Agree” Rule

Just as you shouldn’t outright reject your beta reader’s offerings, you also shouldn’t swallow everything a beta says. My personal rule is that “two people have to agree” on a change before I’ll make it. One of those people can be me: if I immediately recognize the worth of a beta’s suggestion, obviously I’ll go ahead and make the change. But if I don’t agree, I’ll put the comment on the back burner, where it will stay until another beta reader or editor makes the same comment. If that happens, then I know I have to reevaluate my initial gut feeling.

6. Respect the Reader’s Time

The beta reader is giving you the gift of many, many hours of his time. You’d be paying a professional editor thousands of dollars to be doing what your beta is doing for free (probable discrepancies in knowledge and skill aside). Respect that gift. Don’t ask beta readers to adhere to impossibly tight schedules, and once you’ve agreed upon a reasonable deadline, don’t pester the beta with requests for progress updates. Only after the deadline has come and gone without response from the beta reader should you send him a gentle email, asking if he’s had time to look at your book. If he hasn’t, tell him that’s all right and look elsewhere for another beta.

7. Don’t Request Brainstorming Assistance

A beta reader isn’t necessarily a brainstorming buddy. Brainstorming requires almost as much time and effort as critiquing, so don’t assume that just because someone agreed to read your manuscript he’ll also want to help you name characters and figure out how to fill plot holes. Pointing out the holes was his job; filling them is yours.

8. Return the Favor

It’s an unspoken rule in the writing world that if you receive a critique, you should also be willing to give one. Offer upfront to return the favor, and when that favor gets called in, do your best to promptly, kindly, and professionally fulfill the duties of the beta reader every bit as well as you’d like to have them fulfilled for you.

The dance between writer and beta reader can sometimes be a tricky one, since not one, but two big, fat, bruisable writer’s egos are in play. But figuring out the rules of the dance is always worth the effort. Treat your beta readers with kindness and respect, and always critique other writers in the same measure. When it comes to beta reader etiquette, that’s really the only rule any of us needs to remember.

Tell me your opinion: What do you think is the most important rule of beta reader etiquette?

A Quick Guide to Beta Reader Etiquette

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Website is under construction…don’t click yet. (Not that anyone has the time anyway!)

    I used to think I didn’t need any sugar coating from beta readers, none of that “sandwich” stuff (good, bad, good)…until I got a critique of a particular scene that was a “train wreck”…and that was the good part.

    Boy, was I reeling for a few days. I felt horrible. But after a few days, I listened to the reader’s feedback and realized that she was right about one important element, i.e., the tone of the scene. Some of the other feedback was way out of line, so I ignored it, but she was dead on about the tone, and the wrong tone for the scene did, in fact, make it a train wreck.

    She also said, in no uncertain terms (i.e., harshly) that my “perfect” murder plans wouldn’t have created a perfect murder. She was right, of course, but who wants to give readers a recipe for the perfect murder if the topic is pedophilia, about which so many people have strong feelings? There’s also a recipe for a poison in the novel…that’s not perfect either…intentionally, of course.

    Another thing I learned early on is not to give your fiction to a non-fiction reader for feedback. That reader wanted all the story questions answered on the first page! (This feedback was not about lack of clarity, BTW.) I got a good laugh (at myself) about that one.

    I’ve had some friends turn down the “opportunity” to be beta readers because they were afraid that if they were honest, they’d damage our friendship. This was without having read any of the work and even knowing that the work had won several awards. I respect that decision.

    So, choosing your beta readers carefully is an important element, don’t you think?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Great thoughts here, ladies!

      @Sheryl: Yes, I totally, totally agree on the importance of finding the *right* beta reader. All the advice about humility and listening to our betas’ advice only works if the betas actually know what they’re talking about in the first place.

    • NOTHING stings more than a wildly-flailing beta reader who slashes everything in sight but there often is something in there. One told me to add a car chase to a dull scene. Uh, no, but I took on board that it was a dull scene and tightened it up.

      He slashed the whole section to ribbons (I send in sections, as per the Beta Reader book by Elizabeth Eyles) then said he’d really enjoyed it and was looking forward to the next section. Really?

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        Very often beta readers will offer specific advice that is off the mark, but, as you’ve discovered, if you look beneath the surface and try to figure out what prompted that advice, there’s usually something we can improve in our own way.

  2. I’ve had some good beta readers over time, but more often than not I got two types of response back.
    “I loved it”. End of comments.
    OR
    The reader must have been very young, with little world experience. This type of reader was more common. The result was often totally inappropriate comments which were a waste of both my time and hers. (I have never found a male beta reader. Why is that?)
    Or readers who missed obvious points and later questioned how something had happened. After a few months, I signed out of the group.
    Among my beta readers there were two who saw ways of improving the work, and who did not hesitate to give me negative feedback. We are still internet friends.
    NOTHING is more valuable than a good, perceptive beta reader. But they are so hard to find.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      They’re hard to find, but definitely not impossible. All of my betas are people I’ve been online. It’s just a matter of finding where like-minded writers are hanging out and starting relationships.

    • I think the generic/broad responses such as “I loved it/This was great/I hated it” can often stem from readers not quite having the words to describe their feelings. As readers, its much easier to “feel” out responses than to examine it. For me personally, my first responses do tend to be gut reactions, and the second read is when I can process those feelings clearer: “Why did this character piss me off here? Why am I bored here? Why did this confuse me?” or “What made me so excited here? Why am I falling in love with this character? This character is so evil yet I can’t help but be charmed, why?”

      Like writing, reading and recording your responses can take time and experience to be identifiable, especially in a culture where we tend to be taught to be evaluative upon first impression: either this is a good or bad, right or wrong, I like it or I don’t etc.

      I think the generic/broad responses such as “I loved it/This was great/I hated it” can often stem from readers not quite having the words to describe their feelings. As readers, its much easier to “feel” out responses than to examine it. For me personally, my first responses do tend to be gut reactions, and the second read is when I can process those feelings clearer: “Why did this character piss me off here? Why am I bored here? Why did this confuse me?” or “What made me so excited here? Why am I falling in love with this character? This character is so evil yet I can’t help but be charmed, why?”

      Like writing, reading and recording your responses can take time and experience especially if you live in a culture where you tend to be taught to be evaluative upon first impression: either this is a good or bad, right or wrong, I like it or I don’t etc.

      If it helps, sometimes, as writers, we need to be able to tease out such answers from the readers as well. Asking broad and sweeping questions like “What did you think of my story?” can be a pretty intimidating question (and I think more so especially if the reader is inexperienced or just doesn’t feel like they have the ‘authority’ to comment on such sweeping statements) and the tendency to answer such questions with “I liked/hated it” is high. Plus, often times, as a reader you will have mixed feelings towards a piece of work, or parts of that work, and some readers may not know that it is OK for them to express those conflicting feelings. (I personally think you want readers to have conflicting emotions in your writing as it can be an indicator of being able to push and pull on your reader’s emotions.)

      Asking something more specific like “What did you think of the chemistry between these two characters throughout the story?” might yield more reactions from your readers. It’s broad enough but it targets something specific in the story. Or, “What did you think about the world that this story was set in? Would you like to live in such a world?” Answer to these kinds of questions will show you not only their reactions of the story, but of what they were overall grasping. Maybe you wanted the relationship to be a slow development but your readers saw it as leaps and bounds. Or maybe your world was supposed to be this dystopian, survival of the fittest and yet your surprisingly find out that many of your readers wouldn’t mind living in such this world you created and maybe they’ll tell you why.

      If only one or two out of twenty readers is missing the ‘obvious’ you may not need to overstress it. Maybe you can reach out to them and just say “Hey, you said you were confused about this, here, but I explained it in this chapter here. Was that not clear?” It might just be an honest overlook on the reader’s part or it might imply a bigger confusion that needs to be resolved. If many of your readers are missing the ‘obvious’ however, look over your draft again and reach out to them again. I don’t think a beta reader and a writer’s relationship should end after the reader has submitted their response. I would say make time to follow up on your readers.

      That turned out to be a very long reply >,<

  3. I have several male beta readers and recommend them highly. I think it’s important to have both genders if you can possibly manage it. I was fortunate enough to meet some male writers at a writers’ workshop, and a bunch of us formed a critique group…three women and three men. At the time, I also had an all-female critique group.

    It’s amazing the kind of things a male reader will pick up on that a female reader misses, e.g., a piece of dialogue and body language that’s highly suggestive unintentionally…in that case, I chose to increase the suggestiveness.

    I especially value them for their feedback about my male characters. In every case (so far), they’ve found my male characters believable…even when the Gender Genie says I should wear ruffled pink dresses and paint my nails!

  4. Hello Sheryl ~ We’ve met before in various writers’ places.
    I live in the backwoods of New Brunswick, and there are no writers’ groups within driving distance, so I rely upon the internet.
    The beta group I had joined was in England. We could choose our ‘genre’, and so I went into the historical fiction sub-group. In that group I never saw a male name. we could not choose our reader: the reader chose the writer.
    The rules were that I had to beta-read four novels before anyone would read mine. Okay, fair ball. My problem was finding a manuscript that would interest me. Yes, I’m finicky. The other problem was that I beta- read more than 25 novels over a period of 6 months, but was beta-read only 15 times. Of those 15, only two readers had anything constructive to say. Never in my experience with the group did we exchange work, because we had to choose out of an available list.
    This, I think, was a bad experience, and not typical. Yet, ‘once bitten, twice shy’. I would like to find a reliable beta group.

  5. Hi, Lyn…yes, we’ve run into each other before!

    I’ve found a couple of beta readers via YouWriteOn and authonomy (although I dislike authonomy–it’s a time waster and there’s too much mutual backscratching.)

    Also, I entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest a number of years ago and made some great friends there…who have become beta readers, too.

    So, perhaps finding beta readers in specific situations, rather than making an open call for beta readers on sites such as LinkedIn (I’ve seen people do this, and I don’t recommend it) is better

    I try not to overburden any particular beta reader, and often use them for parts of novels, as opposed to the whole thing, depending on the genre they write in or some area of expertise they possess.

    As for the “ordinary” reader type of beta reader (i.e., someone with no knowledge of the writing craft necessarily, but usually an avid reader), I suspect that’s more difficult for writers in rural or remote locations to find these people. Maybe checking out Goodreads and watching for readers who read in your genre and who post intelligent and balanced reviews of the books they’ve read?

    Of course, an “ordinary” beta reader isn’t going to need a quid pro quo, i.e., for you to read their work in exchange, so offering them swag might help. But many readers would jump at the chance to help a writer. Be sure to acknowledge their contributions!

    I suspect that many writers send out their work to beta readers before it’s even close to being ready, and in that case, you’ve lost a pool of beta readers that might have been extremely helpful because you’ve turned them off! Finding a good writing mentor might be the better option at the front end, and then a good editor, before going for beta readers.

    I find that the longer I write, the less I need a critique group or a mentor, although beta readers are always useful to me (and deeply appreciated!)

    • We have just launched a not-for-profit short story review site (taylz.com), which employs anonymous, structured peer review, getting rid of the back scratching altogether, and promoting honest, frank feedback. Please come and have a look!

  6. I’ve been writing longer than most beta readers have been living, and, like you, I don’t feel I need a mentor. But we all can use a separate pair of eyes. We know what we meant in that specific sentence – but is it clear to the unknown reader?
    I’m not looking for a beta reader right now: have only recently started something new, and it’s my unwavering policy not to send it out to anyone before it’s in the best shape possible. THAT’s when a beta reader is most valuable; not in helping form the novel, but in catching discrepancies. IMHO

  7. Steve Mathisen says:

    KM, this is a really helpful guide. I have done a bit of beta reading and I enjoy the insights into another writer’s process. All I can hope for is that my comments are helpful and drive the project forward. I consider people I read for to be friends, so I always try to treat them and their work with the utmost respect. So far, everyone I have read for has also been very respectful of the comments I have made.
    You never really know how helpful you have been as a beta reader. You just hope that something you said might be helpful in producing a better product for the writer. That’s all I really want.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      If both parties come to the table without an agenda and with a sense of humility, then the beta-reading process can only be a joy and a blessing for everyone involved.

  8. Paul Baxter says:

    The “Two people have to agree rule” reminds me of the old saying:

    If one man calls you a donkey, ignore him.
    If two men call you a donkey, think about it.
    If three men call you a donkey, buy a saddle.

  9. I have a Facebook beta reader group of 20, and post up each chapter as I complete the first draft. The group are all friends of mine, and range from published multi-novel writers, to just-published writers, to aspiring writers, to people who just enjoy reading in the genre – or even, not (but they’re unlucky enough to know me and have opinions I value).

    Everyone brings a different perspective to the table, and I know going in that they won’t agree on how much description is too much or too little, how much dialogue is too much or too little, or the best balance of show and tell.

    Which is great, otherwise why recruit all twenty?

    I want to hear conflicting views. I want to not only catch things that are technically wrong with my book, but also to get a feel for who likes it and who doesn’t, because that gives me a handle on whether I’m pitching the writing at the right level.

    Some of them have said things that I don’t agree with, of course, some of the same peeps have made brilliant suggestions that I’ve incorporated into the draft, and some of course have made comments that I know will go away when I reveal things in later chapters. Some of the best suggestions have come from a bloke who works in construction, can’t spell, has difficulty putting grammar together, but knows what he enjoys reading.

    The important thing I find is to stay humble. I’m pretty good at leaving my ego at the door in most pursuits, and that’s the key. I think also having a clear view of what I’m aiming at helps me disregard comments that are irrelevant to the goal.

    Between the 21 of us, we’ve made the writing stronger than it would have been, and that’s the ultimate goal.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Personally, I do like to limit my beta readers (to probably around twelve–some of whom critique plot issues, others who just proofread). Too many opinions can end up being, well, too many. But everything about writing always comes down to each of us finding the process that works best of us–and that definitely sounds like what you’ve done!

      • Absolutely – but the thing about my group is that I won’t get all 20 reading and commenting on each chapter, so there’s built-in redundancy!

        I’d like to say I planned it that way, but it just seems like I lucked out 🙂

  10. Hi KM & thanks for this really useful perspective on beta reading from both sides – writer and reader. I think it’s vital that both parties know what’s expected in the relationship, ie whether it’s a complete critique or something specific. Time is so valuable and it’s extremely important to have mutual respect and understanding on a time frame.

    I do a fair amount of beta reading for the crime/thriller genres, but I don’t really address structure, story, dialogue, or fine points like syntax and punctuation unless something is glaring. Most of the writers I assist have a far better grasp on that stuff than I do. I stick to my expertise which is forensics and I beta read for accuracy on things like crime scenes, dead bodies, and firearms. Often the writer just ships me an idea or a portion, rather than going through the whole m/s.

    Outside of meeting and networking with talented people, I find that beta reading is great education and very helpful for my own writing. It’s a total win-win if you get the right match 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Good points. Just as it’s important for betas to give authors the type of feedback they’re asking for, it’s also important for authors to ask betas to critique based on their strengths. I have several rounds of critique partners that I use to assess different aspects of the story, depending on their strengths as both readers and editors.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Communication is the key, as in all relationships. If both parties are honest about what to expect, then it saves a lot of frustration (and even hurt feelings) down the line.

  11. I know how everyone tells you “don’t use your family members as critiques”, but I’ve found it untrue for me. My dad is my biggest critic with writing. He taught me how to write essays, he taught me storytelling, and he isn’t afraid to make me cry. Plus, he wants to write stories too, so he’s learning how to write better by editing my work!
    Trait #1 in a good writer or editor is willingness to be hard on yourself (or others) when it’s needed.
    JRR Tolkien would have never made the LOTR trilogy without CS Lewis’ feedback. All the negative as well as the positive.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      As with all generalities, it depends on the individuals involved. I use several of my family members as first-round betas.

  12. How does one handle beta reads for novels that are in no shape to be beta read? Writerly etiquette should dictate that the writer at least clean up his/her typos and grammar before sending a manuscript out for a beta read. It cannot be stressed enough that when beta readers receive manuscripts that are in poor shape, we spend most of our time mentally correcting all the errors instead of concentrating on the main points of a beta read: plot, consistency and all the rest of the details that create a good read.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That *is* annoying. If it’s egregious enough, I would definitely comment on it by saying something along the lines of, “I would really like to give you my best critique, but I’m struggling with all the typos. Perhaps I would be more useful on a later draft.”

  13. I find beta readers (and critique groups) an invaluable resource. The writer can be too close to a manuscript to see all its plot holes and inconsistencies.

    I feel the most important piece of beta reader etiquette is honesty. They need to be honest about what they do and do not like in a story. They need to be honest about the time commitment they are willing to give a manuscript. And, they need to be honest about how closely they are willing to comb over a manuscript.

  14. All of this is so true! The two biggest things I would say are important parts of beta reading etiquette are to be specific and meet your deadline. My upcoming book is the first time I’d used beta readers, so I don’t know if this is a “generous” timeline, but I gave them over two months to read my book and offer feedback. Most of them did that, but some of them who had agreed to do it never started reading it. It doesn’t bother me a whole lot because I know they have lives, and I personally know the people who didn’t get back to me. Still, I think I could have strengthened my story even more with that extra feedback.

    I also had a few people who simply said, “I loved it!” That’s great to hear, but I would have liked to know what they loved about it. Since I changed a lot since the first draft I sent out, I would hate to have taken out parts that they loved.

    Anyway, that’s my $0.02.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’ve learned from experience to give betas around six months. They’ve got their own busy schedules to deal with, and I don’t want to cramp that by asking a big favor in a shorter timeline. But, at the same time, some people do better on a shorter timeline – if you don’t give them a near deadline, you’ll never hear from them again.

  15. Absolutely fantastic post, Katie!!! I’ve been on both ends of the author/beta-reader dance and I was simply smiling through the entire post. You encapsulated everything perfectly and made it so easily applicable…. Great job!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The great thing about being both a beta reader and a writer is that we get to walk in the other person’s shoes. It makes it easier to know what they would like from us when the tables are turned.

  16. So helpful, as usual! Reading through this list, I can see I’ve been guilty of imposing my preferences on someone else’s work. I personally don’t like too much action, and although I might think I can defend my preference for aesthetic reasons, it really is just a personal preference. If someone else included a lot of action scenes, it’s much more helpful for me to advise whether the scenes work as action scenes rather than explaining why I’d rather read a Jane Austen novel. Very helpful insight.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      This is a good example of why it’s so important for authors to choose the right beta readers. Although I definitely think it’s useful to get opinions from non-genre readers as well, we’re mostly going to want to get feedback from people who would like our ideal story to begin with.

      • Your advice completely makes sense! Of course, your original rules of etiquette still apply when a friend asks another friend to beta read outside her usual genre. But from what you’re saying, it may be best sometimes either to decline to beta read something that’s too far removed from what I would normally read, or at least to comment only on general story issues (especially anything that’s praiseworthy even to a non-genre reader) and bite my tongue on any personal critique that would apply to *any* novel in that genre.

        Although this point is only tangentially related, when I’m worried about whether I can get away with certain story elements, I find it strangely encouraging to read negative reviews of books I loved. Even the best writers can’t please everyone, and the fact that some hypothetical reader may hate my story choice doesn’t mean it isn’t the right choice for the story I want to tell. I guess this relates to your “two people have to agree” rule.

  17. Well written article. I will save it to refer to as I do my next reviews.

  18. Great words of wisdom! Pretty sure I’ve written something similar over at my blog in the past. 😉

    One thing I like to do–I don’t ALWAYS get to do it, or have reason to do it–is to end my notes with a lengthy “overall” note–sometimes these can be a page or two (pretty sure you’ve been on the receiving end of these!) It’s one thing to make comments in the body of the story, but sometimes you need to put everything in perspective of the entire body of work, or even further clarify your notes that you’ve already made based on what you’ve read since. To me as a WRITER, to receive this kind of note is really important and can answer some questions I’ve had as I’ve read through the previous notes.

    I also think that a beta reader needs to understand that sometimes writers will have questions as they work through the edits, and need to let the writer know if it’s okay to continue asking questions for a while. I usually try to ask, but it’s better not to assume on either end. 🙂 I don’t always trust my own judgement at certain points of the story, so getting feedback as I’m doing a rewrite of something that’s been touched on by a beta reader can really help me refine what I’m doing–and the reasons behind making the change.

  19. Would it be acceptable for me to reblog this on my own WP blog?

  20. I actually am working on a manuscript and researching beta readers. I do have friends that are into reading my work but looking for outside eyes makes a lot of sense. The part that hit home with me is time. I can just image biting all my nails off waiting to see what someone who doesn’t know me thinks of my writing. As I finish up this manuscript and search for a beta reader I will take in all of what you posted above.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      There does come a point when our stand-by betas are almost as familiar with our styles and tics as we are. So it’s always useful to throw that extra fresh set of eyes into the mix.

    • Estelle, you have to put your heart on your sleeve, and DO IT.
      Remember. If and when you publish, the world is full of people who don’t know you, reading your work.

  21. I have only been a beta reader once since it was such a bad experience. A friend wrote her first book, but her grammar and writing was horrible, so I basically rewrote almost every paragraph, just keeping what she wanted the same but making it where it made sense. It took soooooo much of my time, and then as soon as I finished, she was like “OK I’m sending you my next book,” so I just had to turn her down. I didn’t even like the book at all, but I would point out the positive things about the book and never mentioned that I did not personally like the book.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yep, been there, done that. It’s great – and important – to invest time in helping other writers. But we still have to measure the worth of our own time in comparison to the ROI.

  22. For the past two years I’ve been a beta reader for contacts that came to me by various means – no rules about this but usually because something in their blurb grabbed me or by third party recommendation. Oh dear. I’m afraid to say that of the hundred and fifty I have read, only two have really been worth reading. This is terrible. Most of them were awful on the first page and I couldn’t go on. I usually lied and said, sorry, some other more pressing work has come up: I can’t continue, I’m afraid. Often, less often now, I have given a great deal of time to reading the book and evaluating it and writing a long and detailed, and super polite, report, giving practical advice, links to relevant advice websites, and so on, all very constructive. Never, not even once, have I been thanked for this. The person has just not responded. What’s going on? I learned valuable lessons from youwriteon – a website I can’t recommend highly enough – and the comments were frequently verging on insulting, but they were all valuable and acting on them gave me the confidence and knowledge to persevere.

    These days I’m afraid I’m much more forthright because so many people are time-wasters and should be told so. I say things like, ‘Your opening line is full of grammatical error and inconsistency: why should I read the rest of the book?’ Sorry, but if you don’t want to be told the truth, don’t ask for it!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Some authors think they’re ready to be critiqued, but really they’re not – both because their books aren’t polished enough and because they’re totally unprepared for honest feedback. I only trade critiques with people with whom I have established relationships (even if it’s only online). I trust them; they trust me. We all know that however harsh our comments may sometimes need to be, we always have the other’s best interest at heart. It makes a difference.

  23. Aaron Lambert says:

    Very useful advice! I myself recently sent out my first story to my beta readers (aka close friends and family). Initially, I found myself getting annoyed that many of them took so long to read such a short (less than 5k word) story or even acknowledge having received the story. But I’ve since learned to keep it to myself, give them grace and just be happy that any of them weighed in with their critiques.

    And, on the flipside, I know I’ll be returning the favor the more I build a community of writing pals. It’s great to know how to dance properly on both sides of the line.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s tough to be patient sometimes–especially when readers really are taking an unreasonable amount of time. But it’s always worthwhile to remember that beggars can’t be choosers and to be gracious in accepting a favor however it comes.

  24. Jessica Rose says:

    I’ve been on both sides of the beta reading relationship, and my single biggest pet peeves is wou agree to swap work with someone. Per your agreement, you read theirs and offer comments in a timely fashion. They don’t. Either they never finish reading yours, or never even pick it up. That feels really unfair. If you don’t want to reciprocate, don’t say you will.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Figuring out beta relationships is always a bit of a trial-and-error kind of things. Some relationships work out. Some don’t.

  25. Wonderful post. I live in a rural area where face-to-face writing groups are not an option. I’ve used critters.com with good luck (and they also offer advice on how to present and receive comments), but I’m sure there are other resources. Your post really helps show how to be useful to the writer you’re critiquing – why else volunteer your time? And how to receive comments. The nice thing about on-line comments is – you can indulge in your own reaction in private, and then return to the comments and learn what you need to know.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Critting (and being critted) is almost an art from unto itself. We make ourselves more useful to others and others more useful to us when we learn how to do it with grace, dignity, and humility. Glad to hear you had a good experience with Critters. I often recommend them.

  26. This is fantastic! I am currently searching for new beta readers and I’m passing them the link to this article!

  27. I LOVE my beta readers and know that giving feedback to writers is never an easy thing to do! So, I plan to give each of them a signed copy of my debut novel, Things Unsaid, to be released by She Writes Press this October (2015). I have also mentioned them in my acknowledgments page and will invite them to at least one book signing or to my book launch, maybe both!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Excellent idea! I always send a copy of my books to anyone who was instrumental in helping with its creation. It’s a very small thank you for all their assistance and encouragement.

  28. Charlotte Lottier says:

    I am considering putting chapters up on my tumblr posts. Is that something you would do as well? Should I select a group from my FB and ask them to read for me? I’ve never had anything read before, and this will be my first real novel. Short stories in the past that went before all of this lovely social media stuff.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Nothing inherently wrong in publishing chapters online prior to publication. In some instances, it can be a good way to gain a readership. But personally I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t want a less-than-polished piece out there for readers. Also, I don’t like anyone to see my work-in-progress before it’s finished; I don’t like outside input until that point.

  29. Jessica says:

    This is a great article and absolutely on my ‘Read again’ list.

    Funny enough, despite a lot of research before publishing my book, today was the first time I heard about beta readers.
    Being a non-native English writer, my grammar is not always perfect, even after many many many proof-read and editing hours. Reading some of the comments I do worry that Beta Readers would be turned away by those mistakes. Does it make a difference if they know that English is my second language and that it is not carelessness that causes the mistakes?

    Also where does one look for beta readers? I’ve read ‘YouWriteOn’ in the comments, are there any other places to look at if the friends and family circles have already been tapped?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I would definitely be upfront about English not being your first language, and, honestly, I think most beta readers would think that pretty awesome and totally be willing to work with you (your English seems great in this comment, BTW).

      When searching for beta readers, I recommend looking amongst the online writing community. I’ve found most of my beta readers and critique partners through online writing forums (google writing forums for your genre), Twitter, Facebook, and writing blog.

      If you can form relationships and discover someone with similar tastes to yours, invite them to swap manuscript critiques. Most people are hunting for beta readers just as hard as you are!

  30. I thought I would let you know that I’m adding a link to this post on my next blog post as I am having my novella beta read. I think you make some great points in this post. If you do not want a link to this post on my post, I’ll remove it.

    Alice

  31. I think it’s also important for authors to be considerate of a beta reader’s time. Not just in the sense of being eager to hear back from readers, but also actually being READY for readers when you ask for betas. Last year I was beta reading for a few authors in exchange for their time as a beta for my own work. One author agreed to swap work with me and beta for each other.

    First, she asked me to join a Facebook group with the other betas for her manuscript (I was reluctant at first, but figured what the hell–maybe it’d be fun). Then, I waited well over two weeks for her manuscript, which I never got. She kept sending out mass emails to all her beta readers, saying she was waiting on her editor, waiting on this, waiting on that. At the time, I was on medical leave from work, so I had plenty of free time to read. After two weeks of waiting, I sent her an email to politely say that I couldn’t wait for her manuscript anymore, and explained that when I offered to beta, I was home from work and could afford the time. She never emailed me back to apologize or thank me for at least offering, but simply deleted me from the Facebook group she had me join and never spoke to me again. It just left a bad taste in my mouth.

  32. Jennifer Fazzone says:

    I would be most interested in becoming a Beta Reader.

    I have read the Outline and am genuinely interested.

    Feel free to contact me at your convince.

    Sincerely,

    J. Fazzone

Trackbacks

  1. […] K.M. Weillard has written a useful post for beta readers and authors. My beta readers so far have not needed any of her tips, bless them, but I’ll certainly follow her pointers for authors. […]

  2. […] UPDATE: Helping Writers Become Authors has compiled a great list of 10 rules for beta reader etiquette. […]

  3. […] UPDATE: Helping Writers Become Authors has compiled a great list of 10 rules for beta reader etiquette. […]

  4. […] like myself find the use of beta readers invaluable. Please read the link HERE and if interested, please […]

  5. […] A Quick Guide to Beta Reader Etiquette by K.M. Weiland […]

  6. […] K. M. Weiland. “A Quick Guide to Beta Reader Etiquette:” http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/beta-reader-etiquette/ […]

  7. […] A Quick Guide to Beta Reader Etiquette K.M. Weiland on beta reading. […]

  8. […] Marie Leyla recently re-posted this blog post on Beta Reader Etiquette and after reading it, I thought “okay, how about a beta reader’s side […]

  9. […] is your route of passage, then offer yourself as a beta reader for a good friend. I’ve found this article helpful in understanding beta […]

  10. […] The biggest block I encounter while reading these fresh novels is wanting to critique and copy edit. That’s not what a beta reader does. Here are some things to look over when you have a chance. http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/beta-reader-etiquette/ […]

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