|Everyone has a different Beta style|
( Image Credit: onetwo )
Things I've Learned While Betaing
What the heck is betaing?
There are many definitions out there, this one from FanFiction is quite common, and you can explore further discussions on AW. Simply put, beta reading means critiquing (or as some like to put it "critting") another author's yet-to-be published work, and providing the author with feedback. Sounds simple, but guess what ...
News Flash! Not everyone betas the same way!
Amazing revelation huh? Well it's true, and its important to realize up front, especially if you or the person you're betaing for wants things done a certain way. After several betaing experiences, I learned some key things about the way I beta. I tend to focus on big picture issues, not grammar and punctuation, I am nit-picky about logic and science, and I am very, very picky about romantic subplots. Most romantic relationships will simply annoy me, and there's nothing worse than an annoyed beta reader in the middle of a manuscript. It's right up there with an annoyed elephant in a watermelon patch.
So after my betaing experiences, I've come up with a handy-dandy list of questions to ask myself and my beta partner before swapping (there is also a nice thread over at AW on what writers want from their beta-readers.).
So, How Do You Beta?
Style: Line-by-line edits, or summarized commentary? Or both?
Some people use Microsoft Word's' "Track Changes" and "Comments" features to do detailed line-by-line edits. Some simply email their general reactions at the end of each chapter. Others (like me) prefer a hybrid of the two.
Focus: What do you tend to hone in on when critiquing someone else's work? What do you feel comfortable commenting on? Plot? Characterization? Pacing? Voice? Punctuation? Spelling? Grammar/Sentence structure? The whole she-bang? Are you stronger or weaker in any of these areas? Do you have any pet-peeves?
Preferred Genres: Which genres do you prefer to read and critique? Adult? YA? Fiction? Non-fiction? Contemporary? Literary? Fantasy? Sci-Fi? Historical? Dystopian? Steampunk? Romance? Mystery? Horror? Religious? Are there genres don't want to read?
Timeframe: How long is your typical turn around time for a manuscript you're reading? Obviously this is approximate, but it will give your potential beta-swappee a general idea of whether you're talking a chapter a month, or three chapters a day.
Swap Process: How do you want people to contact you? Email? PM? How will you decide whether or not to continue with the beta-swap? Will you swap a writing sample first? What length?
Feedback Process: How do you want to receive feedback? In the text using MS Word's review features? Summarized in an email? How often do you want to receive feedback? One time - at the end of the manuscript? Often - at the end of each chapter?
Deadlines: If someone is reading your manuscript, and you are on a deadline to finish edits, tell them! Be very clear about this. I learned this the hard way when I was not aware that someone I was betaing for was on a deadline. They started sending harried emails wondering where their manuscript feedback was, meanwhile I was out of town, oblivious to their panic!
Expectations: What do you expect from those who read your manuscript? What type of beta do you want them to be? What do you want them to keep an eye out for? What do you expect from those you beta read for? A beta swap? A simple thank you?
Some of these things might seem obvious: "Well of course doesn't everybody do/want XYZ?" The answer is no, my friend. So take a few minutes and have yourself and your beta partner answer these questions. Pin down how you tend to beta and what you expect from your beta readers. Better yet, post your responses on your "Willing Beta Readers" profile on AW! If you haven't beta'd before, do it! It is a great experience, not only as a way to give back to the writing community but to learn about what makes or breaks a manuscript. Try it!