sarillia: (Default)
[personal profile] sarillia posting in [community profile] write_away
I mentioned a while back that I'm working on editing a novel for the first time and I've been thinking about the part where someone else is supposed to look it over to catch problems that I've missed. If anyone here would be willing to take a look at it and share their thoughts, let me know (it's high fantasy that's sort of political in that the big conflict is a protest movement). But mainly I wanted to talk about the subject generally.

I've never worked with a beta reader before, so I'd like to hear some experiences and advice. One thing I do know is that it's best to specify what sort of feedback you're most interested in. I've heard from a lot of people who wanted reactions to the characters and plot but the person who agreed to look it over did nothing but point out typos and grammar issues.

So, what do you have to say on the topic?

Date: 2015-03-14 08:02 pm (UTC)
alexseanchai: Blue and purple lightning (Default)
From: [personal profile] alexseanchai
In my experience, the thing a writer needs most in a beta reader is someone who genuinely likes the work and who points out the good bits as well as the bad bits. A seemingly unending parade of "this scene contradicts that scene, this character's motivation is unclear, that subplot is entirely unnecessary" gets really discouraging. Even when you know the book will be better for changing all those things (or at any rate many of those things). If the beta reader is happy to include "This line made me laugh" and "I really feel for this character here" and "wow, this bit of prose is really lyrical", that makes the beta process ever so much less painful.

The problem, of course, is finding such a person. Or, better, several such people.

Date: 2015-03-14 11:28 pm (UTC)
chordatesrock: The Punishment of Loki by Louis Huard (detail) (Default)
From: [personal profile] chordatesrock
I agree with [personal profile] alexseanchai. Get someone who's interested in your work and likes it. You might get useful feedback from someone who doesn't usually like the genre or whatever, but in the end that isn't who you're writing for anyway! The whole thing works better, faster and more amicably if your beta feels like they're getting a sneak peek and a chance to poke around the behind-the-scenes stuff, rather than feeling like they're grudgingly doing you a favor. Also, try to do a round of edits yourself first, if you can, and have some understanding of structure.

Hmm, one thing is: sometimes you fail to convey what you wanted, and you fail so badly your beta can't even tell what you were aiming at. And in that case, be aware that you might need to not take the suggestions. And sometimes your beta will spot a problem but not the correct solution. E.g., if they were to criticise introducing a new character in the climax to resolve things, they might be right that there's a problem. But they might say you need to find a different resolution, when you really need to introduce the character sooner. Or vice versa; maybe they'll say you need to spend more time developing a character who really needs to be cut out of the story entirely.

But if they don't understand something, it's unclear. By definition. Doesn't mean they know how to rewrite it, but if your beta doesn't understand something, you can't just be like "well, fine, it's a little vague but everyone will understand it anyway" because no, they won't. Not if your beta doesn't.

As for the beta request folded into this post: I like high fantasy but IDK how long it is or how quickly you want to finish with this. Maybe?

Date: 2015-03-19 02:48 am (UTC)
chordatesrock: The Punishment of Loki by Louis Huard (detail) (Default)
From: [personal profile] chordatesrock
Yeah, I'm interested. As long as there's no deadline. Are you asking for typo-spotting and sentence-level stuff or do you want content and structure stuff, or both? Either way, I'm interested, with the caveat that I don't think I'm great at figuring out intrigue (but would love to try!).

Date: 2015-03-23 07:06 pm (UTC)
chordatesrock: The Punishment of Loki by Louis Huard (detail) (Default)
From: [personal profile] chordatesrock
Sounds worth a try.

I'm not sure why you want to send it out a chapter at a time. Why not wait till you're done then send the whole thing? For one thing, even if you think you've fixed all the larger structural stuff, until you've run it by at least one beta I would bet you won't have gotten everything. There are always large-scale errors (or at least usually, for most writers) that you won't catch on your own.

Date: 2015-03-23 08:38 pm (UTC)
chordatesrock: The Punishment of Loki by Louis Huard (detail) (Default)
From: [personal profile] chordatesrock
Hmm, well, the sitting around waiting part is likely to be a problem with me anyway, basically no matter what, and I can't promise speed or consistency. If that's a problem then you'll need to find someone else.

And yeah, I'd rather have the whole thing before I get started. But presumably there are people who would rather the other way?

Date: 2015-03-15 12:15 am (UTC)
dhampyresa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] dhampyresa
Structural beta-reading (plot+character+setting+theme+tone, all the big picture stuff, basically) is a lot harder to do than SPaG, and not always something people want, which is why it's very important to be upfront about what you're looking for. Tell them what you want (structural comments, focus on plot, focus on theme+setting, whatever) and how you want it (none of that mushy compliment stuff, be very kind, compliment snadwich...). Personally, I tend to ask for structural comments and ask people to point out what works on top of what doesn't.

I'm lucky enough that I have friends who are willing to let me know what works/doesn't work in my novels, not that this is always easy to hear. I'm still gutted over having had to cut a whole plot line from the war novel, but cutting that plotline (in addition with adding some character deaths) has really made it into stronger book.

If you've any friends who might be into the sort of book you write, especially ones you know can look critically at fiction, it could be worth it to ask them for their opinion. If need be, you can always prepare some questions for them to answer once they're done with the book.

Date: 2015-03-16 11:21 pm (UTC)
inevitableentresol: a Victorian gentleman with the body of a carrot (Default)
From: [personal profile] inevitableentresol
If you're talking about a beta for a whole novel, send them 2-3000 words first and see if your styles match up.

A whole novel is a lot for just one beta to edit - they're not getting paid, after all, and you haven't done beta yet for them in return. Be prepared to work with a succession of betas rather than just the one. That might turn out better, anyway, as each beta will notice different things. They can skim read the parts that come before. A good beta takes time. Make sure you leave enough for them to work. I estimate an allowance of one day per thousand words, once they've already agreed to do it.

Always feel 100% free to disagree with everything your beta says. A good one won't mind, and that disagreement can be really useful as it sharpens your focus about what you want to achieve (and probably aren't hitting quite yet). Although complete disagreement is probably a long term sign you aren't suited to each other.

Be prepared to find that wait between sending your story to your beta and opening the result back from them horribly, stomach turningly nerve wracking. It always is for me, but invariably worth it.

In my experience, the best way of finding betas is to
a) ask for them on beta search comms
b) first do beta for other people and then ask if they're free to do one in turn
c) join some kind of writing challenge or community which matches writers and betas as part of the process.

Other than that, what everybody else said. Have a clear, detailed exchange about what you both want from the process before you start.

Ideally both of you should read some of the other's work first, even if it's just a couple of blog posts. Then at least you have similar ideas about basic spelling and punctuation - not always a given.

One last note - don't forget to tell them what kind of English you write in, eg American, Australian, Hong Kong, UK. Don't just assume they use the same as you do.

Date: 2015-03-18 08:59 pm (UTC)
inkdust: (Default)
From: [personal profile] inkdust
This is a bit late (I've gotten so inconsistent on DW) but I'd be happy to read through if you let me know what you're looking for. I'm very good at grammar and sentence-level edits but story-level plot and character stuff is more interesting.

Date: 2015-03-18 10:12 pm (UTC)
inkdust: (Default)
From: [personal profile] inkdust
That sounds good! Those sound like important elements to check. I love seeing both sides of things, so I can definitely look at the tone and weight of the conflict, and I'm pretty sensitive to extraneous details. Are you looking for readers immediately, or are you still working on edits?

Date: 2015-03-19 09:30 pm (UTC)
inkdust: (Default)
From: [personal profile] inkdust
Sounds great. I'm wreaking havoc in my fourth draft right now, so I'll be in prime editing mode.


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