Beta Reader Do’s and Don’ts

This is from Patricia Wrede’s blog: Beta Reader Do’s and Don’ts

At the suggestion of a friend, whose Yuletide fanfic I am currently beta-ing, I’m going to talk about do’s and don’ts for beta readers. …  I have, at different times, beta-read stories for two different writers who have some degree of dyslexia. One of them absolutely wants their spelling, syntax, and punctuation corrected; homonyms, malapropisms, and questionable word choices flagged; and typos marked. The other emphatically does not want any of that—they are of the opinion that those things should be corrected in the penultimate draft, when there won’t be a lot of major changes that are likely to add a bunch of new typos and spelling errors.

Thence to a post about do’s and don’ts for beta reading, and it’s kind of an interesting topic. I’ve beta read for Sherwood Smith and others at BVC. I don’t think I’ve had anyone who emphatically does not want typos marked; but on the other hand, I’ve never beta read anything that wasn’t pretty clean.

In this post, Patricia Wrede is only looking at this from the beta reader’s pov, so even though I’ve said this before, here’s what I think an author might specifically ask for:

a) Character stupidity; plot stupidity

b) Plot too predictable

c) Anything seem too deus ex?

d) Any character ever do anything they wouldn’t do?

e) Do you ever feel confused?

f) Do you ever feel bored?

g) Do the characters and the relationships work for you?

h) Does the ending work for you?

That’s not meant to be a complete list, and what I personally ask specific readers to look at depends on their specific proclivities.

Character stupidity / plot stupidity? –> Craig.

Relationships? –> Mary Beth.

Plot/Pacing/Worldbuilding? –> Kim.

And so on. For me, I don’t want proofing at the beta stage. I don’t mind having typos pointed out at any stage because it’s completely impossible to overdo proofreading, so why not. But as far as I’m concerned, focusing on bigger issues is much, much more important during the beta stage. This is the stage where, after reading comments, I revamp the plot, combine two characters or swap their roles, change the age of a character, add direction and time cues for the reader, pull subtext up into text … big stuff.

I expect I’ll be asking various of you to beta read MARAG shortly. (You should always, always feel free to say no if you don’t have time or aren’t in the mood or whatever.) I think it’s going to be a clean draft, without a lot of important revision. We’ll see!

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1 thought on “Beta Reader Do’s and Don’ts”

  1. The thing about proofing is that all the spelling errors you find will probably vanish if you point out to the writer that a character’s motive is weak, and the writer had to rewrite the whole thing.

    Replaced by new errors, no doubt. It may be worthwhile to point out a systemic error, but not individual ones.

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