The Diary of A Beta Reader: A Guest Post by Sara Marschand

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Guest blogger Sara Marschand explains her thought processes while she beta reads. A beta reader is often the first or second set of eyes a manuscript gets. Their purpose is to spot holes in a manuscript and communicate to a writer, who maybe a little myopic, that changes need to be made. 

For the last several years, I’ve had the privilege of beta reading for many authors.

Much of my feedback highlights awkward sentence flags and unclear story parts. Sometimes it’s a setting that can’t be visualized, other times it may be a whole scene that doesn’t fit the narrative.

Logical errors are the easiest to spot. One author described a tiny cabin that two inhabitants lived tightly in. The next scene featured and armed militia crowding in for a sword fight. Plus, the heroine escaped everyone’s notice as she snuck out a secret back exit. Not likely!

Another author switched back and forth between night and day a couple times in a scene. The author had missed a couple words in editing that changed the clarity of the entire section.

But what goes on in the mind of your beta reader?

This is a snapshot of a year in the life of me, a beta reader. I tackled two works. The authors at different points in their careers.

Diary of a Beta Reader by Sara Marschand

Need questions to ask of your beta readers? Click here!

March

A new paranormal romance arrived. I love urban fantasy mixed with romance, so I can’t wait to dive in! It’s the author’s first book.

Prologue

Action at the beginning. Good start. I’m a huge fan of destruction. The author is overly fond of exclamation points, though. I will gently suggest she doesn’t need quite so many. I’ll have to wait and see if the prologue is relevant to the story.

Chapter 1

And now, I have whiplash. What the heidi-ho did the action- packed prologue have to do with this vapid girl’s POV?

Some of the actions are hard to envision, but I can help with that.

The cool fairy names totally fit the genre. I like them, and I’ll let the author know.

The writing style feels like YA, but why are they all wearing spiked heels?

Chapter 2

Hmm. This author makes a lot of grammatical errors. I’m not an editor, but there are so many, I can’t help but to comment on a few. After all, these could be typos.

Based on the language and simplicity of the sentences this must be YA or mid grade. I thought I was getting a book for adults, but moving on!

Chapter 3

Nope. These errors are definitely not typos. I know I got this pre-editor, but did the author even try to make it readable? Maybe I’ll send her a link to a good grammar book. For grins, I ran this chapter through the Hemingway app— second grade reading level. No wonder my intelligence feels insulted. This is beyond my ability as a beta reader to suggest fixes for, but I really, really, hope she has an editor.

Chapter 4

The characters roll their eyes too much. Another easy fix.

That paragraph was the best yet. If I highlight the excellent passages, she’ll know what works. I’m glad I found something redeeming amongst the choppy sentences.

This is clearly a novice author, but hopefully I can give her something to build her craft. I see a lot of thesis “telling” statements followed with the “showing” sentences. If she can delete those tells, the quality of writing will be improved.

Chapter 6

Holy exclamation points, Batman !!!!!!

These characters all walk and talk the same. I can’t figure out the hierarchy of the fantasy creatures. It seems like age and wisdom mean nothing, but it goes against norms of the genre.

Chapter 13

A pornographic content warning would have been appreciated. Adult audience confirmed. Erotica is not my typical genre. I would not have agreed to read this because of my inability to judge the content properly. Ironically, this is the highest quality writing in the book, except for the choice of words. I’m fairly sure the romance community never describes body parts in the terms used here.

Chapter Who Cares. Lost count.

The agony!  I quit !!! With lots of exclamation points and missing apostrophes!!!  I will never beta read again. Why did I sacrifice a weekend for twenty bucks? I regret my life choices. I read 80k of something the author should have said was an Alpha read and full of shocking content. I spent another four 4 hours summarizing my feedback where I gently wrote a paragraph on why this author should seek an editor.

The paranormal romance beta left me shell-shocked. A content warning flag should have been applied, and if I hadn’t been paid, I would have sent it back after chapter one due to sloppy writing. I could not, would not, take another beta for several months after that grueling read. I even quit the beta reading service I belonged to. I read only published and polished works until an author I’d worked with before asked for me to give feedback on her sequel. The first book was epic in length for the rates I charged, but I loved the story, so I agreed to the second installment.

“Beta reading perk: finding out what happens before anyone else.”

— Sara Marschand

August

The Word document arrived!

It’s been a while since book one. The author made significant changes after the book one beta. I’m really glad she gave me the final version, otherwise I’d be lost. Still, I have both versions swirling around in my head so I’ll review my notes and the changes. I want to get to the new book—stat!   

I don’t expect any nasty surprises. A book refined this far allows me to look at the broad strokes of the story. I’ll provide comments on little things that cause bumps in the read, but I’m looking forward to digging into the overarching plot and character development.

Prologue:

Symmetrical with book one. It’s a teaser for sure, but I like it. The tie-in to the climax works perfectly.

Characters:

There is so much good with this story, but my job is to find the holes. The major characters are just as I remember them, but one minor character bugs me. The male protagonist goes out of his way to keep the minor player alive, and ends up out of character as a result. The protagonist would never behave this way, and it’s too early in the book to have a major character development. The minor character needs to die. He’s got too much dangling plot potential to keep alive if those ideas won’t be pursued.

Two awesome second tier characters deserve a spin off or at least a short story. I’d love to see them on a caper together.

Romance:

This book has less romance than the first, but the opportunities exist. Where’s all the love?

Pace:

Four chapters in the space dock go on FOREVER. I started skimming when I got really bored. It’s basically four chapters of a character complaining about his aches and pains and wallowing in self-pity. Most of this material is repetitive, and it’s a departure from the feel of the rest of the book. Nix this. Please. A paragraph of this would be plenty. This could be a great place to insert a few hints about the end, though.

Dialogue:

Too much cursing. I enjoy a good swear, but not when it detracts from characterization. Multiple characters are using the exact same verbiage, and I’d like to see more differentiation.

Conclusion:

I fixed a few typos because I couldn’t help myself. There are still a number of junk words, which could be removed for conciseness, but I love this book. I’m so happy the author lets me read her works.

The harshest of my direct thoughts never made it into my feedback verbatim, but I did find polite ways to share them and encourage the author as best I could. Author 1 needed to work on her craft more before the story could be addressed. It was a hard read that made me much more selective in the works I’ve taken since. Author 2 and I had an established relationship. Other than a few typos, the copy was clean. I was able to focus on her overall story and plot twists that didn’t work. The author took my feedback graciously and even discussed potential changes afterward. A character died, thanks to me. So many authors take your feedback and you never hear from them again, but this author values my input.

The moral of the story: Give your beta reader the most highly edited work you can and let them be part of the process. The feedback you get will be deeper when their time is time spent reading the story and not fighting fixable errors. I beta read because I love helping authors shape the best story they can.


 

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