Improve Your Writing By Becoming A Beta Reader

I know, I know! Obviously, reading makes you a better writer.

But I’m not talking about any old reading, I’m talking about beta reading.

In case you don’t know, beta readers are the people you show your work to LONG before publishing. In fact, you show it to them before your work is even professionally edited – WHAT!?

Yes, these people are those intrepid souls who read the unpolished first or second draft, to help you find problems with things like characterisation, motivation, plot, setting, pacing, and dialogue. They will point out any glaring plot-holes and, if you get a good one, they will also give you many invaluable pointers on craft: have you told rather than shown, are POV changes believable, and are your tenses consistent?

Sound like hard work? Well, it is.

So why, as a writer, would I consider, for one moment, beta reading someone else’s work? Here are three reasons why being a beta reader will improve your writing: –

  1. It makes you think like a reader

Being a good beta reader means you need to look at the novel you are reading objectively. This skill, when honed, is transferable to your own work and is incredibly helpful if you decide to self-edit.

I’m not saying you will be 100% objective when considering your own beloved characters. But, if you persevere, you should be more able to delete that one awesome scene that you love so much, but which delivers nothing of note to your manuscript, and would have left your future reader scratching his or her head.

There is an almost endless supply of works to read, analyse and absorb if you know where to find them. I find my beta reading opportunities in writers’ groups and on Goodreads.

Beta Reading Tip: Make sure you are clear on turn around times and what genres you feel qualified and comfortable reading.

  1. Learning how to analyse writing helps you to write

Most beta readers work from a prompt sheet of questions they ask themselves about a manuscript. These questions allow them to analyse various aspects of the writing and identify mistakes, plot-holes, etc.

After practising on other author’s work, you will begin to automatically analyse your own work as you write and/or when you are doing your initial proofread. I often find myself tutting at an error in craft or structure, only to realise it is something I do in my own work. Analysis leads to awareness and without awareness change is not possible.

Every time I open a word document, preparing to beta read another writer’s work, I remember I am honing my own skills, learning to analyse plot, character, pace, and much more.

Beta Reading Tip: If pointing out specific problems with a writer’s craft, be sure to give a couple of examples, so they know what you mean, but don’t point out every instance – that can be demoralising.

  1. Reciprocation

Obviously, it is immeasurably rewarding to feel you have helped another writer with their novel, and ultimately, in their career. But, if that isn’t enough of a motivation, perhaps the most important benefit of beta reading is – reciprocation.

Don’t underestimate how grateful a writer is to find a talented beta reader who is able to analyse and provide gentle, yet critical feedback on their precious words. But more than appreciation, they will feel indebted to you.

When you are ready to find your own beta readers you will have a ready-made list of authors who “owe you one”.

Beta Reading Tip: Be diplomatic. And if you have a list of things that don’t work, remember to point out a few that do.


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