If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

October Interviews

10/07 M.E. Browning, Shadow Ridge

10/14 Alexia Gordon

10/21 Adam Meyer

10/28 Barbara Ross, Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door

October Guest Bloggers

10/03 Kathleen Kalb

10/17 S. Lee Manning

10/31 Sharon Dean

WWK Weekend Bloggers

10/10 Jennifer J. Chow

10/24 Kait Carson


For The Love Of Lobster Tales by Shari Randall is now available to download free for a limited time. Go to Black Cat Mysteries at: https://bcmystery.com/ to get your free copy! Thanks for the freebie, Shari.

Keenan Powell recently signed with agent Amy Collins of Talcott Notch. Congratulations, Keenan!

KM Rockwood's "Secrets To The Grave" will appear in the new SinC Chesapeake Chapter's new anthology Invitation To Murder, which will be released by Wildside Press on 10/6.

Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!


Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Ideal Beta Reader

Today on Salad Bowl Saturday Susan Oleksiw shares her experience with what for her makes a Beta Reader ideal. I expect to see some comments, because I have a suspicion authors use Beta Readers for different purposes. We'll see if I'm right - happy reading. ~ Jim


Some years ago my husband and I moved to a new town, and I found myself working on a nonfiction project in isolation. I sorely missed the conversations with my colleagues that had helped me through much of my work. I mentioned to my sister-in-law the problem I was having, and she asked a simple question. “Are you sure that assumption about X is correct?” I thought I was sure, but as I went forward I found her question opening my mind to a broader understanding, and that solved the problem I’d been grappling with. My sister-in-law served as a Beta reader.

Every writer needs at least one good second reader and those of us who have found such allies in our work know how important they are. I have several Beta readers whom I call on for different types of manuscripts. I’ve culled a few essential requirements from my Beta readers and my own role as Beta reader to give a sense of the ideal.

     1.     The Beta reader likes the writer’s basic style and approach, and has some interest in the topic or genre. I don’t read paranormal stories, so I wouldn’t be able to offer useful feedback, but I’m glad to read novels in most genres for my close colleagues. I know nothing about esoteric financial arrangements, so any comments I made might be worse than useless.

     2.     The Beta reader reads the entire book. She doesn’t quit in the middle because she has better things to do. She agrees this is an important task and if she offers to read, she finishes the manuscript. Getting feedback on the first half of a work isn’t really helpful.

     3.     If the Beta reader has professional expertise that is relevant to the story, she is willing to share it. I recently read a sweet Christmas story in which a doctor’s legal responsibility in certain cases should have been stated, but the writer had no way of knowing about this legal issue. I described the problem and left the writer to decide how to handle it. In one of my own manuscripts, my Beta reader, an anthropologist, pointed out that my character had switched from thinking like a Hindu to thinking like a Christian.

     4.     The Beta reader’s job is to notice if the logic of a scene holds together, and not think up a better way to write the scene. I will sometimes comment that a certain character probably wouldn’t say something the author has written, but I wouldn’t do more than make a suggestion. I admit here that this is often the hardest part for me because the pieces I read are usually very good and stimulating, so I find myself thinking up all sorts of solutions.

I might also suggest moving a paragraph to an earlier page, but if I find I want to do something like that more than once, I stop. That’s not the job of the Beta reader and here is where I have to ask: Is the manuscript ready for an outside reader, or am I getting carried away with rewriting the story?

     5.     The Beta reader doesn’t do copy editing. However, if grammar is an issue, I underline the passage and note that it isn’t clear. We all fall asleep at the computer sometimes, and it’s better to find problems early. I don’t do this all through the piece because this is only a reminder to the writer to go through the work carefully on another read-through.

     6.     My Beta readers have been generous with positive comments, and I like to return the favor. I like to include one or more comments on what I enjoyed about the manuscript, what works and what appealed to me especially. Every writer needs encouragement but also each writer has strengths as well as weaknesses, and sometimes a writer needs to be told that she has done something especially well.


Susan Oleksiw is the author of two series, the Mellingham series featuring Chief of Police Joe Silva (Last Call for Justice, 2012) and the Anita Ray series featuring Indian American photographer Anita Ray (For the Love of Parvati, May 2014). Visit www.susanoleksiw.com for additional books and an Anita Ray short story.


Gayle Carline said...

This is a great list for what to look for in a beta reader. I usually have at least three per manuscript (the current one has five), because I may need "experts" in several areas. For example, my last mystery, THE HOT MESS, had a house fire and a man with Asperger's, so I needed a reader familiar with fire fighting and one familiar with the autism spectrum. One thing I do with all my betas is tell them specifically what I am looking for, and what they can overlook (typos, etc). They do all give me positive feedback AND great critiques. I'm lucky to have them!

Gloria Alden said...

Welcome to WWK, Susan. Your list is a good one. I'm fortunate to have three beta readers, who find the things that might trip up a reader or don't ring quite true or when I write something that doesn't go along with what I'd written earlier. They are also very supportive and praise what they like and what made them laugh if it's a humorous part.

Warren Bull said...

Nice description of what a writer needs in a beta reader. My wife is my beta reader. I don't show her my work until I have edited it several times. The closer it is to finished, the more helpful her remarks are. Thanks for sharing, Susan.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Thank you for your comments, Gayle, Gloria and Warren. Finding good Beta readers is a challenge, especially if you're looking for feedback on technical issues.

For me it's important for the Beta reader to know she or he is looking for something more than typos. That reading comes at a later stage.

This morning I'm at Crime Bake, the annual mystery writers/readers convention outside Boston. We have the opportunity to talk to experts in various areas as well as other writers and agents. I pick up a lot of useful information here but I also learn about areas where I need more accurate technical information.

E. B. Davis said...

The perfect Beta reader doesn't exist. I ask specific questions to experts to get the details right. Few criminal experts are also editors, and few author/beta readers are also criminal experts. I don't even try to get all in one. And, by the same token, I don't ask beta readers to read for content and copy editing at the same time. It's too much, and if they are concentrating on one, they won't do the other well. One perfect Beta reader--no--find those who excel in one aspect and get two or three reads from various readers. It's up to you to put them altogether into a perfected script.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Susan, thank you so much for this list. You are absolutely right. It is so important to provide positive, yet useful feedback while resisting the urge to rewrite. An author needs to remember this when evaluating Beta readers comments, too. Best. Wishes for a wonderful time at Crime Bake.

Jim Jackson said...

I have various levels of beta readers. At the point I believe I have the correct story, but before I have polished, I ask one or two beta readers to read the manuscript and tell me wherever something stopped them.

They don't have to know why it stopped them, but if it did, it indicates a possible problem. These readers will also give me feedback about any story issues they had and anything else that occurs to them.

I'll fix those things and then polish. The second level of beta readers for me are folks who provide feedback on anything they catch. For me, that includes copy editing issues they come across.

Once I've modified my manuscript to reflect their comments, then it goes to the publisher or editor or agent.

The key thing is to do something that works well for you and your beta readers.

Thanks for spurring me to think through my process and for joining us on WWK today, Susan.

~ Jim

Susan Oleksiw said...

Thank you for your comments, E.B., Paula and Jim. I agree with the distinctions you're drawing between the various levels of feedback and which ones are true Beta reading responses.

I especially like the idea of asking readers to note where they had a problem with the story whether they know what it is or not. I don't ask the reader to justify why they stopped at a certain point, only to tell me where it is. it's up to me to figure out what went wrong.

During a discussion this morning at Crime Bake, one of the writers pointed out that it isn't really "easy" to self-publish because the writer is taking on all the work of the publisher--editing, marketing, etc. He tried to explain to beginning writers how much work goes into preparing a mss for publication. I think the responses here from other successful writers make the point that the editing process is as much work as the writing of the first draft.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the list. It's good guidance on beta readers. Since I tend to "write what I know" (at least so far) and have a couple of not particularly literate "experts" on criminal matters I can go to for questions, I rely on betq readers to help me make sure I'm saying what I want to in a readable. flowing manner.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Thank you for commenting, KM. The issue of getting feedback on technical issues is key to creating a story that feels authentic and true. This is one of the qualities I look for in Beta readers for different aspects of the mss. I'm fortunate to have a number of contacts I can call on.