Detecting Red Flags: Before Choosing A Beta / Writer

I’ve spent a fair amount of time talking about submission guidelines and what kinds of things to look for while beta reading.

But, the other day, I realized that I had mentioned something in my Submissions, Feedback and Beta Reading Etiquette post —

I talked about the conversation you have BEFORE the whole process begins. How did I not think of this sooner?!

This doesn’t have to be a formal thing. For me, it usually isn’t. A lot of times I feel like my submission guidelines take care of a lot of the questions that a potential writer would have about my services.

However, there are times when someone discovers me somewhere online that isn’t my blog. They don’t know my guidelines. They just see my name and message me.

This article is about what I do in those situations. Hopefully, it will give people an idea about what kind of questions and observations to make in this situation.

Initial Contact

With my first batch of beta reading books, I posted on Goodreads. Posting on a popular forum is a good way for a beta reader to get started and I highly recommend this one in particular. They came pouring in compared to the other sites where I had posted.

This is a great place to post submission guidelines and what your process looks like, along with genre preferences, so the author knows if you’re their target audience.

I haven’t done this process with my own work as a writer. I know that there are writers that post on Goodreads and other forums looking for betas but I never sought out writers. Usually, my inbox is full of submissions to sift through. So, if any writers out there have posted and had success finding betas that way I would love to hear about it.

Assuming that the writer in question just saw my Twitter account, for instances, and decided to ask me to read their manuscript, I have a conversation with them before sending them through my submission process.

An Interview

My favorite interviews are really just conversations but this series of questions I’m presenting are just suggestions to help detect any red flags.

For Betas

  1. What is your book about? What genre?
  2. Where are you in your process?
  3. Do you have any deadlines? <insert your submission pace here>
  4. This is the stuff that I look for when I’m beta reading.
  5. How many pages is your manuscript?

For Writers

  1. How many pages do you accept at time?
  2. What kind of books do you like to read?
  3. How long before I can expect to receive feedback?
  4. What file format(s) do you accept?
  5. What kind of stuff do you look for when beta reading?
  6. Can I send you questions?
  7. Do you chat about feedback later?

I recommend that betas and writers alike do a trial run with this budding relationship. See how it goes with the first chapter. Even if both beta and writer would rather do the whole manuscript, it will just give you an idea about how reliable the person is.

The First Professional Exchange

Even if a beta is reading for free, treat it like a professional relationship with a colleague doing you a favor. That said, some people are helpful and some aren’t. This is different for everyone. But I think most of us are looking for something of a smooth running experience:

Was your beta/writer reliable and communicative?

  1. Ideally, the writer sends those first few pages
  2. The beta informs them of the deadline when the feedback will arrive.
  3. After that, the writer lets the beta know that they received the feedback.
  4. The writer notifies them of when they can expect the next batch of pages or the whole book. Or, in some cases, just sends the next pages.

I tend to appreciate forming a relationship with my writers.

Hearing “thanks” every week starts to make me feel like I don’t know if I’m even helping them or if they have any further questions. Don’t be afraid to ask a beta questions and then more questions. This is a valuable transaction for your book’s final touches, don’t waste the opportunity. I know I’ve said this before but I love talking about the books I’m reading.

Red Flags

If the transaction doesn’t go smoothly with the trial run. Get out early. You will save yourself a lot of grief, stress and frustration. Some examples that I have seen and heard:

  1. A beta is holding your book for months on end and you can’t get a hold of them
  2. The feedback isn’t helpful or respectfully given. There is constructive and destructive criticism out there and it’s up to you to decide if it’s helping you.
  3. A Writer isn’t respecting your process
  4. Disappears for weeks on end without any word

This is a glorious relationship but a bad fit is a terrible experience.

The sooner you can figure out if someone is a good fit for your process the better and less painful it will be in the long run. There are amazing people out there and I would like to think more good than bad.

Just think about the commitment that goes into this part of the process before jumping in with both feet.


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