I have not been lucky with beta readers. I have one good beta reader and that’s it. They have either been too time consuming for me or they have had to quit due to a busy life and haven’t been able to even start my book (critique on one chapter can still go a long way!). So I have compiled a list on how to be a good beta reader for those who want to return the favor.
1) If you know your life is about to get busy, don’t even bother trying to beta read because you will only disappoint the person you are beta reading for. Busy lives don’t come out of nowhere. We know our work loads, we know when school will start, we know how busy moving will be, ect. Please, please, please, if life is about to get busy, don’t even bother starting a project. There are beta readers who will read your book and not expect reciprocation; some of them haven’t even finished their own books but enjoy beta reading in general.
2) If you have time to write a book, you have time to read a book. Offer to reciprocate if you know you have the time. This is just good manners.
3) Be timely. Don’t let the book just sit there. Don’t take forever to do it. We all have dreams and goals and we’d rather they not get delayed because of a lazy reader.
4) When you read, don’t just point out what’s wrong and tell the writer to fix it. Think outside of the box. Actually offer suggestions over how the writer could fix it. If something is not working, think about why, explain it, and offer suggestions over how the author can fix it. This takes thinking, this may be more work than a beta reader should have to do, but you’ll be a stronger reader for it.
5) Listen to your gut as a beta reader. If what you’re reading leaves a bad taste in your mouth, it is up to you to figure out why, then let the author know why and what he/she can do to improve that. Perhaps this is asking a bit much from a beta reader, but we writers become so used to our work that sometimes we can’t think of ways to improve it.
6) Chapter ones are important. If the chapter one is merely compelling, think of how the writer can make it beyond compelling. Could the writer start the story earlier? Or does this chapter need to be written stronger?
7) Don’t. Be. Lazy. If you’re the kind afraid to hurt others’ feeling, don’t beta read. If you truly think the book is good, leave chapter-by-chapter feedback over why you found nothing wrong.
8) Be vigilant about plot holes. Plot holes will show up in a query letter or synopsis, so it’s best to shut them up in the book so the writer isn’t struggling with the query letter or synopsis and not understanding why.
9) If, for some reason, life does become busy out of nowhere–death in a family is a good reason–at least try to do one chapter. The critique of one chapter can go a long way for a writer if said writer knows how to utilize feedback to the fullest.