Beta reading is both an art and a science, I feel. There are good ways to do it. And there are not so good ways.
But as an independent writer, the best way to get beta readers to help you is to become a beta reader yourself. Here I’ll address common issues and ways to make it a more productive experience for both of you.
Editing, Copy Editing, and Proofreading
A beta reader is analogous to a beta tester. You are supposed to be checking a piece before querying or self-publication or posting on a free content site such as Wattpad. Beta testers generally do not test software’s very first iteration. They might be asked to test a function or even the whole shebang once it’s done. But they don’t test the lines of code to see if they are correct. That is a developer’s job.
And beta reading is similar. You are not responsible for checking basic stuff like spelling. The author should have run their work through a spellchecker, prior to sending it to you. If they do not have a spellchecker for some odd reason, then you as the beta reader are in for quite the ride. And this is not a happy ride, I assure you.
How to handle it
What should you do If someone sends a document utterly riddled with spelling errors? Here are a few options:
- Kick it back (nicely) and tell them to run a spellcheck before they send it back to you. If they don’t know how to do this, then you can suggest they Google free spellcheckers or save it as a Google doc (under Tools, there is a spellchecker).
- Correct their spelling, but make it clear this will increase the time frame considerably. For most people, even if they are not in much of a rush, this a good incentive to take care of business.
- Tell them the relationship isn’t working out.
A lack of spellchecking does not necessarily mean someone doesn’t care about your time. The writer might not be a native speaker. They might be very new to the scene. Or they could have certain forms of dyslexia which make a spellchecker kind of throw up its metaphoric hands and run in the opposite direction. If any of these are the case, then see if you can get compensated for your time. Because at that point, you’ve gone beyond beta reading.
Length and Time and Expectations
The best-laid plans, yadda yadda, you know the rest. We plan one thing, but life has a tendency to inconveniently intervene. Consider your time, how fast you read, and any monkey wrenches life might throw. A good rule of thumb for planning is to multiply by one and a half. Therefore if you think 1,000 words will take you an hour, then consider it will take 90 minutes and plan accordingly.
Ask about their schedule. Maybe they want to publish in two months, or twelve. If you can’t meet their deadline, all is not lost! Instead, you could just beta read the first few chapters. Figure out what works best. Or agree to work together at a later date.
Next, I’ll look at what you need to do, to be a good beta reader.