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Friday, August 5, 2011

Beta Readers Wanted

A beta reader is a person who reads a written work, generally fiction, with what has been described as "a critical eye, with the aim of improving grammar, spelling, characterization, and general style of a story prior to its release to the general public."
The author or writer, who can be referred to as the alpha reader, may use several "betas" prior to publication.  The term "beta" is an appropriation from the software industry which uses the terms "alpha" and "beta" for software that are internal works in progress and publicly released tests, respectively (though a "beta" version may still be tested internally).  While the use of the concept and the term is commonest among fan fiction writers, it is growing in popularity with novelists, to the point where some have thanked their beta readers (sometimes even referring to them as such) in their acknowledgments.  A beta reader, who may or may not be known to the author, can serve as proofreader of spelling and grammar errors or as a traditional editor, working on the "flow" of prose. In fiction, the beta might highlight plot holes or problems with continuity, characterization or believability; in fiction and non-fiction, the beta might also assist the author with fact-checking.
Other types of writing groups have been known to use the French term, critiquer or the abbreviated, informal version, critter in the same context as beta reader.

Every writer has to find what will work and not work for them.  Some use outlines, some don't.  Some use timelines, or visual aids to keep track of the order of events throughout a story.
Some write things out long hand, some type on a real type writer, some use word processors, or even writing software designed to help you stay organized, on task and keep it all together.
At some point according to writing expert Ken Follett, you need someone to feel the story out.  I noticed something with the ladies of my book club that when I provided them with chapters from a book I will do someday in the future, that some of them were good at correcting English mistakes, while others caught the sequence errors, others caught the logic errors.  We all read differently.  Different things will jump out to different readers.  People's tastes differ.
One thing I have found is that people who like to read usually know good writing when they read it.  They generally know crap when they read it.  This is pretty universal among readers.  Writers are all tone deaf to their own deficiencies!  If they weren't editing wouldn't be so painful.
Ken Follett ends up with a typed first draft that has been gone over in different stages before getting to this point.  He has five to six copies of the first draft that his Beta Readers have returned to him and with this he does one rewrite.  A total rewrite of every sentence in the book!
The feedback, WE (as authors), are looking for is:
Questions the reader came up with while reading the story that were not answered?
Which characters they liked and want to see more of?
Which characters they didn't like?
Things not resolved to the delight of the reader.
What was not believable?
What detracted or took away from the story?
What were your favorite parts?  Why did you like this or that?
Insights about history, technology, facts, feelings, etc. which the author may be unaware of.
For the Beta Reader we are not too concerned with Spelling, grammar, or punctuation, as hopefully as the collaboration between writer and editor they will fix all of that stuff out of the book before the final draft.
Requirements for a Beta Reader:
To be well read.  Meaning the reader has read many books, good and bad, and enough to know the difference between horrible, good, great and future literature.
To be reading for an author who writes in a genre that you are familiar with and enjoy reading.
To be able to read the book in a timely manner and get back with the author quickly so they can move on to the next stage in the writing process, which may be a total rewrite or editing of rough draft.  But that you don't read it so fast you cannot properly respond with viable intelligence feedback the author can use to make the book better in a variety of ways.
That you can provide feedback in a usable format in which the author can assimilate the feedback into the rewrite or edit process.  Whether it is corrections in a word document or by pen on a printed version of the manuscript.  Whatever works best for the reader and the writer together.
To be able to keep secrets.  If you're reading the next book in a highly successful series and then go online and tell all in your blog before the writer even gets the final draft edited, they are liable to be mighty angry.  Then again maybe they will want you to spill the beans to build the hype!  I would suggest discussing any mentioning of the book with the author first.
To not be an author!  Authors don't want their Beta Readers publishing their books and fighting in court that the author stole the first published book in the series from them after the fact.  Plus authors don't want to be giving ideas away to aspiring writers; this could cause a whole mess of problems.
Benefits for the Beta Reader
You get to read stuff long before it ever becomes a real book or novel.  Imagine if you got to read the rough draft of the last Harry Potter book a year before the book came out!
You get a behind the scenes peek at the process some writers use to hone their craft to become better authors.
Your suggestions and comments may affect the outcome of the finished product.  If your author lets you beta read several versions throughout the process you can see firsthand where you impacted the author enough to change this or that within the story.
You may be mentioned in the acknowledgements of the book for your contribution to the work by the author.  This is being seen more and more with the explosion of new writers entering the market that were barred by the bureaucracy of agents and publishers before the advent of self publishing.
To Apply:
For those individuals who might be interested in FREE reading material that is in the works stages of being produced to lend a hand with your ideas, comments, observations and feedback to the author.  If you're not at this time an author or aspiring author.  If you like to read science fiction, mild romance (No Sex, in the books), like books that deal with time travel, combat at sea or in space on a massive scale.  If you have read many books of different types.  Have a computer with which to make corrections to Microsoft Word Documents.  Have an E-mail account with which to converse back and forth with the author through.
Then leave a comment here on my blog post or send an e-mail to explaining why you might be the perfect Beta reader for my books.  If you can't write that much you won't be able to give me the kind of feedback I am looking for.
Please bear in mind that I do not have even one book at this time that is ready to be reviewed and commented on.  I am looking to find five to six potential Beta Readers for my next novel which I will be beginning to work on in the next few weeks.  So we are talking months before I would be able to send even a rough draft out to be reviewed.  Initially, I may choose up to ten and through the next couple of books narrow that it down to those who provide the most beneficial feedback in a timely and workable manner.  The final five or six I will endeavor to establish a relationship with so we can help each other through the coming years.  In the mean time I will e-mail back and forth with those who respond in order to get to know them as much as I can before I am ready to submit my work for their critique.  In the mean time I have one e-book published that sells for .99 cents on any of the Major E-book sites. 
"Whisper" By Thomas Wilson
I will be publishing my second novel September 11, 2011, "No Rules Of Engagement" the same author.
This is a service that I am sure many authors should be receptive to and would be receptive to in time.  For Aspiring Authors please start enlisting your own Beta Readers or leave a comment and those who I do not wish to try out I may be able to pass their contact info along to my fellow authors.  Also I have provided the link to Ken Follett's Master Class on writing!  It is worth the read.  I can't imagine an author who wouldn't love to be a successful as Mr. Follett!


Anonymous said...

Good post Thomas. I'd read anything you wrote, but can't be your beta. LOL

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