Beta reading is a cool way to help out another writer. You get to be one of the first people to read someone’s story and offer constructive feedback. It’s also a great way to foster good relationships with writers who may, in turn, beta read one of your books—we all know how essential that first critique is.
But sometimes, beta reading does more for your writing than you initially imagined. Whereas, you thought you were polishing a friend’s writing, you end up also polishing your own.
Educators say the best way to learn a concept is to teach it. Beta reading kind of works in the same way.
Reading a novel as a writer and reading it as a reader are two different things. The pure reader is more likely to suspend disbelief, to be engrossed in the story, and to not notice that orgasmic word play. But the writer sees more—he notices the beautiful phrases, metaphors and descriptions, he stands in awe of the author’s brilliance of vocabulary, he examines characters, noticing turning points which push them to desperate acts.
He also notices less savoury details—too many filtering words, overuse of a phrase or word, redundancies, info dumps . . . and so on.
When you put on the beta reader’s cap, your senses are sharpened. You can’t help but see all the “errors”. And the more writing experience you have, the better. And after the beta read, when you get back to your own manuscript, you’re hit by an epiphany—your novel has all the errors you were fighting so hard to stamp out of your friend’s manuscript! You were brutally honest with your friend (let’s just call it tough love); it becomes easier to be brutally honest with yourself.
I took a break from my novel as I worked on a writing collaboration with three other writers. As I beta read our finished manuscript, I saw the filtering, redundancies, needlessly convoluted descriptions, info dumps, stilted dialogue . . . and the list went on. But funny enough, when I returned to my own manuscript, I saw some of these errors.
Ignoring them would have made me feel like a hypocrite—the pot calling the kettle black. So I hacked away at those info dumps and redundancies. Though a painful process, it only served to improve my story.
As a bonus, I discovered an awesome novel editing resource along the way.