Beta Reading, Writing

Help! I Need Feedback. Is it Morally Right to Write a Review if You’ve Beta Read the Book?

I’m in a moral quandary.  It’s come up before and I suspect that I will have this same dilemma in the future.  I’m NO expert, far from it, but I “occasionally” do a little Beta Reading on the side.  This is NOT something I advertise, as it is a HUGE time suck.  I’m picky who I read for.  I once saw something flippant written about Beta Readers.  I can’t remember where I read it, but it basically insinuated that Beta readers all hang out together, like we’re in some sort of club or something.  Seriously?  Like we all share the same “super secret” handshake, have nothing else going on with our lives, and are just itching to read any old dribble.

Beta Reading, at least the way I approach it, is LONG, arduous work.  When I Beta Read a book, at bare minimum, I go through the entire manuscript twice.  The first time through, I sit down and read the entire manuscript in ONE sitting.  If I can’t read it in one sitting, I wait until I’m not so busy, so I CAN read it all at once.  I’m looking for flow.  I’m looking to see how the plot unfolds.  I’m reading for the pleasure of it.  If it’s not well edited, I won’t Beta Read the story.  Period.  It ends there.  I’ve tried to read manuscripts that are so raw; it looks like they didn’t even bother with spell check.  I expect a few mistakes.  That’s normal.  But if I can’t get past Chapter One, I’m not Beta reading the entire novel.

On my second trip through, I use a program called NaturalReader, which reads the text out loud.  This is a FABULOUS tool, by the way, and FREE if you don’t mind working with limited voices.  Microsoft Sam and I go through the text together, line-by-line, in his boring, Vulcan-like voice.  This is incredibly tedious, and usually makes me want to go cross-eyed, but Sam is great for finding missed words, comma errors, and words that have been used incorrectly in a sentence.  Many times, I’ll go through chapters more than once, using Sam.

I write the majority of my notes during my second/third trip through.  I try to write the kind of feedback that I would like to receive.  What’s working, what isn’t, and ALL the editing stuff I found on my journey.  You’d be surprised.  This can be fun if the story was really well written.  On the flip side, I can feel my stomach gnawing away at me when I have to share thoughts that I don’t think the writer wants to hear.  I always think, “This person’s going to hate me.  They are going to throw bricks at me.”  Even if I do my best to couch the bad news, I’m always afraid I’ll lose a friend.  I usually send back 5-10 pages worth of notes, or more, but a lot of this is spacing, and I like to paste parts of the manuscript into my notes as reference.

I can EASILY work 20-30 hours on a Beta Read, more if I’m doing a “thorough” job.  No joke.  If the writer asks me to look over the manuscript again, after getting feedback from everyone, I will reread the ENTIRE novel, not just the chapters in question.  Most of the time, I drag out Sam, too.

Keep in mind; I don’t get paid for ANY of this.

Again, I’m picky over which authors I work with, so when I agree to Beta Read a manuscript, it’s a labor of LOVE, with a capital “L,” a halo, a wand, and a fluffy unicorn.  I care about the book in question, and more importantly, I care about the writer in question.  I’ve cut back a lot!  I only have a handful of cherry-picked writers that I do this for anymore, and I don’t mention their names, as I respect their privacy and friendships.  Maybe that’s the “super secret” part.  🙂

So why would I put myself through weeks of agony over someone else’s words?  Most of the time, I think it’s fun!  I’ve learned more from Beta Reading other people’s stories than from anything else I’ve done since I took up writing.  I seriously believe that if you want to be a better writer, be a Beta Reader.  I think ALL writers should Beta Read, from time to time, but that’s just my opinion.  I think Beta Reading other people’s manuscripts helps you get into the right frame of mind for editing your own.  I’ve heard people say that they don’t have time for reading when they become a writer, or that they don’t have time to Beta Read.  But honestly, I think they’re doing themselves a REAL disservice, if they don’t occasionally do a little of each.  I think reading other writer’s words keeps the mind sharp.  I love words.  It’s amazing to see the way other writer’s use them.

After spending weeks on someone else’s project, there’s NOTHING worse than getting NO feedback from the author, or nasty feedback.  I’ve had both happen to me.  No feedback is actually worse.  If I have to ask, “Did you get my notes?”  You’re officially on my naughty list!  I try not to take it personally, but it is what it is.  Over the years, I’ve dropped writers/authors who couldn’t play nice with me.  I try to be a helpful, supportive Beta Reader, but I do have a life, and you get what you pay for.  Did I mention that I don’t charge anything for this?  Enough said!  I suspect that most of these writers, haven’t wore a Beta Reading hat in a very long time, so they don’t realize the work that goes on behind the scenes.  I don’t NEED anything.  A simple, “Thank you,” works wonders.  When you work with a writer, it becomes obvious VERY quickly which ones still interact with us “little people” and which ones need a reality check.  I’m fortunate. Most of the writers in my social circles, are incredibly supportive and generous people.  You know who you are!  Hugs!!!!!  🙂

So, if everything goes well, the book comes out and is published.  Yay!  Is it OK for a Beta Reader, like myself, to write a review for said book?  My moral compass has always told me, NO!  I’m too close to the project.  I invest WAY too much time in the ones that I take on.  Sometimes I’m mentioned, by name, on the acknowledgements page.  Sometimes it’s written so vaguely, it could be about anyone, but I know it’s me.  Usually there’s a funny, “inside” joke to go with the vague ones.  I’ve helped work out plot ideas, and all sorts of craziness.  So even if I’m not mention by name, I can see a scene, and say to myself, “See that?  I sparked that idea.  How cool is that?”  Of course, my Beta Readers can do the same thing when they read my stuff, so it’s all part of the same fun.

I don’t mind telling my friends, “Hey!  You should check out so-and-so’s book!”  I don’t mind mentioning writers on my blog.  But if I Beta Read a story, it doesn’t feel right for me to write a review for the book because:

A)    Sometimes the finished book isn’t the same as the draft I was sent.  I’ve seen plots change.  NAMES change.  I’ve seen final manuscripts that are so different; they’re hardly the same book.  Sometimes I NEVER see the final version of said book, so I have NO idea if it worked out OK or not.

B)    I have seen authors SHREDED apart on Amazon, when the reviews appear to have all been written by the author’s friends and family.  What a nightmare!  I love promoting people and books I feel good about.  I would never want that enthusiasm to become misguided, and unintentionally, hurt another writer.

C)    I haven’t made an exception to my rule, for ANY writer, and if I made an exception for one, I’d feel as though I’d have to do a review for EVERY book I’ve ever Beta Read.  No!  No!  No!  No!  No!  I don’t want to go down that path.  It’s too scary!

D)    I stopped doing reviews once I got more serious about my own writing.  I don’t know why this is, but I think it goes back to the saying, “You don’t poop where you eat.”  (That’s the cleaned up version.)  I tend to err on the side of caution.

E)     I get too emotionally involved with the books I Beta Read.  I get too caught up in the characters, the authors, EVERYTHING.  I’m an emotional person.  I like getting inside the character’s heads.  I would feel as though I’d have to distance myself if I knew, later on, I also was expected to write a review on Amazon. etc.  I don’t want to do that.  It takes the fun out of things.  Above all else, Beta Reading SHOULD be fun!!!!!

What are your thoughts?  I’d like some feedback on this.  If you Beta Read for someone, how do you feel about writing their review?  Am I just crazy?  Does anyone else have a similar moral compass?  It feels wrong to me, but maybe there’s something I’m missing.

Thanks in advance, for all of your feedback.  I look forward to hearing an outside opinion on the matter.

Juli 

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8 thoughts on “Help! I Need Feedback. Is it Morally Right to Write a Review if You’ve Beta Read the Book?”

  1. Why is it morally wrong? Did you love the book? If so, then why can’t you say it in a review? You mentioned being emotional about a book. If that’s the case, then the book must be really good, so there’s nothing wrong with saying that, either. However…if you, personally have a moral dilemma about it, then you shouldn’t do it. It would be wrong for YOU. At the same time, you couldn’t tell me or someone else it was wrong for us to do it. Does that make sense? (And I just deleted a Biblical example from this comment because I just knew I would get slammed for what I was saying, so….) We all have to make judgments in matters like this. I have written reviews about books I’ve beta read, but I really liked the books and was not afraid to say so. I have beta readers who are authors and those who are not. The ones that are authors, I also beta read for them. But we don’t advertise the relationship. Partly because the review might look biased (which it isn’t…one of my beta readers gave me three stars, although the review itself was nice) and also so others won’t be knocking at our doors for beta reads. We can only do so much. 🙂 Bottom line…go with your own convictions about things like this. And don’t let anyone talk you into doing something you’re not comfortable with.

    1. I would have been COMPLETELY fine with you throwing a Biblical example at me. 🙂 Quote away!!!

      Thank you for your insight! This does make sense that it’s morally wrong for me, and perfectly right for you. It’s like drinking, or smoking, or swearing, or dancing. I have have no problems enjoying a glass of wine with a nice dinner, however, I have people in my life who don’t believe in EVER touching alcohol. I would never DREAM of drinking in front of someone who I knew felt that way, out of respect. At the same time, don’t tell me what I can or cannot do in my own home. I don’t think too many other people have this “review issue,” but this is why I wanted an outside opinion.

      The biased thing REALLY bothers me. I know what I like and what I don’t. I’m a big girl. I know how to write a review, but I’ve seen things turn REALLY nasty in a hurry when a reviewer turns out to be connected to the author in some way. It’s not right. It’s NOT fair. It shouldn’t be that way, but some of these forums LOVE to find ANY excuse to bring out the nasty. I think that’s the main reason I stopped writing reviews on any of these sites. The ones I’ve done in the past, are under a goofy screen name. 🙂

      I can say what I want on my own blog, within reason. I have NO moral qualms about that. But I won’t risk hurting another writer’s reputation by leaving a good review, only to have it backfire against the person. No matter how I look at the situation, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.

      Gesh! I’m complicated! LOL

      1. I can’t find the exact scripture that I’m looking for. But the way I was wanting to tie it in is this. If you believe the Bible speaks the truth, then you read it and can find places where specific sins are mentioned. So you know that stuff is morally wrong. But there’s a place in the Bible, and I can’t find it, where it says something about if you violate your own conscience, it’s also a sin. In other words, it might not be inherently wrong, but for you it would be. So if you feel something is morally wrong for you, you shouldn’t do it, but at the same time, you can’t hold others to the same standard if it’s not really a “sin”. Does that make any sense?

        1. I think you “might” be referring to Romans 14. I’d list a verse, but the entire chapter talks about this.

          *I have 5 of 6 different translations of the Bible on hand, along with MANY other books on various religions and beliefs. I enjoy studying world religions, seeing commonalities, etc. Like I said before, you won’t offend me with scripture. 🙂

  2. multi subject blog = multi subject comment.

    Though I may be giving away the secret (I hope not :p) yes, you are an awesome beta reader! In fact, the queen of the beta readers, if I may say so 😉 and that natural reader program is also very handy!

    as for reviewing, I think it just depends on what bothers you. I know I don’t have issues with people who beta for me leaving reviews or with leaving reviews for people I beta read for. I just read an article yesterday about how a huge percentage of book reviews on amazon even for traditionally published books are done through PR firms, so I certainly don’t feel bad about poking a friend or relative who has read the book (i’m not so desperate as to go soliciting things from people who haven’t – PR firms or not, LOL!) and saying “hey, leave me a review!” and I have also left reviews for friends’ books – if I liked the book (or more likely if I got around to it. I am notoriously terrible about that because I always want to say something witty or intelligent which takes awhile to formulate) I know I need to do more reviews because i know how hard they are to get on Amazon for some reason (B&N seems much freer with them, maybe because they allow anonymous? not sure. Someone should study this!) But that’s me.

    It’s like the subject of stars. I’ve seen people nearly bloody one anther’s nose over this. (figuratively speaking) because some people who won’t leave more than a three star review unless it’s “epic, classic literature”, meanwhile, people like me will go “yeah, I liked it – 5 stars!” I admit, I m free with stars, but it someone else isn’t then that’s their choice. We all have different ratings systems.

    But anyway, as what is right for you, you should do what feels right to you. You’re the one who has to face yourself in the mirror everyday, no one else.

  3. Thanks Jo! *blushes*

    More sites should allow for anonymous reviewing! What’s the point of a PR firm reviewing a book? Shoot! THAT makes my moral compass scream!

    I “was” a 4 and 5 star gal, back when I did leave reviews, but I never went by my real name. 😉 But that was then, and this is now. Even then, I ONLY reviewed books that I had NO involvement in, whatsoever.

    I KNOW that it’s difficult to get reviews. I GET that. That’s why I wish that I WASN’T having this moral dilemma. I can’t talk myself into seeing things differently either. I just…can’t. I don’t have a problem with OTHER people doing whatever feels right for them. I wish I COULD talk myself into seeing this situation in another light. I WANT to feel differently. Does that even make any sense? It’s like the more I try to convince myself that it’s OK, the louder my conscience says, “NO. It’s not.” I kind of hoped that an outsider would say something profound, and I’d have an epiphany or something, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Bah! This must be a weird, Juli kind of thing. I also feel TERRIBLE if I accidentally steal a pen from someone, and I NEVER take a penny from the take-a-penny dish you sometimes see on counters at checkouts…so there you go.

    I think my BIGGEST fear is stems from seeing other authors SHREDDED apart, because it appears as though all their family and friends wrote the reviews. I HATE disappointing people, anyways. But if I hurt someone I cared about by leaving a good review…it would be too much for me to handle. It may be a ridiculous fear, but it’s mine, and it’s SOOO real, it’s almost become phobic in nature. Every time someone even “hints” that I should review a book I Beta Read, I get so worked up with guilt and fear, I feel ill. It’s stupid! It’s like people who are afraid of speaking in public, or people who are afraid of crowds, except I’d GLADLY stand up and talk to an audience that I CAN see, before I’d write a review on Amazon, for a book I’d Beta book I’ve read.

    Geez! I’m looking at my own words, and they ARE crazy. OY!

    1. I’ve heard of that happening – the shredding thing – though never seen it myself. I had someone reply to a negative review on one of my books and the person who had posted the negative review shot back with “are you her sister?” which I found funny as a- I have no sister and b – I don’t think I even knew the lady who made the comment at the time (i do now, LOL!) I think it’s interesting that people will automatically assume that… unless it’s a traditionally published author and then, well… *rolls eyes* But there was never a fight or anything of that nature. I guess I am too small time to drop into that or else I have enough random reviews – and bad reviews, LOL! – to escape that. In fact I once read somewhere that as an author we should try to solicit at least one bad review (seriously!!) to make the reviews look “real”… it’s nuts the lunatic drivel people obsess over with this publishing stuff!

      The point of the PR reviews is of course to make buzz, but I know Indies who do this same thing (on a smaller scale) because so many sites require ten plus reviews to publicize your book or a certain star rating – one I saw required twenty – (which I find a bit annoying. I mean I understand hey don’t want to advertise something crappy, but if they are worried about attaching their name to the recommendation them perhaps a “only books I’ve read” needs to apply. Otherwise a “I haven’t read this and can’t endorse it, but I want to pass on that it exists” would surely work just as well… but then again, that’s me, not them, LOL!) and some people get desperate. Personally, I figure life goes on. If I don’t have enough reviews to post to their site then so be it. I will publicize elsewhere. There are plenty of places. 😉

      Oh geeze! Well you shouldn’t let it upset you so much for your own sanity! (says the person who has a similar reaction when faced with talking on the phone) so as one lunatic with unreasonable fears to another – cheers 😉

      and PS – don’t ever feel pressured to review my books. I’d hate to think you were being upset by it!

  4. My main beta reader did review my story. I don’t normally review books but if someone reviews a book the’ve betaed but doesn’t say that, it’s prob ok. Someone I know just published a short story. I was really looking forward to it. I purchased it and read it and threw it down in disgust. It did not deliver. However the review of the story said all the things the writer had hoped to accomplish in the telling of the tale. Like the author wanted this philosopohicla important intelligent write but in fact it was, excuse my french, crap. The review raved about it but I don’t think the reviewer and I read the same story. When you’ve betaed a story or a novel, you know it at least if not better than the author. that knowledge should not be revealed in the review. Just review what was published not what the author intended. Hope that makes sense. the heat has gotten to me

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