This week I got asked to do my first ever beta read for a fellow writer. It was a type of book that I don't generally read (fantasy), and I'm in the middle of a lot of projects right now (editing, planning, submitting...) but I couldn't pass up the opportunity when it was presented to me.
I loved the book. The characters were engaging, the plot progressed, there was a fairly satisfactory ending (it's the first book in a series, so there has to be some leeway given there) and I thought that pretty much everything was sound. No serious plot holes or devices. I can't wait for her to write the next book, and I'm crossing my fingers that she'll ask me to beta for her again.
The thing is, before I started reading this book, I was extremely nervous.
Beta reading is probably one of the hardest things to do in the world, if you give it any thought whatsoever. The book that you're being given is someone's baby. They've worked on it for weeks, months or (in some cases) even years. The characters are more like children growing and becoming the people they want them to be (or perhaps ones that you really didn't want them to be) right in front their eyes. The characters that die are mourned.
I could never just take a book and completely rip it apart. I know that some writers actually hope for that, but I'm a firm believer that there's good in pretty much every single book that's out there. And I more than firmly believe that every writer should know what they're doing right.
Of course, having been on the receiving end of critiques and feedback, I know that even a few things wrong can make you feel like everything needs to be redone.
The last thing I ever want is to be the person that makes a writer think that they can't do it. I want the book to be the best it can be, but that doesn't mean that's it my job to rip the thing to pieces and toss it on the ground in front of them.
So when I was writing out my feedback, I tried hard to make sure I put in the good as well as the bad.
I'm not actually sure that I accomplished my goal. I'm hoping that she knows just how much I loved the book, that the feedback I gave her was just a preference and not something she absolutely has to do. After all, writing can't be all about the readers. While we have to keep them in mind while we're working on our respective projects, we also have to remember that this is our story. No matter what our beta readers or critique group say, we have to be true to whatever drove us to write the story in the first place.
I certainly hope to get the chance to do more beta reading in the future. I loved being able to give a writer feedback that they can use to make their book as perfect as it can be.