Beta Reading Sucks

I know.  It’s amazing that I would hate to beta read since I love to tell people my opinion.  Honestly, when my friends are having work or relationship problems I’m the first one to be asking questions and pointing them in the direction I think they need to go.

You know, “Well, do you think that maybe it would be better if you didn’t tell your boss that he’s an idiot to his face?”

Or, “In my experience, when a guy only calls you after 10 PM on a weekend night he’s not exactly looking for his future wife…”

I eat that shit up.  But beta reading.  Beta reading I hate.  Telling someone you dislike something in their novel is a bit like telling someone their newborn child is ugly.  You’re thinking to yourself, “Is that really the best picture you were able to take?  The kid is screaming and has his hands curled in front of his face like he’s possessed.”  Instead you say, “Wow, what a strong baby.  Look at him hold on to that rattle.”  (Or something similarly odd and innocuous.)

The problem with beta reading is that, at least for me, I’m putting myself in a “how can this be better” mindset.  And that’s not the normal mindset I read books in.  And not the normal mindset for most readers.  So, a beta read by me is always going to be more critical than a casual reader’s opinion.  But I assume that I’m beta reading to help improve a book.

Of course, my opinion is just my opinion.  I did two beta reads this week.  Two.  (I was a bit behind on things.)  And I shared this thought with one of the writers, so I’ll share it here, too.

If I had beta read 50 Shades of Grey I would have had tons of edits.  For example,

1. You can’t have a character who was a virgin until she meets this guy orgasm on cue every time she has sex.

2. The tampon sex scene – ew!  Is that necessary?

3. A guy who follows a woman who asks for space to another state because he needs to see her is a stalker.

4. Enough already with the inner goddess/whatever else conversations.

5. You’re not supposed to describe a character by having her look in the mirror.

Those are just the ones I can remember six months after having read that book.  But you know what?  There were parts of that book I actually enjoyed reading.  And there were a ton of people who liked that book so much that they went on to read the other two books.  And recommended it to friends.  And joined fan clubs and decided to try S&M because of it.

(And that’s saying a lot.  When was the last time you read a book and it made you think it might be fun to let someone strap you down and whip you with a riding crop?)

And if I had been a beta reader for 50 Shades of Grey I’m pretty sure I would’ve made it a more well-written novel.  But I could have just as easily ruined the “magic” that it has.  There is something in that book that speaks to a number of readers.  And I don’t think it would’ve done so had it been all polished up and pretty.  Sometimes a beta read makes something “normal” and “safe” and “acceptable” and that’s rarely what makes for a breakout novel.

Which is not to say that someone shouldn’t beta read your novels.  It’s just that if you do have a vision for your novel and you get a beta read that goes against that vision, feel free to throw it in the trash.  (Especially if it’s from me.  Because, really, what do I know?)


About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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3 Responses to Beta Reading Sucks

  1. Gwen says:


  2. Jenny says:

    Tampon scenes are definitely problematic.

    • mhleewriter says:

      Yeah. Probably good for EL James that it was towards the end of the book. Still. Not really needed… At least I assume most people liked her books despite that scene. If they liked them BECAUSE of that scene…oh my.

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