Being a beta reader
I have been volunteering more frequently to beta read for other people. I do this because beta readers were very helpful when I was writing my book. In addition, it is important to build relationships in the community on Goodreads, Amazon, and other book and literature sites.
Beta reading has its challenges. Much of the writing is much rougher than I had expected. I'm no Shakespeare, but many aspiring authors have not yet mastered many basic principles of spelling, grammar, and punctuation. I try not to be overly critical, as people need to start somewhere. I do tell the authors I will be honest. I expect no less from my own beta readers.
I have noted two different responses from authors. I always try to offer positive viewpoints along with the negative, as well as suggestions for improvement (with the caveat that these are only my opinions.) Some take it very well and work to improve. Some never talk to me again.
I have read articles from editors as well as famous authors (Orson Scott Card, specifically) who refuse to beta read/review work for people, or at least are very selective. They claim the issue that many writers become defensive and even belligerent when their work is criticized. I find this sad. I know criticism can be hard to take, especially when it's about regarding something on which you have spent a lot of effort and time. While I'm pleased that most of my beta reviews were positive, it wasn't all, and that didn't bother me. Here's why:
1) Honest feedback lets you peer at your potential market. Chances are, other readers will feel the same way as your beta reader, and you aren't going to be there to defend yourself. This suggests a reason to find multiple beta readers, however: one opinion my be an outlier. If you have several beta readers, and many criticize the same points, you likely have a legitimate problem. If only one or two express such a concern, you can get a feel for market segmentation. In my case, I had a couple people that really didn't like Kyla (my protagonist) at the beginning of the story. Most did. I realized there would be a division among readers, but as the majority were happy with her I didn't make too many changes to her character development.
2) Toughens you up! You will be criticized when you release a book. Perhaps harshly. Even J. K. Rowling took a sound beating from Harold Bloom over 'Harry Potter'. Might as well get used to taking the knocks.
3) It's how you learn! I notice a lot of the people I read for use comma splices. They have never heard of comma splices. Thus, when I point it out, they know what they are and can make educated choices on usage. I also learn things from my beta readers. For example, I often neglect sensory details outside of sight (ie. smell, etc) when describing environments. My characters often don't emote enough. Because of criticism, I know this and can make conscious efforts to address these issues.
There are probably more reasons but it's late and I want to go to bed. Anyway, by advice is, be honest yet thoughtful reviewing other people's work, and when receiving criticism, detach yourself emotionally so you can assess the feedback with a level head. You don't need to accept all criticism, but you need to be able to make intelligent decisions regarding what changes may need to be made to your story.
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Bryant Reil currently resides in Kelowna, BC. Recent accomplishments include completing a Master's degree, and having finished two books, Elf Mastery and Elf Doubt. The third book, Elf Righteous, is underway.