Thursday, May 19, 2016

How To Be a Beta Reader » Part One

Have you ever wondered how to become a beta reader?  I did too. I'd been casually editing fiction and academic writing since high school and professionally editing and tutoring writing since college. All through that time, though, I wanted to be someone's official Beta Reader for a serious work of fiction.

beta reader

How I Became a Beta Reader

And then, in 2015, I received an email from an indie author, Celine Jeanjean, asking if I'd be so kind as to read and review her new book, The Viper and the Urchin. Most of the time, I decline these requests, because I know I won't like the book. That, or I know I won't have the time. But Celine said the magic words — "Lindsay Buroker."

Buroker is one of my favorite indie authors and Celine cited her as a writer with similar style and content to her own.  Naturally, I HAD to check out Celine's stuff.

I wound up really liking her book and read it in one go! See my review of it HERE.

To my surprise, Celine contacted me after I posted my review.  She thanked me for my trouble and politely asked me if I could elaborate on some of the criticism I had of her book.  It struck me that the whole thing could have been awkward if Celine had been more confrontational about it, but she wasn't.  Celine, a consummate, yet friendly professional, was asking me to tell her more about what I didn't like about her book, because she genuinely wanted to improve her writing.

I thought that was pretty awesome.

I wrote back an email, detailing some of the finer points that I thought could be improved.  Was that the end of the dialogue? No! Celine wrote me back, and asked if I wouldn't mind being a Beta Reader for her sequel.

Of course, I said YES. A thousand times, YES!

My First, Official Beta Read

Quite a few months passed, but eventually, I received a note in my inbox.  It was Celine! She was wondering if I could take a look at her book, Black Orchid.  Indeed, I could.

I remember being impressed, straight off, with how well-constructed the book was, despite it being a draft.  There were no typos, no run-offs or dribbles, and the whole thing just sparkled with intelligence.  I remember being so honored that I was tapped to read it as part of its pre-publication passes.

Once I'd carefully read the manuscript, I wrote Celine a series of long emails in response. I sent one email titled 'CHARACTERS,' and detailed my thoughts on the arcs of all the major, and a few minor, players. Then, I sent two emails, titled 'PLOT,' where I shared both my praise and concerns about Celine's complex plotlines. I tried to write as much as possible, to really scrape the bottom of my brain for examples and critique points.

I felt a great deal of concern that I wasn't doing the Beta Read correctly.  I mean, in college, during my Writing Center days, we Tutors were whipped into shape.  We were under constant encouragement to self-analyze, self-critique, and self-improve our editing and tutoring approach. As a result, we were beasts — total critiquing machines. I was worried that all that muscle had turned to flab since my graduation.

But Celine seemed very happy with my responses! In fact, she gave me glowing words of praise that I might one day screenprint and hang on my wall.  I can't say enough how awesome Celine was at every turn during the process.

Then, I got this in the mail...


I was again fortunate to receive support and help from wonderful friends and artists. Silvia Park, thank you for being the most amazing critique partner a writer could want. Crystin Goodwin and Ellen Baldwin, thank you for being such thoughtful and supportive Beta Readers. Big thanks also to Keith Faulkner, my brilliant proofreader...

I can't even say how many Acknowledgement pages I've read or skimmed over the years of my life.  I read a lot of books, so I'd say... hundreds, maybe over a thousand.  So to actually be in one for the first time... it's too amazing.  It's just such an honor.

To Come In Part Two...

  • How YOU can become a Beta Reader...

  • How to make editorial comments that help writers...


  1. How fun that they contacted you and not only did you discover someone new to love but now are a beta-reader as well!

  2. Yes! Being contacted by Celine Jeanjean and becoming one of her beta readers is definitely one of the highlights of my blogging career!

  3. Yay congrats! My goal is to get quoted and/or be mentioned in an acknowledgement!! I'd be over the moon :D

  4. OHHHHH I'm so glad you posted this! I've always wondered how this works and GIRLLL I'm a writer, you're a beta reader SOOOO, you already know. ;) I write YA Fantasy and Romance so I WOULD BE SUPA DUPA honored if you could take a look at some of my stuff when I'm done because i need someone harsh and not afraid to lay it to me straight. MAKE ME CRY IF YOU HAVE TO. (Not really...) but yes! That's super cool that yo uno only ended up loving the book but that you got in the freaking ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS?? Wicked cool girl!

  5. I didn't quite cry, but I was very close! I was just so amazed and thankful!

  6. Keionda. YES. I would LOVE to be a beta reader or critique partner or whatever you need! Let's get that up and running, cause this is EXCITING!

  7. Great post! I've thought about beta reading but, honestly, I would want to get paid for it. I get that indie authors don't necessarily have the budget and it is a thing people do just to help out because they love the author/project, or they're exchanging beta reads, and that makes sense to me. But to me it's also labor that takes hours of time and worth paying readers for, if the authors can afford it.

  8. Perhaps I should add that I've been trying to break into publishing as a career, and I've done a lot of unpaid internships and free work in the name of "getting experience" and "improving my resume" and "getting my foot in the door," and so far it hasn't resulted in a job. So after numerous unpaid internships doing work very similar to beta reading, I'm just a point where I think my work deserves to be paid. I'm not trying to insult beta readers or authors or anyone who beta reads just because they love books. :)

  9. I must admit, I'm in the process now of starting an online shop to monetize my editing and beta reading. (Using I've decided to keep beta reading and critiquing for those I'm already working with free of charge, but I don't see anything wrong with charging a fee AT ALL. It can be almost better that way, offering a more professional and thorough critique. And for the person paying, they can expect a professional read-through and review of their work by someone who knows what they're doing. So, I don't think wanting money for hard work is insulting in the slightest. No siree bob.

  10. […] in my post, How To Be a Beta Reader » Part One, I talked about my experience beta reading for indie author, Celine Jeanjean. Today’s […]

  11. That sounds fabulous! Good luck!

    I have seen authors debate the merits of paid vs unpaid beta readers, and they have similar takes on it. Unpaid is nice, but with paid you're more likely to get feedback by a specified deadline and to get quality feedback--and you can demand a refund if you don't. When people are reading for you as a favor, sometimes they don't prioritize your work.

  12. How thoughtful of her to put you in the acknowledgements! That's awesome ( :