by Sharon S., guest blogger and beta reader
What is a beta? It is someone who reads over an author’s manuscript before they send it to their editor/publisher. The beta is that “fresh” set of eyes the author needs. They look for inconsistencies in plot, things that don’t make sense, awkwardness of dialogue/prose and tons of little detail things like a hair style that changes mid passage or if the author mentions the light from the moon after just saying it was early afternoon. Some betas can catch grammar, spelling and punctuation errors, but if you are good at that aspect then you are called an editor, and you get paid for doing it <G>.
Betas don’t get paid, at least I don’t. Usually the author will send you a copy of the finished book as a thank you and you do get to read the book before anyone else does, which, leads me to another thing a beta must do. Keep quiet. I would never tell people who I beta for and never divulge any material from the manuscript. This is the author’s baby and they have trusted you with it. My rule of thumb is, if the author publicly mentions you by name, then it is okay to for you too, but you never talk about the book until after the release.
How do you become a beta? A little luck, and paying attention. Some authors will solicit their fans for a beta. This is a great way for an author to find out how long time fans will react. I think having a beta that has never read your work is smart. This gives the author an idea of how a new reader will react.
I got my first beta offer when I sent some constructive comments and a suggestion that they use a beta to a new author. She was thrilled with my honesty and observations and asked me to beta her next book. I also hang around a lot of author blogs, and have built a report with many authors. I mention that I beta around the web, and sometimes an author will contact me. I currently, beta for 5 authors, and I just picked up one more yesterday <G>. She did an interview and mentioned needing some.
There are no set rules, but there are understood ones. Don’t talk about the book to anyone, duh! Don’t take it if you can’t give it your undivided attention. An author will tell you ahead of time it is coming. Make room on your calendar and get it done quickly. They are on a deadline and need your feedback.
I am not shy about saying that I am a damn good beta reader. I have a knack for it. I have a habit of breaking down what I read or watch (try watching a movie with me <G>). I am part critic and part cheerleader and very personable. It is easy to point out all the things wrong with a book, but you have to comment on the good too. If a passage is very effective at expressing emotions, I will say so. I give the author a running commentary of what is in my head as I read. I read pdf. files so I can make comments right in the manuscript, in red, of course <G>.
I use humor to point out problems. Authors have a lot invested in their story and you don’t want to go in and start tearing their house down. Most authors have a favorite word that pops up on about every page, like “gifted”. So I will make a comment that they sure do love this word and suggest picking a different one. Then every time I come across it I might say (you did it again <G>). My favorite comments are when the characters make me swoon. After a sexually tense passage I might comment (OMG, I want to lick his abs too!) or (Oh, No he didn’t!) The author wants to know what the reader is thinking, so I tell them.
I love beta reading. I don’t have the patience to write a novel, but I admire the people that do. This lets me sort of be involved in the process, and I get to feel like a doting auntie for my author when their book is released. Even though no one knows I am involved
Here is a look at what I do. I got permission from one of my authors, Elizabeth J Kolodziej (http://www.vampyrekisses.com/) to show some snippets from the manuscript of her latest release Werewolf Descent.
“But slayers might have better Intel about what the hunters are doing.” I stepped away from Mac (were her hands still on his shoulders?) and ran to my room. Up on a shelf in the closet I pulled out a little red address book (re order sentence, sounds like Faith is on the shelf). Swiftly I made my way back into the living room.”
“A plain black top (t-shirt?) that was a tad to tight and a pair of tan slacks. He kind of looked like a bodyguard, which was good for (considering?) the situation we were in.”
“He turned around. “Good.” He began walking back to me. “Baby doll, you are not going to regret learning from someone like me.”
“Stop calling me that. I am not your baby doll.” (I don’t like baby doll either. Doesn’t sound right coming from Vincent. Should be something more seductive and elegant)*”
*Elizabeth ended up using the Italian word for Faith, which is Fede as the term of endearment, and it is perfect for the character.