I assume you found your way here because you want to become a greater beta reader.
That mindset is already a very good start; be it the next novel from your favorite writer, or a chance to swap manuscripts with an aspiring writer – if you’ve been rewarded with the honor to test read someone else’s carefully spilled soul, you’ll want to make a good and respectful impression, and hopefully even an impact on the final piece.
You’ve probably already received a list of things to think about from the author (if not, do ask them for one), but in the end, being a good beta reader boils down to three key traits.
1. They are timely
Writing a novel is hard work, harder than most people imagine. Even if you’ve got a great story to tell, putting it down in words requires a lot of diligence and stamina. When the manuscript reaches the your hands, the author has likely spent months, maybe years, on writing, polishing, and revising it. And their work is far from over; once you’ve shared your feedback with them, they will take it to heart, analyze it, and revise again.
So, the best service that you can give your author is to send them your feedback as soon as possible, ideally along the way as you finish reach chapter. A tip is to set up a weekly reminder, and if you realize that you for some reason won’t be able to commit, let them know.
2. They are honest
This one almost goes without saying, but I’ve struggled with this myself, and I know several writer friends who have experienced the same: readers who don’t quite like something about the story, but who (often inadvertently) conceal this in their feedback by talking only about the things they enjoyed.
There’s portably a good psychological term for this, but I like to call it feedback block, as it prevents me as a writer to get straight and honest feedback. As mentioned, I don’t believe that readers do this on purpose, but it’s just a part of being a human; we (well, most of us) subconsciously want to avoid hurting one another. The problem is that this behavior hurts the story in the end.
A solid tip to escape feedback block is to keep a record as you read. Note down whenever there is something that you particularly enjoy or dislike. Then send through the entire list, and/or use it as a base for discussion in your feedback meeting.
3. They are constructive
If you want to go the extra mile and really help your favorite author, try to be as constructive as possible in your timely and honest feedback. This one is probably the most demanding for you as a beta reader, but if you pull it off, you can really achieve magic together with the author.
A good role of thumb for being constructive is to always ask yourself why you enjoy or dislike something. In the end, that’s what the author will try to figure out when plowing through the timely and honest feedback that you’ve provided so far 🙂
Let’s illustrate with a couple of examples:
“I didn’t like how the MC’s mother died.”
Honest, but not constructive 😐
“I didn’t like the the MC’s reaction to their mother dying, it didn’t feel credible. I would recommend to either wait with that part (the mother dying) until we’ve gotten to know her and the MC well enough to understand the MC’s reaction, or to think about what it is you want to say with this chapter. Can the MC’s reaction be stronger?”
Honest and constructive 😊👌
Thanks for reading!