What is beta reading?

Beta reading is a kind of ‘test’ reading of a complete (usually), though unreleased and unpolished, work.

The exact elements examined may vary depending on the project, strengths of the beta reader and any specific concerns of the author. Typically, though, the beta reader will address things like plot, characters, writing style, theme, pacing, consistency etc. It’s basically a really in-depth review, except it’s pre-publication and aimed at the writer rather than the potential reader.

In many ways, it’s similar to a manuscript critique, which is a service offered by many professional developmental editors. But beta readers will be cheaper (often free) and do not usually have any formal writing or editing qualifications: they are readers first and foremost. Their job is to give you feedback on how they experience the story and help you identify problem areas, big and small, but they will not necessarily be able to point to specific solutions.

Due to my background and the way I approach the critique – often with reference to writing theory, books and blog posts – my work does resemble that of a developmental editor more than you are perhaps used to. But a ‘proper’ manuscript critique is a lengthier and more extensive process.

I like to think that what I do marries the best of both worlds. Like an editor, I have training in and experience with writing and story theory, and I approach the work like a professional, delivering on time and within the agreed parameters. But, like a traditional beta reader, I am a thoughtful and knowledgeable reader first and foremost; my feedback is briefer and (I hope) less overwhelming, focusing on the essentials of my reading experience; and, of course, my prices are more manageable.

What does the feedback look like?

I offer two types of feedback: an annotated version of your manuscript and a document with my summarised feedback, each available at various levels of detail (see below). They are designed to be complementary, so I recommend getting both, but you may also choose just one type.

Any suggestions made in the course of my feedback are usually quite broad. That is, while I will – unless you request otherwise – go beyond merely pointing out if something didn’t quite work for me and attempt to explore why and what might be done about it, I am not here to step on your author toes or tell you precisely what to do.

My suggestions are primarily of the ‘describing X more, might help me to Y’-variety. Unless you request detailed feedback on your prose, suggestions for specific changes to specific paragraphs or sentences are few, and they’re only meant to illustrate a point or to get you thinking.

Finally, whether small or large, suggestions are just that: suggestions. Never make a change solely on my (or someone else’s) say-so. At the end of the day, this is your story, and you call the shots!

Beta reading: your options

Annotated manuscript

  • Incidental flagging of grammar/spelling issues (NOT the same as a full proofread)
  • Light commentary. I’ll flag things that are unclear or don’t quite work, comment on parts that work particularly well or that I had a strong reaction to. Note the ‘light’: some individual comments may be lengthy, but don’t expect each page to be brimming with comments; many pages may not have any comments at all. It’s a highlights/lowlights sort of thing, not a blow-by-blow of my reading experience.
  • Detailed feedback on your prose (up to 10,000 words of your MS), focusing on suggestions for improvements. I might, for example, suggest places where you could benefit from showing rather than telling, highlight awkward phrasing or specific bits of dialogue that don’t read naturally, point out POV breaches etc. Where appropriate and/or to illustrate my point, I might suggest specific alternatives. This has elements of a line-edit but is not an actual line-edit.

You may choose all of these, none of these, or anything in between!

Also note that for each of these, it is not all or nothing. I can do the whole manuscript, sure, but you may also get a lot of value from getting feedback on just part of it and seeing the kinds of things I pick up on. For instance, you might like light commentary on the first half and prose feedback and flagging of grammar/spelling issues only on the first 5,000 words. Or any other combination that works for you – up to you.

Feedback report

  • Brief report. Typically in the region of 500–750 words for a full-length novel. Covering just the most crucial aspects of my reading experience and containing less detail and discussion. Particularly suitable for projects that have been through beta reading before (especially if through me as well) and now just a couple of questions remain.
  • Detailed report. Typically in the region of 2–3,000 words for a full-length novel. Divided into two main sections (each with two or more subsections): content/big picture and craft. There can be some overlap between the two, but, broadly, one is my reaction to the story and the other is my reaction to how you’re communicating the story. Where the emphasis falls depends on the manuscript and what, if any, specific concerns you’ve communicated to me.

As you may have guessed, unlike for the annotations, here you may only pick one option.

The word counts given are for full-length novels. If we’re dealing with a novel opening, novella or short story, the report will naturally be shorter, though not proportionally so. I’m happy to discuss it beforehand if you’d like a clearer idea of what to expect.

Contact me now to receive your quote!