Memoir Writing Reflections #4: Beta Reading is Remarkable

Giselle in her home office sitting by her computer desk.

By: Giselle General

“Writing is a solitary activity, and it is so important to build your community.”

I understand that this is a reason why there are many activities, events and gatherings of various forms that are organized to give artists and writers a chance to get together. From workshops that help people learn specific skills, networking, showcasing one’s work, or even a working-buddy setup to prevent procrastination, there’s immense value in having a living, breathing, human being beside you.

The tricky part is that I personally need to limit my in-person community activities for two reasons. The first reason is I’m an introvert so these activities are meaningful but draining at the same time. The second reason is I am still more COVID-cautious compared to the average person. I had it once and would do everything I can to not get it again or spread it to someone else. Sadly, in most gatherings, hardly anyone wears masks anymore.

To mitigate these risks but also widen my writing community, I did a simple Facebook group search for writers and memoirists and joined three of them. Not too many though, so my feed won’t get dominated by posts from these groups. A lot of the time, I see people asking for advice on a wide range of topics: from grammar, editing, publishing, finding motivation, and many others. Reading these posts were so helpful. Also, I know that by commenting to give advice, or event choosing an emoji to express congratulations on someone’s success, that I’m contributing positively in a small way.

Several posts came to my attention about people asking for a beta reader, whether on how to get one, or asking people to be one.

In simple terms, a beta reader is someone who reads an unpublished work as a test. The writer, or someone else who is organizing the process, will give copies of the manuscript and ask broad questions about the beta reader’s experience reading. I wasn’t asked to analyze the chapters, check for grammar or tone or anything like that. If I boil down the questions I got after reading the book it comes down to “do I like reading it?”

Back in January, I saw a post from a writer asking for volunteer beta readers for their memoir. I just finished the entire first draft of my own manuscript and I decided to leave it alone for a few months. With the extra time I have, I agreed to be a beta reader for a person I’ve never met from the US. We messaged each other a bit on Facebook messenger, exchanged emails and that’s where it began.

I received the first third of the manuscript. I decided to make the experience as close to reading a book as possible. While I decided not to print, I changed the preview mode on Microsoft Word so it looks like a two-paged book or an e-book. I went through the chapters and answered her questions.

Since the questions are focused on impressions and enjoyment, I tried to find a balance between keeping my answers simple and giving some details on what I find vague or confusing that can impact a reader’s experience.

I offered to also be a beta reader for the rest of her manuscript when it is ready. She was happy to have someone who is from a different demographic from her (a younger adult woman from a different country).

Two months after, I got two files, the second and last third of her manuscript. She sent the same questions to gauge my impressions on the content as a reader. For some of the questions I had the same answer; for others, I provided more information and said that my answers from reading the first section apply.

I really enjoyed the experience. It’s an opportunity to see another person’s work in progress and their style in narrating a deeply personal part of their lives. I admire her for making the request on that writer’s group, as I imagine it can be daunting to show something vulnerable and not yet a fully published written work.

Will I do it again? Yes, absolutely! Even if it is a new way of procrastinating, it’s still a more productive way than most.

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