On beta reading

I love reading, and I love writing, although I’m better at spotting what doesn’t work than being able to fix it myself. I am good at written English and I have the eye for detail needed for spotting errors.

As I’ll shortly be in the position of needing to earn some money, I thought I’d look into proof reading and copy editing – after all, with all these writers around who want to publish their own work, usually on kindle, there’s a growing demand for that line of work.

In order to build up experience I offered on the goodreads site to do some beta reading. Beta reading isn’t copy editing, and it isn’t proof reading, but it’s test driving a book, if you like – taking a look at a finished or nearly finished work and giving honest feedback as to what works and what doesn’t. I’ve done beta reading before when I was writing a lot of fanfic, and I also made use of one myself, and I had to admit that the use of a beta reader definitely improved my work.

So within hours of posting my offer I received three complete novels and the opening chapters of another to read. Gulp!

I’ve learnt a few things already from this experience:

  • It’s very different reading to provide feedback than just reading for pleasure – I’m reading on either my laptop or main computer, with Evernote open to note down my thoughts.
  • The opening chapters are incredibly important. With the ability to download just the opening of a book as a free sample, I suspect many books are rejected very quickly, and the writer really has to grasp attention within the first few pages.
  • Description does matter. Not pages and pages of description, but at least the odd word or phrase to help conjure up the world. So it’s a magic world. Does that mean swords and unicorns or does it mean guns and cars? Are we talking small cottage or imposing castle?
  • It’s a tricky balance to give out enough information so that the reader knows exactly what’s going on but isn’t bored by pages of exposition.
  • The best opening I’ve read so far went straight into action, and by the end of the first chapter we’d seen our hero in action, seen exactly how he responds under pressure and had our attention grabbed.
  • Other openings might offer intrigue but make me work too hard to understand, or simply start off far too slow to catch attention. Sure, the story might be brilliant once you get to the next chapter, but am I going to want to put in the effort to get there?

Self publishing is a big gamble. Without that extra filter of an editor and publisher to get through, how can you be sure that your work is really of high enough quality? Only by test-driving it somehow, as much as you can.

Some of this is done by other authors, seeking to receive the same service back for their own novel. Some of it is done by readers who just want to be involved in the writing process, albeit by proxy, or want to receive books without paying for them, and are willing to give feedback in return.

I’m hoping that enough authors are willing to pay for a high quality service so that I can incorporate the service as part of my business. After all, reading in this way is time-consuming and requires skill, and should go a long way towards making sure a novel is the best it can be before hitting the publish button.

Currently I think I’m going to offer a free sample service, reading the opening of a book and giving honest feedback on whether I’d buy it having read the sample, what I feel works and what I feel needs to be worked on. If the author then chooses to make further use of my skills, including detailed copy editing and proofreading, that’s up to them.

What do you reckon? Would you be prepared to pay for such a service? Do you feel that it should be offered purely for free and that people seeking to charge are just trying to profiteer? Do you feel that having put so much time, love and effort into your novel you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to run it past a professional eye before publication?

Note: I’m not seeking customers as much as – well – seeking feedback on whether the idea works or not. I still have these three novels and an opening to get through and I’m working full-time at the moment…