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.