I provide beta-reading (as well as proofreading/editing) services and I receive manuscripts with the same issues over and over. There are several things that an author can do to make their manuscript easier to read. Here are my top five tips.
- Double-space your manuscript, or at least space it 1.5. When I receive a manuscript, I want to be able to read it easily. Sure, I’m redlining from a Word document and I can easily do it, but the author should remember to do this before sending; it’s common courtesy. Also, it’s important to place page numbers in the footer. If I print it out, I want to keep the pages in order.
- Check for typos. This sounds obvious, but I’m also talking about typos such as their for there, or whether for weather. This is where search/replace can be used. (Select the F5 key and select Find or Find/Replace.)
- Don’t be monotonous. Nothing makes a manuscript more boring than “he said,” “she said” throughout the entire story. Do not write this! Use variation. If there is uncertainty as to who is talking, the beta reader will let you know. If there are only two people in a conversation, it’s fairly easy to follow along.
- Make sure you are using the correct word or phrase. Make it a habit to check out the definition of a word if you are unsure. An easy way to do this is to highlight the word and click on the shift key and the F7 key at the same time. Once the Thesaurus pops up, you can use that, or select the drop down arrow to select the dictionary. I don’t like to waste time trying to figure out what the author wants to say. A beta reader’s purpose is to read your story right before publication, not to read your first draft. Don’t use betas as your free proofreader; that is not what they signed up for. (Unless you both agree ahead of time or you hire them to proofread also.)
- Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. What do you want from a beta reader? Do you want her to concentrate on the characters? Do you want her to comment on plot flow? Would you welcome comments or suggestions? Keep in mind that family members are not true beta readers. They will read your story and LOVE it. You’ll ask questions, and their only answer will be “GREAT!” They won’t point out flaws or plot holes, or obvious mistakes. They don’t want to hurt your feelings. Find an outside beta reader.
Lastly, don’t forget to thank your beta. They read for the love of reading. They’ve spent precious time, sometimes hours, reading your story. Some authors offer a beta reader a free book once it’s published, or a gift certificate. Whatever you do, be sincere. Happy writing!
See my prices for beta and editing services here.