6 Tips to Help You Be a Better Beta Reader

This is the first installment in a two-part series on beta reading tips for readers and writers.

If you’re a writer, you know that one of the most important parts of the process comes after you’ve finished your manuscript, and before you start querying and pitching: it’s the magical world of beta reading. And if you’re part of a writers’ community, chances are you have been asked by a colleague to beta-read for them.

There are few things more rewarding than helping a writer sharpen their story. As a beta reader, you feel like you’re part of their journey to publication.

If you have accepted the responsibility of beta-reading, consider the following tips to make the most out of the process for yourself and the writer.

  1. Don’t take on projects you don’t have time for. Beta reading takes time and focus. When someone invites you to beta read for them, ask what the manuscript’s total word count is, by when they hope to have your feedback, and what depth and type of feedback they are looking for. Then be brutally realistic with your schedule. If your availability aligns with the writer’s timeline – great. If not, you’re both better off if you say “no,” or agree to check back in at a later time.
  2. Ask questions. Every writer is different, and they may be sharing with you a second, third, or fourth draft that has already been through a few rounds of readers. Questions to ask include: What type of feedback are you looking for? Big-picture reflections on whether the story arcs work, if the characters are well-developed, whether there are any logical breaks or glaring inconsistencies? Line-by-line feedback on the prose, dialogue, world-building details, etc.? All of the above?
  3. Practice compassion. None of the other tips matter if you don’t follow this one. When someone shares their writing with you, they make themselves profoundly vulnerable. Be respectful of the writer’s effort and the trust they have put in you.
  4. Be honest. Compassion doesn’t mean lying about your opinion. In fact, the opposite is true: compassion means sharing your honest assessment of the writing, because if you hold back, the writer won’t get the benefit of your insight, and that’s precisely what they’re looking for.
  5. Be courteous. Sometimes, you have to deliver hard truths. How you deliver those truths is just as important as the substance of your comments. Take the time to craft a message that is real, honest, and helpful. You want the writer to receive your feedback and think, “This may be unpleasant to hear, but it’s helpful and will make my story stronger.”
  6. Give positive feedback. It can be easy when you’re beta reading to focus on the things that need work – after all, you’re there to help make the story stronger. But you’re also there to highlight what works. Be sure to note the things you like, and do it consistently throughout the manuscript.

I hope these tips – drawn from my own experience as a beta reader – help you make the most of out your readings.

Yours truly, one word at a time,