How to Beta Read a Romance Novel

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that every reader dreams of getting their hands on their much-awaited novel’s advance copy before it hits the shelves.  Do you ever wonder how your favorite novel was written before it was edited?

I knowww…

Curiosity gets the best of you sometimes. I know this feeling because I am a reader, too. It doesn’t take a genius to feel this way.

Maybe the feeling isn’t mutual for some but I know that nothing will ever beat the desire of a reader (like me) to take a peek or even glance at “the book” before it’s out on Amazon or local book stores nationwide.

So let me tell you this. If you want to read an advance copy, try beta reading. Maybe for free or not, but do it without any bad intentions (of course I wouldn’t tolerate any hidden agendas). It’s all for the love of reading!

Step 1: Volunteer (Just Keep Reading!)

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Just recently, I volunteered to be a beta reader for one of our local authors. I found her story interesting so I gave it a go.

Beta reading is basically the act of reading a critique copy or the draft of a manuscript before the author submits it to his or her editor.

Sometimes, you won’t even realize that you’re beta reading. If you are fond of following your favorite authors online, you might stumble upon one of their stories that is offered free.

Since I read on Wattpad, and a lot of traditionally published authors have taken advantage of the community for readership, I get to read stories from Colleen Hoover and Anna Todd. I also read some from our local independent authors like Ansela Corsino, Mina Esguerra, and Janelle Ruiz. These Filipino authors write in English.

So here’s the thing. Before After by Anna Todd, The Kissing Booth by Beth Reekles, and Too Late by Colleen Hoover were published, I’ve already read them all. Thanks to Wattpad.

Step 2: Finish the Whole Story

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When I tried beta reading, the author gave me a soft copy of the manuscript, which should be kept confidential. What I did was read the whole story first and left bits of spot-on comments throughout the document.

This technique worked for me but it varies per reader. I just think that by reading the story as a whole before evaluating it, I would have a better understanding of the world that the author has built in the novel. Also, I’d like to see if the characters have developed throughout the story before I judge them.

If you’ve just scanned the document and didn’t go on full reader mode, your comments wouldn’t help the author. The goal here is to test the effectiveness of the novel and that would not be achieved if you haven’t read the whole manuscript at all.

Step 3: Leave “Honest” Comments

The comments I’ve mentioned earlier are the ones I think I could forget once I finish reading so I had to add comments every now and then through the Review option of Microsoft Word.

For those haven’t used that option yet, here’s a screenshot:

review comment

First, highlight the parts that caught your attention and click Review  > New Comment, then type your comment on the red balloon. You can also leave general feedback per chapter to make it more organized. But I love to leave bits of comments throughout the story to surprise the author.

If you want, you can also help the author by highlighting grammar or typographical errors that you’ve noticed all throughout.

As much as possible, be honest with your comments but please do not be rude. You can give negative feedback but phrase them in a nice way. Remember to always respect the author/writer for his or her hard work. You’ll never know what a person has gone through just to finish the manuscript.

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Step 4: Evaluate the Story

Now here comes the tough part. Evaluating a story is not easy. You have to consider many factors before giving that “insightful advice” to the author. But do it sparingly, do not overdo your comments as the manuscript will still undergo developmental editing.

Here’s a list of things you should pay attention to when beta reading:

  • Plot (Point out plot holes so that the author can find a way to resolve this)
  • Characters (Which of the characters were you able to connect with? Are the characters round or flat?)
  • Dialogue (Is the language used oversimplified or complicated? Did you find the exchange between lovers too dramatic? Is it realistic? Believable?)
  • Conflict (Was it resolved? Was it enough? Was it cliché? As a reader, do you want more or less?)
  • Structure/Format
  • Weaknesses
  • Strengths
  • Inconsistencies (Is the author consistent with the Point of View, Tense, Setting, Names, etc.?)
  • Facts (We are talking about romance here so as much as possible facts should be checked and the plot should be realistic–unless it’s fantasy)
  • Pace (Just like in movies, pacing is important in novels, too. Did the story flow easily? Were the lovers separated by conflict? Did they reunite immediately? Cliffhangers, anyone?)
  • References (Fact-check any references from other materials)
  • Theme (Was the central theme followed?)

Tip: Before making your judgment, tell the author upfront about your biases. It doesn’t hurt to leave a caveat before evaluating the story.

Step 5: Make Suggestions/Recommendations

In this part, you have to address some narrative issues. Give concrete examples from the manuscript and make suggestions so that the author can improve the story.

Based on what you have evaluated earlier, recommendations should follow or else your advise would be invaluable.

You think the chemistry between the lovers in the story is not believable? Say it. Tell the author what you think he or she can do. But leave a disclaimer.

After all, it’s the author’s verdict that will reign in the end.

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I hope that you find these tips helpful and that I’ve inspired you to beta read. ‘Till next time! 😀

marge

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