To beta or not to beta?

For many years I’ve been a beta reader for authors. Which means I agree to read manuscripts for authors to give them feedback on their work. Depending on what the author asks me to look for it might be about the plot, grammar, characterisation, or the setting amongst many other potential things. It isn’t about being an nit-picky editor for the writer, it’s being a set of eyes and a voice as a potential reader of the finished work.

And that voice is an opinion.

For that reason it is highly recommended that authors use a range of people to read their work, not just one. Personal opinions can vary widely about the same piece of writing. What one person thinks works well another may not. It’s no different than me getting a five star rating one week and a one star rating the next. Tastes vary. It’s all part of life. It’s not something I take personally as a writer.

When I beta-read for others and give feedback, I’m very careful how I word things. Justifications are given for positive and negative points and feedback is written in a factual manner. Again this is all a subjective thing because it is an opinion.  Authors can choose to take on board as much or as little as they choose and change their book accordingly. They might read what a beta reader has to say and choose not to change a thing. It’s their choice. At the end of the day any author, including myself, have to be satisfied with the quality of the work we are producing, that we are telling the story we intended to tell and in the manner we intended to tell it.

Each time I’ve beta-read I’ve received a thank you from the author. Just a simple email, nothing fancy. Usually it’s for being thorough, professional and actually taking the time to read their work. Recently though instead of a thank you, I received a personal attack from the author because they didn’t like that my feedback included some negative notes about their work.

Again, I come back to the key thing here. A beta-reader offers an opinion.

It’s fine that the author didn’t like what I said, that’s their choice and their right not to. I’m not asking them to agree with me, I’m not asking them to change their book or to even move a single comma, space or quotation mark. It’s their work, and their perogative to ignore anything, or all, of what I’ve said. But the personal attack? That wasn’t okay.

So my point of sharing what happened is this: If you are an author lucky enough to find a beta-reader (and it can be very difficult to do so at times) then please, treat that person like gold. The voices beta-readers offer, the opinions they give don’t have to be followed. They are people that have taken time out of their lives to help you. They are under absolutely no obligation to read for you, or to give you feedback. As a general rule beta-readers choose to do it because they love to read. They want to help, not to break people down, and they will be honest. If you don’t like what they’ve said, or you don’t like the honesty they’ve given, or heaven forbid they wrote feedback to you in a manner you didn’t like, then take the high road, be the professional and thank them for their time regardless.

As for my beta-readers: Colleen, Bronwyn, Ann, Craig, Laurie and Sally, I say thank you. You are worth more than gold.

Suzanne xx




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