Image courtesy of Tsahi Levent-Levi

I recently served as a beta reader for a ya novel. Sure, taking time out of my writing to read someone else’s seems like it would be counterproductive to my overall goal of finishing my own novel. But here’s how being a beta reader can actually help you as a writer.

Applying the Critical Eye

Every time a writer reads something, they cannot help but to read it with a critical eye. When you read a work that has already gone through multiple edits with a professional, writing for publication can seem daunting. You find yourself wondering how you can get to that point. But when you are a beta reader, you get to see manuscripts before they have been primed and primped. You get a taste for what most manuscripts look like before an editor has done his/her magic.

Beta manuscripts will have both good and bad elements. But the good elements seem more attainable when you are viewing them alongside the not so good. Not everyone is perfect. By realizing that you can focus on one element at a time, the task of creating a ‘perfect’ manuscript goes from impossible to possible. Beta reading helps you see that this is the way most writers get their manuscripts submission ready, piece-by-piece.

Not only does beta reading help to improve your self-esteem, it also helps you take your critical reading skills and apply them to your own writing. It is often easier to pinpoint why something isn’t working in other people’s writing than it is to do the same with your own work. But if you have just spent a day reading a manuscript with poor character development and then read your own manuscript and note similar awkward or poorly developed bits, it will be easier to see what needs to be improved – just use the same advice your gave the other author.

How do I become a beta reader?

So how do you find beta reading opportunities?  I’ll let you in on a secret. Writers want beta readers, but many writers don’t know how to find them. Put yourself out there on the web. Is there a writer blog you follow? Send them an email. Put a notice on your own website offering your services. Tweet your interest in beta reading. I bet someone will jump at the offer. Just remember, a real person is on the receiving end of your critique. Don’t forget to compliment the things the author has done well in addition to providing useful suggestions for the things he/she has not done so well. Think of the writer as yourself. Critique their work in the same way you would want your work critiqued.