A lot of writers get excited when they find a beta reader. They get so excited, a lot of them want to send you the whole book.
In my opinion, don’t let them. A good beta reader will have A LOT to say. To get the most out of your interaction, encourage writers to only send 1-3 chapters at a time.
I put that in my submission guidelines because being a good beta reader takes a lot of time, work and thought.
The first few chapters for instance– most of them are introductions. Ask yourself:
Are the characters realistic or believable this early on? They should be.
Does this world have a solid introduction? How about point of view and tense… any weirdness there? These things really matter at the being of a book. And I’ve seen manuscripts missing one or two of these first really basic things.
Let’s be honest, if a book doesn’t give us some context and people that we like reading… in my life reading published work… I would put the book down and never look back.
But as a beta, we can really help writers fix these problems before they become huge problems.
Taking a smaller number of pages also gives you the chance to ask questions the author may want the reader to be asking when they get to the end of a chapter and they can feel comfort that the right questions are being asked to further the story. Trust me, plenty of writers have just said “Keep reading it.” And that makes me smile every time they say that.
It’s also important to know whether or not you want to keep reading. Why get saddled with a WHOLE book you don’t like? Or isn’t your flavor? You should WANT to read it. Writers want you to want to read their work!
It will also be easier to give in depth analysis with less pages. And give the author the opportunity to take your feedback one step at a time.
Authors hate this process. They are so close to being done and sending it off to an editor or maybe even publishing that they just want to know, “Is it good?”
Authors shouldn’t fall into this pit. Betas can be SO helpful. Your betas should not be casual readers. Try and pull as much out of them as you can. So when your book comes out that target audience will be really pleased. It’s worth it in the long run.
This grueling chapter-by-chapter process will benefit everyone in the feedback department without anybody getting overwhelmed.
A beta may see stuff along the way that the author didn’t realize they did. Stuff that a general overview wouldn’t resolve.
Some examples that I have seen:
-Furniture in the wrong place or wrong style
-Clothes randomly changing mid scene
-Technology that I couldn’t see because it wasn’t described to me
-Characters that magically disappeared after being introduced once
-Character descriptions changing
-Sentences that interrupted my flow and I had to reread
-Point of view and tense changes
I hope that you get my drift here. A lot of these things wouldn’t be caught in a general overview.
Betas that rock would catch these things for the author. It shouldn’t just be for the opportunity to read a free book for them. I’d like to think that most betas really want to help authors find things that they may have missed in your book.
So, us inhabiters of the beta reading world… go forth and make books stronger, better, and more AWESOME!
Everyone will be the happier for it in the end, even if growing pains are well — painful.