Do people deliberately decide to become a beta reader?

Both the linked posts are from the blog Write to Done. They’re obviously related, but it’s the first that puzzles me. I can see someone saying, “You know what, I bet I could make a decent second career out of freelance proofreading.” I can also see someone saying the same thing about freelance editing. But beta reading? That seems like … like … like deciding to be an amateur unpaid editor, when I sort of thought people mostly fell into beta reading. Or else traded beta reads with another author.

Here’s the post:

Beta Readers: 5 Skills To Become A Fantastic Help To New Writers

If you want to become a beta reader, the great news is, you’re not far away from this dream. Beta readers are an integral part of a writer’s process, and while they are most commonly associated with newer writers, you may get to try your hand at beta reading for an established author at some point.

A beta reader is a person who commits to reading a book before publication with the purpose of providing feedback for the writer. If an author asks you to beta read their book, you will need to focus on finding: 

  • Typos
  • Plot discrepancies 
  • Characterization issues 

You will also need to read the book as a reader. This acts as a mock test for the writer. If you find characters engaging, tell them so. If a particular character drives you crazy, the author needs to know this as well. 

I disagree about the first of these. Spotting typos, while a nice perk, is absolutely not the same thing as beta reading. If someone is focused on finding typos, I think that makes it much harder (MUCH HARDER) to look at bigger things, such as plot discrepancies and characterization.

Plot and characterization blur together, of course; one of the things that always catches my eye when I am beta reading for someone else is a character who does something that is out of character or that does not make sense in order to push the plot along. Particularly if the character is acting stupid in a way that is not in character. “Character acting stupid” is certainly something I want beta readers to point at for me. People who beta read NO FOREIGN SKY caught various plot details that did not make sense. That was definitely helpful.

This post contains tips about how to become a beta reader for an established author. Some apparently have an actual application. There are also tips on how to find a beta reader if you have completed a manuscript.

Have I mentioned how much I appreciate everyone here who beta reads for me? I appreciate you very much! If any of you ever want me to beta read for you, just ask! I will find the time!

I appreciate proofreaders very much as well, as I’m sure you all realize because I post about proofreading pretty often when getting close to a release date.

I find that if I proofread the manuscript myself half a dozen times in three different formats AND at least four other people read the manuscript AND at least one of those people is either Hanneke or Linda S (preferably both), THEN readers will still send me emails the first week after the book is released, pointing out about half a dozen more typos. Inclusive, at least, rather than each.

People have not found very many typos for TASMAKAT, far fewer than I expected. I cut that manuscript HARD twice, which involves very close reading, so maybe I actually cleared out a larger proportion of typos than usual. But everyone is finding SOME typos.


How to Become A Proofreader In 5 Steps (Even As A Beginner)

Whether you want to be a proofreader on the side or want to turn it into your career, this article will cover the basics of proofreading and everything you need to know about how to get your foot in the door.

Proofreaders typically focus on fixing punctuation, grammar, and any other sentence structure issues. They usually don’t focus on fixing the larger issues of a piece and instead just make sure it is free of any essential errors.

Exactly. Punctuation, grammar, and syntax. Also glaringly obvious continuity errors or logical flaws, but those are extra. It’s really punctuation, grammar, and syntax. Missing words. It’s astoundingly easy to read a word that isn’t there, over and over, through many proofreading iterations.

Some people have much more of a knack for proofreading than others. I’m about average. I will ALWAYS see effect/affect and lay/lie and “and I” vs “and me” errors. For those, I have extra-sharp radar. But I can read over a missing word without noticing and fail to see “has” when it should obviously be “had” — that is a particular issue lately. I mean, in my own work. I would probably catch most of those errors in someone else’s manuscript. But I still think I’d be toward the average side of good at proofreading. Hanneke and Linda S. have much more of a knack than I do.

I do think probably everyone here could be a pretty decent proofreader, though. If you want to see how your skill stacks up, here’s a proofreading quiz. I scored 8 out of 10, but I think I was stylistically right about one of those. Oh, here’s another one at the Grammarist blog. This one is too easy and also too much about theory and not enough about practice, imo. Who cares that the standard form of a sentence is subject-verb-object? The point is to catch errors, not look for nonstandard sentences. There are lots of quizzes online that purport to test proofreading skills, it turns out. Here’s another. I think this one offers the most relevant questions for checking proofreading skills.

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12 thoughts on “Do people deliberately decide to become a beta reader?”

  1. I have beta read several novels but only proofread one. I enjoyed the proofreading more than doing the beta read, Bc I don’t like being critical of an author’s characterizations or noting plot discrepancies, I’d rather be immersed in the novel. With the proofreading, I enjoyed reading slowly— it was nice to be able to comment on specific images that were particularly lovely, or episodes that were especially moving. Not sure if I was that helpful with the typos, tho.

  2. Um, yeah. I beta-read to help out friends or authors I like. It’s not something I grew up dreaming about! I mean, I get it as a hobby choice–it’s fun and useful–but if I wanted to be really serious about it, I’d be marketing myself more vigorously as a freelance editor and making some money (grin). I swear, articles like this just take all the fun out of doing things for fun!

    And, yeah, proofreading is a completely different thing. I’ve never proofread an entire novel (except my own) because that level of detail is enervating to do for anything longer than a short story as a favor (grin).

    That said, my writing group has my full novel in their hands to read this week, and I’m both eager and nervous about what they’re going to critique when we meet in a couple weeks!

  3. Good luck, Deb, I hope everyone gives it an enthusiastic thumbs up even if they have quibbles around the edges!

    Yes, you put that just right — no one dreams about beta reading, if they want to do editing seriously, then they think about it as editing, not beta reading!

    I’m mostly with Alison BUT I’m also thinking of times when I have written vehement comments to authors now and then, WHAT THE HELL?? comments when something didn’t work for me at all, and I hope that was helpful. I know one of them revamped that scene substantially and I do think that was a major improvement.

    Having someone note discrepancies can be stunningly useful. Hey, there’s a window right there, why can’t he look through it and see what’s happening? is a VERY useful recent comment. I hate to think of letting something like that get into the final version.

    Also, Alison, having a reader get so involved in the story she forgets to comment for like three hundred pages is pretty flattering!

  4. I’d like to try beta reading at some point, but I don’t have enough free time or mental bandwidth to do much critical thinking outside work right now. I hope that changes.

  5. The last book I beta read, there were SO many discrepancies like that window example. I felt like 80% of my notes were things like, “I thought they just walked up a flight of stairs, how are they back on the ground floor?” “If the carriage is going to break away from the horses and crash, leaving the driver behind, how is he sitting behind the carriage?” Between that and his inability to properly use a comma-quotation mark-dialog tag (“It’s right there.” He said.) throughout, I was ready to tear my hair out by the end!

    At the very least, I’m confident there won’t be many typos/grammatical errors in my mss. (It’s impossible that there won’t be any, but I don’t expect a LOT.)

  6. Well, I have to admit, I detest,

    “No, look, it’s right there.” He said.

    types of errors. I can’t understand why the author doesn’t pick up ANY NOVEL in the world, ANY NOVEL AT ALL, and look and see how the dialogue is punctuated. This is very basic stuff. Every novel this person ever read in his life has dialogue punctuated correctly (I assume). How is it even possible to think it’s right to capitalize the dialogue tag?

  7. Grammar and spelling errors only get mentioned in critiques with major plot or character issues if I see a systemic issue.

    Otherwise, the writer will have to rewrite anyway to handle the big issue, and then the errors will be replaced with new ones. This is why you should write from big issues to small. Also, you should organize your notes so as to make your points clear. As in, “The beginning led me to believe this would be an epic fantasy, not a cozy,” instead of your reaction at the time about the hints.

    Also, if you criticize grammar, GET IT RIGHT. In particular, “passive voice” does not mean that not much is happening, and “run-on sentence” does not mean “very long.”

  8. I have never dreamed about beta reading *in general*; rather, I’ve very much enjoyed beta-reading for authors whose work I’ve already loved, and whose next work I want to see & help shape, either at the pro or fanfic level. I know in some fanfic communities it’s absolutely a thing to offer your services as a beta generally; I couldn’t do it. Without a pre-existing relationship it’s not a labor of love, it’s just labor!

    I’ll point out typos if I see them while beta-reading just because it takes 5 seconds and I wouldn’t want them to be missed later, but I do generally try to focus on “is this story/character/scene working for me”—which means lots of cheerleading in the comments to point out things that DO work, as much as things that don’t! I also find your “this is what I want you to look for” letters SO helpful, because it really sharpens my focus going into the story (and my feedback afterward).

  9. Mary Catelli, that’s all very good advice! I have never yet had anyone tell me “This is passive voice,” but I would ignore that, because if it’s passive, you can assume I want it to be passive. And yes, passive does NOT mean “not much is happening” far less “this is actually ordinary past tense with an implied subject.”

    My mother marks comma splices. She’s always right: they are comma splices. Normally I want them to be there, but every now and then I “fix” one because on consideration I decide maybe that particular comma splice is not a good idea.

  10. Mary Beth, as you know, I always want feedback from you about relationships and characters. That’s probably where you tend to want to focus anyway, and I know if a character works for you, or a relationship moment works for you, then it works the way I want it to! That’s not always something I’m sure of until I get your cheerleading comments!

  11. Rachel, that question on how he could possibly be getting the dialogue tag wrong so often crossed my mind a LOT! An occasional one from a typo or because you edited something and missed the cap, sure, but you can tell the people who know what they’re doing and made innocent mistakes and the people who just don’t know at all. Or don’t care! (shudder–how is that even possible?)

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