Thursday, April 12, 2012

How to Become a Beta Reader (4 Ways)

After last week's post on "How to Find Beta Readers", Kristi N mentioned that she beta reads to keep her skills sharp for her own work. She also asked:

Question on the flip side of finding beta readers . . . how does one volunteer to be a beta?

Good question, Kristi. I answered in a comment—but I realized it, too, needed to be expanded and addressed in a blog post. :)

4 Ways to Become a Beta Reader

  1. Offer to beta read for a writer you're already acquainted with.
  2. Pros: Since you already know the person, you should already have some idea how they'll handle critique, and maybe even what their weak points are as a writer. You might already know some of what the person writes, too, to know if it interests you. If it isn't a genre you usually read, sometimes just knowing someone is enough to get you to try reading a genre you aren't already familiar with. (For example, I had a classmate in high school who hated fantasy but loved A Fistful of Fire.)

    Cons: Since you already know the person, expressing potential interest in being a beta can get you swamped with titles or destroy the relationship, if the other person takes things personally. The other person might also expect you to be interested in and/or like 100% of what they write.

  3. Find some writers who interest you in the blogosphere and keep your eyes peeled. Even published ones will sometimes put calls out for betas on their blogs, Facebooks, or Twitter feeds. You could also try e-mailing someone you're interested in to ask if they need a beta buddy.
  4. Pros: You can watch the person on the blogosphere and have some idea of their personality and ability to take critique before volunteering. There's no face-to-face contact, which can make it easier emotionally on both the writer and the beta. Also, because you're the one approaching the writer, you can specifically ask to beta a project you're interested in reading.

    Cons: If the relationship goes south, the Internet-savvy person might attempt a smear campaign. Also, misunderstandings are more likely in online communication than in face-to-face communication, because text doesn't convey tone of voice or body language. If the critique is in a forum or site where other members can see it, you might also be attacked by other readers who see the critique—even if the writer's perfectly fine with your input.

  5. Hang out in the "critique" sections on forums that promote work sharing. (On a lot of forums, these sections require a password and/or special membership, because otherwise anyone who posts their work in the forum is giving up first rights.)
  6. Pros: The community's (presumably) built upon critique, and the members will (presumably) be professional about the giving and receiving of it.

    Cons: The community might presume wrong about its goals and professionalism. It might not offer the kind of critique you need, or it might have members whose idea of "critique" is to rip your work to shreds and rebuild it in their own writing styles. The community may not have members representative of the intended audience for your work.

  7. Visit a free-to-post site like or even a fan fiction site.
  8. Pros: Lots of stories to pick through, so you can probably find something you want to read. If you want to give a specific kind of critique, you can probably find that, too.

    Cons: Lots of stories to sift through, with poor grammar and sentence structure and such. Lots of immature writers who will ask you for critique then pitch a fit if you give it, or who will see you giving someone else critique and come after you for it. You will come under attack, if you pursue this route.

  9. Pay-to-post sites aren't worth signing up for.
  10. They attract the professional critic—the kind of people who will mock you for "misspelling" the word fairy as faerie and give you all-around idiotic advice. ("No, don't have your older, proper, mature woman say 'Came with child'! Have her say 'Knocked up!'")

    For the record, I do appreciate the experience of having been on a pay-to-post site—thanks, Grandma and Grandpa—but I strongly advise against others doing it in the hopes of getting or giving critique.

Warning about Volunteering as a Beta Reader:

Writers can be a fickle lot. How many of us have politely pointed out a plot inconsistency 20 chapters into someone's work-in-progress and had the writer and other readers of the story lambaste us for "hating the story"? *raises hand*

Or encountered a writer who claimed to want "honest" feedback but got defensive and tackled and verbally attacked when we gave it? *raises hand*

Or gave a friend the critique she requested and have her not talk to us again until we managed to approach her and figure out what we'd said wrong, and until she accepted our explanation of where we were coming from (assuming she let you smooth things over)? *raises hand*

Or given requested critique on a story only to have the author (or another reader) troll and trash our own story or stories? *raises hand*

If your hand isn't raised, just wait. If you beta heavily, you'll probably end up encountering situations like those, particularly if you don't screen the writers before offering to beta read.

A sign that the writer isn't ready for a face-to-face critique: The writer calls their writing their "baby". Even if the writer uses the term in depreciating good humor, the anthropomorphizing of the story suggests that the writer might take critique of the story as critique of themselves.

…And all this gives me an idea for another related post, "Beta Reading Etiquette" (or: "Beta Reading Techniques to Use to Avoid Ticking Off Writers"). Anyone interested?

What method do you like using for finding writers to beta? Have any beta-reading stories to share (identifying details redacted, please)?


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