Monday, February 19, 2007

Is Being A Beta Reader Scary?

I wonder if I scared my friends.
Last June I approached several people to read my manuscript. I listed what I wanted them to check for as they read.

Grammar wasn’t on the list for most of them. I have one faithful beta whose grammar skills outpace most everyone else currently walking the Earth. Her instructions included “read it with a red pen.”
Mostly I wanted the readers to tell me if the manuscript made sense. Was it interesting? Engaging?
Did I contradict myself anywhere?
If you’d spent money to read this, would you demand it back?

I’ve discussed books with these people. I know they have opinions, strong ones, about what they read and that’s what I wanted.
I get that it’s difficult for most people to blurt out the brutal truth, but that’s what I was after. If I don’t know there’s a problem, how can I fix it?

I tried to get a good cross-section of readers. Some were new agey and aware of meditation and hypnosis, others not so much.
Red pen reader was happy to do it and, though kind, told me the truth. Most everyone else seemed reluctant. Many still did it, although one who initially agreed later said she didn’t have time to do it. Was it really a time issue, or did the manuscript bore her silly? I didn’t ask. Maybe I didn’t want to know.

If you read books, then you have an opinion on them. That’s my idea when I look for betas.
When I’m asked my opinion, I give it. I’ve occasionally tried to be kind about it, though I can’t really pull that off.
I’d rather hear the truth as it is than have anything sugar-coated. It’s what I’d like to get back, especially from betas.


Frank Baron said...

I think your first sentence may be close to the truth. How did you approach your friends? Some may have felt trapped into saying "yes" when they'd really rather have a tooth pulled.

Reading can, and for the most part should be, fun. But reading-for-a-critque is a lot closer to work and it can be particularly discomfiting when a friend is doing the asking.

I think you'll get more truth by joining a critique group, either online or in rl. And you might just save a few friendships to boot. ;)

Leah J. Utas said...

Thanks, Frank.
You've got a point. Several in fact.

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Marilyn said...

Heck, I sometimes have trouble being totally honest in my writer's group, and that's what we're there for.

I could see being hesitant if I was asked for that kind of feedback from a friend. I actually used to run into that a lot in university where I had a lot of friends in theatre, film, the visual arts, etc. No matter what they say, many people don't take criticism well, and it's scary to think that what you say in response to "So, what did you think?" could be the end of a friendship.

Which is not to say that you're one of those people who would take comments personally, but your beta readers might not feel like they know that for sure.

Talia Mana, Centre for Emotional Well-Being said...

I have no problem being honest but tact is not a virtue I possess...

I would strongly recommend joining a crit group. I think it's too hard for friends to be objective. Also a lot of people read and enjoy books without critiquely evaluating the flow of ideas and logic, the grammar, structure etc. In some cases they may want to be kind to you but in others they may simply not have the skills to give you the sort of feedback you need.

I'm not sure if your book is fiction or non-fiction but that does make a difference to the type of readers you want.

My other suggestion is to read the book aloud. I pick up errors that way. When you voice it you can tell where things don't make sense and pick up little grammatical errors.

P.S. I agree with Frank - some people would loathe being a crit reader. The effort and concentration required can be daunting, especially for a long ms.

Talia Mana, Centre for Emotional Well-Being said...

More thoughts

I hate being a crit reader because I'm so honest and if I'm going to be honest I'd have to say I'm also pretty cynical and critical about most of the books I read.

That makes me wonderful in terms of getting your book ship-shape but lousy in that it can be soul destroying; and not just for the writer. I get really distressed when I read ms with lots of problems.

It's something I struggle with when I review books. Some of them are just awful but the average punter would enjoy them. Jeffrey Deaver's books come to mind, in particular Cold Moon.

Leah J. Utas said...

Marilyn, thanks. I do get that it's difficult to be honest at times.
Talia, good points. I rarely read my stuff aloud, but I think it's time to do that. The downside is I write about hypnosis and meditation. I might be too tranquil to note any problems.

I sure do appreciate the feedback, everyone.

Talia Mana, Centre for Emotional Well-Being said...

Is it non-fiction? I find that reading aloud while pacing works to speed you up if you're feeling too mellow to pay attention to every little detail.

Talia Mana, Centre for Emotional Well-Being said...

p.s. If you lived in NZ I'd be inviting you to my crit circle. I'm sure it will be a really interesting book.

Good luck and have you looked at crit circle dot com? (I think that's the name)

Rattitude said...

The few times I have beat read for "real life" friends it has been a bit of a disaster in one way or another. There are a few great online places to let strnegers be *really* honest--I use