Recently an author friend asked me to take on a different role, that of a beta reader for his newly completed book. As a reviewer for CrimeFictionLover I’m used to expounding my opinions on the latest novels, but this was criticism taken to a new level.

I began my first read with trepidation. What should I be looking out for? How could I be critical without offending my pal? What if I absolutely hated it? After a sleepless night, I decided to email and come clean.

My friend was very helpful and I’ll share his advice here.

It’s your reading eyes in general I’m after! Broadly I’m not worried about missing commas or the odd typo, a copy editor should pick that up, same with repeat words. I think it’s pretty clean anyway.

You’re an expert reader / reviewer and I’d appreciate it if you could treat this as any other book you’d pick up for CFL. I’m trying to see if the premise works, the story reads well, the characters are well rounded etc., or if any of the story strands aren’t properly tied up, i.e. I’ve not developed the story fully. I’m not after a big report, a reader impression is totally fine. You’ve read a lot of my stuff before so you’re really well placed to be comparative too. 

In the end, I approached the beta read very much like one of my proofreads. I always have a first run through to give myself some idea of the author’s style, their quirks and to spot any glaring errors of spelling and repetition.  It also offers the chance to spot any plot holes, early doors. After that first read I had a couple of niggles already, so I made notes and then settled down to read the book again.

In the end, I sent my friend a short report and he came back with secondary questions about my comments. A couple of weeks later, he emailed me with another query – had I been bothered by the perspectve jumping around? After some consideration, I said no.

Last week, I got a thank you note from my friend, who said my comments had been the most useful of all his beta readers. He had taken all of the criticism on board, tweaked the book and is now looking for an agent. I wish him lots of luck and hope to see the book in print soon.