5 Things You Must Do Before Submitting Your Manuscript to a Beta Reader

I provide beta-reading (and proofreading/editing) services on Fiveer 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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. Highlight your chosen word and click on the shift key and the F7 key at the same time.  The thesaurus will pop up.  There are at least 25 other words you can use instead of “said.”
  4. 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 proof also.)
  5. 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.  Goodreads has a great group of free betas. Or try out Fiveer; the cost is reasonable.

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!

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3 thoughts on “5 Things You Must Do Before Submitting Your Manuscript to a Beta Reader

  1. I’ve read over 60 how-to books on writing fiction. I’ve often come across the admonition to use “said” rather than most of the alternatives. Has this changed now? If so, could you possibly point me to a reference that supports the change? Thanks.

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    1. Hi, thank you for your comment. I will give you an example of what I mean. I recently beta-read a book like this. Yes, really. It was so boring I couldn’t wait to get through it. That’s why it’s important to get your manuscript edited. (Of course, I will use my own made-up words but you will get the idea.)

      “I got a new puppy this weekend,” she said.
      “Alright!” He said.
      “You should get one,” she said.
      “Yes, I will!” He said.
      “What type of dog would you like to get,” she said.
      “I don’t know. I will take a look,” he said.
      “We can go sometime soon,” she said.
      “That sounds like a plan,” he said.

      Most readers would give up on this book! What do you think?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for your detailed answer. To me, you’ve given us an excellent example of “blow-by-blow” dialogue, i.e. too many mundane details. Also it’s what I’ve heard called “on the nose” dialogue – which means that it lacks subtle hidden assumptions, unstated meanings and silent emotions. Also, I’d agree with you that it wouldn’t be necessary to tag each line, because the reader doesn’t need every line tagged to understand which of the two people is talking. Simply skipping every other “he (or she) said” would be efficient. With two people talking and our tradition of having each new piece of dialogue begin as a new paragraph, it wouldn’t be necessary to tag more than a few lines. Additionally, if the character’s voices are distinct enough, even fewer tags are necessary. But these issues are not what I’m asking you about.

    Using synonyms of “said” is the issue I’m wondering about. Examples: “he suggested,” “she replied,” “he argued” “she squealed” “he interjected” “she bellowed,” etc. Every “how to” book I’ve read says to avoid these synonyms of “said” and simply use “said” with no concern for redundancy.

    Nevertheless, I’m wondering if this rule of thumb is changing now. In “Hunger Games” for example, Rowling uses quite a few synonyms for “said.” Have you come across a “how to” book on fiction writing that recommends the use of synonyms for said? If so, could you tell me the name of the book? I need to read it. Thanks very much! 🙂

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