I’ve talked before about the importance of beta readers. Basically, it’s necessary for you, as an author, before you pay for a professional editor and send your book off to agents, to send your manuscript to a few readers for critique. This will give you a good idea of how other people feel about your book and also hopefully allow you the chance to receive constructive feedback.
So that’s why those types of readers are important. But what if YOU are asked to be such a reader? How do you begin offering feedback? The following suggestions are by no means the only way to go about it, but if I were asked to be a beta reader, this is what I’d do:
Don’t focus on minor details
Keep in mind that you’re not looking for commas or periods. Leave that to the editor down the road. Don’t worry about catching every comma splice or missing article. Yes, an extra eye on the book is always good, but right now you’re going to be the most helpful if you are able to focus on the bigger picture. If the author ends up rewriting a large chunk at this stage, your hard work moving periods around is wasted.
Do think about initial reactions
Being able to offer your initial reactions about different scenes is invaluable. For example: What did you think of the opening paragraph or chapter? Did it make you want to keep reading? What did you think of the dialogue? Did it sound realistic? What about the scene where the woman is being chased? Was it scary?
Think of it this way: Let’s say the book begins with a suspenseful opening chapter about a serial killer. The author thinks this is frightening and realistic. But as you read, you start laughing because it all sounds fake and isn’t scary at all.
I realize that’s an exaggerated example, but the point is that when you go back and tell the author that you weren’t scared, it will help the writer know that they need to do more work on the opening scene in order to get the reaction they’re hoping for.
In like manner, as a reader you should think about how you feel about characters, plot, the climax and resolution. The author might not (probably won’t, in fact) make changes based on everything you say, but understanding a reader’s initial reaction is going to be helpful for them.
Do think about positives
A critique doesn’t have to be only negative. That’s why it’s called constructive critique. As a beta reader, you can’t go back to the author and have only negatives things to say. Well, you can, but I don’t think you should.
There is going to be something good about the book, even if that something is as broad as a creative plot or an interesting title. I’m not saying you should lie and go on and on about how wonderful it was when you actually thought it was terrible. What I am saying is that while you’re looking for things to adjust, you should also be looking for things that worked, things you liked. That means the author is doing something right, and offering positive feedback lets the writer know where they’re on the right track.
I mentioned this in the previous point, but when offering critique, don’t lie. You are not doing anyone any favors by telling them you liked something if you didn’t. This is particularly difficult if you are being asked to read a book by someone you know, especially if it’s a member of your family. But however difficult it might be, you should not be afraid to give an honest evaluation. They might not react kindly at first, but hopefully they will soon realize that you are doing them a good service by giving them an honest critique.
Have you ever been asked to be a beta reader?
What advice do you have to add?
Anything you disagree with me about?