5 Ways to Help your Beta Readers

Once written, words live forever…or do they?

I’m an Indie mystery series writer.

I find my Beta readers get very cranky when I ask them to read for content and development, and they spend most of their time catching typos and missing words.

So I’ve developed the following protocol, which helps me help them:

I am aware of the quirks of the programs I’m using:

Scrivener is a dynamite writing tool for a modest price. In fact they have a free month’s demo. But the default (for PCs) is that old-fashioned Courier font, which means dumb quotes and em dashes written as “- -“. Both can easily be changed using a global replace in Word, which is where my manuscript usually resides, once I’ve done the initial organizational work in Scrivener. 

BUT, Word is not perfect, either. It has the annoying habit of auto-fill and auto-correcting the wrong words. It will subscript fractions, which leads to some interesting results. I’ve got to be alert to all of these and more as I read through the manuscript.

I recognize my OWN quirks and idiosyncrasies.

Mine include the following:

My brain gets lazy and echoes the same words and phrases…on the same page, in the same paragraph, in the same sentence, even.

Worse, I find myself using the same trope I’ve used in a previous novel. The poor heroine gets trapped on the same elevator, on the same floor…or the hero in two subsequent novels shrugs that same left shoulder…or the chase car squeals around the corner into that dark alley…

And there are those slightly unusual words that my subconscious likes to use again, and again, and again.

I foil my right-side brain by sticking all of these idiosyncrasies on a 5 x 8 card that I keep close by as I eagle-eye the manuscript.

Speed Reading

In addition to fingertip goofs, such as “think” for “thing” and “fine” for “find,” I find that the speed reading I do every day on the Internet allows me to blank on missed words in my writing, too.

If I proofread on-screen, I zip right over skipped words, seeing “in hospital,” rather than “in the hospital” as perfectly okay, even though I’m not from Yorkshire, England. Of particular distress are pronouns and prepositions: I can blindly ignore all sorts of two letter words: In, of, by, and on’s get lost by the hundreds!

“A” and “an” provide a particular field day. If you are like me, in the process of revision, I’ll often substitute one word–a much better word, of course–for the one in my original draft. If the second word starts with a vowel versus the first word choice starting with a consonant, I’m in a heap of trouble.

Names

I wish I could use “placeholder” names, but all of my characters begin their life in my novels with a carefully chosen first and last name.

This works, until one of the ensemble characters arrives on the scene with a similar moniker. I can’t change their name, which has been graved into the stone of Amazon’s Kindle system. So “John,” my series character stays, and “Johnny,” the new person, has to leave.

And if I change that name, it may mean changing yet another character’s as well. It’s a cascading effect that I try to minimize through the use of a naming data base.

But when a change must occur, I then have to go through the entire manuscript with Word’s find-and-replace to do just that. And a global replace with a space before and after doesn’t always work either. That procedure will not catch names followed by a period or a hyphen or in the possessive.

Punctuation

I’m pretty good with capitalizing sentences and making sure series are separated by commas and periods occur at the end of sentences.

But problems will crop up in the revision stage, when my computer curser will move to a weird spot and I’ll end up with an extraneous word like “and” in the middle of a word: strandaight.

Or I’ll move bits of a sentence around, and then there’s an orphan period at the beginning of a paragraph, or worse, a sentence that is missing one.

Having written a half a million words now, give or take a few hundred, I know all of the above will happen, on a regular basis, in each and every manuscript that I write.

I could hire a line editor for this phase, but I’d rather save their good efforts for my final draft after I get the rough back from my beta readers and follow their great suggestions for revision.

So here is my protocol for minimizing errors:

  1. I run my pre-Beta copy through Grammerly. They have a pro version, which costs $, but also a free version that incorporates right into the Word task bar. Very handy!
  2. I next put this Grammerly revised copy through an editing program that checks for echoes and repeats, since that is a standard bug-a-boo for me. The one I favor is a new one on the market, Editomatic which has some other handy editing features as well. They also have a demo version.
  3. At this point, I print off a hard copy, using a different font. If my original manuscript is a serif font such as Times New Roman, I’ll do a control-A and change the font to a sans serif such as Arial. And before I print the copy, I’ll change the line spacing to something different, for example, double space if I’ve been using line-and-a-half.
  4. I read this hard copy line by line, using a ruler, and silently mouthing the words. I  revise my online manuscript with the changes I make.
  5. Finally, I use that text-to-voice feature of Word to re-read the entire manuscript, dictated in a very nice male voice, as I follow along, my finger to the hard-copy page. You’d be surprised what he and I catch on this final read-through!

I’ve found that if I follow this protocol, my Beta readers are willing to give me another shot on my next book, and I am able to produce a clean copy for my line editor to fine-tune.

What works for you?
What errors are your nemesis?
How do you catch them?