Beta reading is not the same thing as editing (although editing could be included in a beta read); it’s more like beta testing of a computer product. These are some things to consider about beta reading, whether you’re the author or the reader:
-Before you volunteer to beta read, you should probably know what genre the book/story is, how long it is, when the author would like you to be finished by, etc.
-Before you send out your book/story for beta reading, you should think about (a) how many beta readers you want, (b) how many rounds of beta reading you want, (c) whether your potential readers know the genre you’re writing in, (d) the experience level of those beta readers (i.e., are they professional editors, casual readers), (e) how you might reciprocate (usually, if someone beta reads for you, it’s nice to return the favor)… the list goes on and on.
-What kind of a beta read does the author want? How detailed do they want feedback to be? Do they want the beta reader to nitpick at grammar errors or do they want the beta reader to focus on the big picture of how the story fits together?
-Is the work ready for publication? If not: (a) how much more editing will it take to be ready? a little more? a lot more? (b) should it even see the light of day at all? (c) what kind of publication (self or traditional) might the author consider choosing, based on genre or how well the book fits into the general trend of what’s “hot”?
-What can be done to improve the work? What elements of plot, characters, setting, pacing, theme, etc. could change or be made better?
I feel like I am a better beta reader if I am given specific things that the author would like me to make note of or to look out for. It’s helpful if the author tells you not to worry about grammar, so that you can concentrate on just the story, and likewise, it’s helpful if the author tells you that all you have to look for are grammar-related problems.
Also, the difference between an alpha reader and a beta reader… some people don’t make a distinction between the two. Some people might use “alpha” readers for the first round of critique and “beta” readers for the second round. Or some people might use “alpha” readers for big-picture things and “beta” readers for the little nitpicky grammar things. “Alpha” readers might be people the author knows in person, “beta” readers might be people the author knows online. I suppose it’s up to the author. I personally don’t make a distinction.
Is there anything in particular you look for when you’re choosing beta readers? What types of things do you consider about the work while you’re beta reading?