white paper mounted on cork board
Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

There is some debate and confusion as to what exactly a beta read entails. Below, I’ve answered some of the most common questions as they pertain to the beta reading services I offer. This is simply how I operate as a beta reader. Others may do things differently or define the process using different terms. This Q&A is not meant to be the definitive answer about what beta reading is. It defines my process and my process alone.

-What is a beta read?
A beta read is a read-through of the manuscript during which I make notes of things that jump out at me. When I beta read, I turn off my editing hat, for the most part, and read like a reader. My feedback is more like an in-depth book review than an editing report. I offer my response to the book as if I’d picked it up off the shelf. I may provide general suggestions for improvement or resources for self-editing. I do not offer a detailed report of issues needing resolution or examples of how to improve the story/writing. I simply give my thoughts on the story as I understood it.

-Is beta reading the same as developmental editing?

No. Beta reading and developmental editing are two different services. Developmental editing is an in-depth critique of big-picture story components (plot, characterization, worldbuilding, pacing, etc.), along with suggestions for improving problem areas, fleshing out the story, and observation of how chapters work as greater pieces of the whole. Developmental editing is a much more detailed and time-consuming service than beta reading and, accordingly, costs more. Here’s how feedback for a beta read and a developmental edit might differ.

Developmental Edit: I got the impression that Character X was supposed to be likeable, but they didn’t come across that way. In Chapters 1, 5, and 8, their reactions to situations A, B, and C were at odds with the helpful person the POV character says they are. Having Character X react in the following ways to these incidents might help them appear more helpful, if making them appear helpful is your goal. [details about each scene]

Beta Read: I got the impression Character X was supposed to be likeable, but I really couldn’t stand them. They made me want to stop reading.

-What about line or copy editing?

No. Beta reading is simply overall notes on things I noticed about the story as I read. I do not use track changes to make suggestions at either the line or copy level. Like developmental editing, line and copy editing are different services with separate rates.

-When should I get my manuscript beta read?

A manuscript is ready to be beta read when you have self-edited to the best of your ability—gotten your story how you want it and cleaned up as much of the writing as possible. Run a spellcheck. Read through the entire thing a few times. Beta reads are not intended for first drafts or unedited manuscripts. You may also choose to have critique partners work through the manuscript with you before you approach beta readers.

-What does your beta reading process look like?

My process for the Light and Full beta reads are a bit different.

Beta Read Light: I read through the manuscript as I would a book I picked up for pleasure reading (though with more critical thinking). I make notes of things I questioned while reading. Then, I rework those notes from my shorthand into something legible by others. The end result is a 1-3-page report detailing my impressions about the story, things that drew me out of the story, comments on how the book fit the genre (or, if no genre was provided, what genre it is), and other big-picture impressions. This may include light notes on the writing itself, such as overused phrases or a tendency for infodumping.

Beta Read Full: The report I generate for the full service is similar to the one described above. Unlike the light version, with the full, I read at my computer and leave reader reaction comments in the manuscript. These often take the form of a few overall thoughts at the end of each chapter. If something really sticks out (either good or bad), I may leave a comment at that point in the text.

-Do you beta read partial manuscripts?

Yes. I will beta read partial manuscripts that start at the book’s beginning. Just like you wouldn’t start reading a book you bought in the middle, I won’t read from Chapter 15 to the end. Doing so wouldn’t allow me to get an impression of the story overall. I charge the same per-word rate for partial manuscripts as I do for full manuscripts.

-Do you offer free beta reading samples?

No. Just as not all books resonate with all readers, a manuscript I’m beta reading may not resonate with me. Whether a book resonates or not, I will deliver the same quality of feedback. I’m open to discussing why a book didn’t resonate, and also keep in mind that knowing who your book doesn’t resonate with could be useful information. It may help narrow down your target audience, as well as how to market the book. Since even traditionally published authors must pitch in with marketing efforts in today’s publishing arena, audience information can be very useful to have.

-I have specific questions I’d like answered. Will you read with those in mind?

Yes. If you have specific concerns, you may send them along with the manuscript or after I’ve completed the initial beta read. If sent before, I will look them over before I begin reading. If questions contain spoilers, please mark them as such. I will read questions containing spoilers after I’ve finished as to not bias my reading.

-Are there any topics/genres you won’t beta read?

I’m more or less open to any fiction (genre, literary, or crossover) for beta reads. If your book contains overly graphic depictions of violence or torture, is in the psychological horror/thriller genre, or is a rhyming childrens book, I am likely not the best match.

-I think I want more than a beta read. What would you recommend?

If the beta read doesn’t seem like the service you’re looking for, one of my manuscript evaluation options might be what you’re looking for. You can read more about those, as well as the rest of my offerings, at my editorial services page.

Final Thoughts

As I said above, a beta read is my impression of the story as a reader. If my feedback contains comments that do not match what you intended for the story to convey, one of two things happened. Either I misunderstood what was correctly conveyed, for which I apologize in advance. I do make mistakes. Alternatively, it may be that the meaning is clear to you (the author, who knows the story inside and out) but is not clear to others. It is never my intention to misinterpret or criticize your work. If I have detailed something incorrectly in my notes, please let me know. It may be as simple as I misunderstood my shorthand (it happens), or it may be that there are problems at a deeper level within the manuscript that led to information being easily misunderstood. In the latter case, the manuscript may benefit from a more thorough process (manuscript evaluation or developmental edit), which you may choose to pursue either with me or another editorial professional. Regardless, addressing concerns in a clear, constructive way can help lead to a better understanding of the story’s needs and a stronger manuscript.