The Landmines of Beta Reading ~ Outside the Margins with JP Barnaby

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JP Barnaby OTM

I find it interesting that once you become a published author and start talking about it, suddenly everyone you know is writing a book. And that’s great—it’s awesome, until they ask you to read it and give your opinion. Then, sometimes, it’s not so awesome.

Reason #1: You give them revisions and they think they’re the worst author ever.

Writing books boils down to two things—the story, and the execution. You can have an amazing story, but if you don’t grab the reader’s attention in the first five pages, they’ll never know. There is an avalanche of books hitting the market every day. If a reader can’t engage with a book quickly, there’s always something else to read. Hit them fast and hit them hard. Make them beg to know what the fuck is going to happen.

Recently, I had a friend, a first time author, send me her book and ask me to read it. She’s a good friend, so I agreed, of course. She’d front-loaded the book with exposition and a fair bit of info-dumping, slowing the pace. Most of it was written in passive voice, making the language weaker. I wasn’t compelled to read past the first five or ten pages.

This book wouldn’t sell to a publisher as written, and then I had to tell her that—which hurt me just as much as it did her.


Reason #2: You give them revisions and they think they’re God.

Writing books isn’t about ego—ask any multi-published author. That first book does amazing—YAY! Now, you have to write a better book. How do you outdo yourself again and again when you thought that first book was perfect? The moment you take those sales for granted and think you’re the shit, it shows in your work. Your language becomes perfunctory—it worked before, of course it will work again. But readers’ tastes evolve, and you can’t just write that same book again. You have to reinvent yourself with each story that comes alive on page.

So, I had another guy who sent me his book. I really enjoyed the story, but the execution needed work. There were classic mistakes in the telling that I pointed out throughout the manuscript. When I sent it back, he took none of my suggestions and submitted the book anyway. It was rejected and then suddenly, I was the bad guy. To this day, I’m still unclear as to why, and it still bothers me that I wasted all that time just to have my assistance dismissed. Why ask for help, if you have no intention of taking it?


Reason #3: They send you their book, and they’re better than you.

Writing books is about realizing that if you compare yourself to the amazing authors writing around you, you’ll always come up short. Why? Because they are different people with different experiences and different skills—they will always come up with ideas you can’t because they have a different perspective. I read for Rhys Ford. I read for Rowan Speedwell. I read for Shae Connor. I read Beneath the Stain by Amy Lane before it was released. I read these books and after being blown away by them, I wonder what the fuck I’m doing here.

Then a reader comes back and tells me that Aaron changed their life. They tell me that they came out in a small southern town and became Brian or Jamie. They tell me that their little boy or little girl spent months in the hospital after birth, and Robbie hit them like a train. They tell me that In the Absence of Monsters gave them hope that someday, they’ll stand strong in the face of their own sexual abuse. I get a dozen responses on a blog post about how I require medication to function. These people tell me about their own experiences and they thank me for telling mine because it makes them feel less alone.

Then, I remember what the fuck I’m doing here.

I like to view the positives in human nature. Yes, we are competitive. Readers only have so much cash to spend on books, and sure you want them to spend it on yours. But, you also want to see your friends and authors that you love succeed too. At least, I do. Eden Winters is the queen of beta reading, especially for new, young authors. Not only is she an amazing author in her own right, but she’s so very kind. She can deliver edits to someone with a smile and maybe some apple pie and they love her for it. I wish I had that kind of….well…tact.

When you beta read for friends, especially first or second time authors, set expectations in the beginning. You will be giving this your best opinions. They are only opinions, but if you are a multi-published author, there’s a reason you are. Let them know that if you just pat them on the head and tell them it’s amazing (and it could very well be), that you’re doing them a disservice.

My beta readers rip my books apart, and I’m thankful for it. Kage Alan can spot passive voice before he even opens the file. I think he smells it. Shae Connor, as a professional editor, has a wonderful way of bending language to her will. And Jodi – oh, my Jodi – she’s not afraid to tell me that my main character pisses her off, or that he’s with the wrong guy. Then, when these three have ripped it to pieces, Rowan Speedwell tells me I’m amazing and doctors the wounds. Now, my boyfriend Paul also reads them and finds my missing or incorrectly used words. I have an amazing group of people who make every book I write the best it can be – and that’s what every author needs.


Godspeed and happy writing!


~JP Barnaby


Title: Anthony (A Survivor Story)
Author: JP Barnaby
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Publication Date: 06/27/2016
Cover Artist: AngstyG
Genre: Contemporary, Gay Romance


Coming to Dreamspinner Press – June 27, 2016

Aaron Downing worshiped his mother. She saved his life. She did everything for him. But Anthony Downing has a different perspective. He sees the woman who tossed him into a basement for eight long years and forgot he existed. When Anthony decides he’s done being invisible, he packs up and heads for Detroit to stay with his Internet friend Jay, but fate intervenes.

Brendan Mears lost everything the day the man with a gun came into his father’s store. Now, he’s tethered to a business he can’t manage and a brother who resents him.

Different in all the ways that matter, Anthony and Brendan struggle to overcome their psychological obstacles, until a crushing betrayal sends them running for cover and each other.


“No fucking way.” Patrick kept his voice firm, allowing no room for argument. “If you hear anything, you keep your ass upstairs. In fact, when you come up, take the cordless with you so you can call the police if anything happens. The doors lock from the inside with a manual lock, so you can get out if you need to.” He leaned forward and caught Anthony’s wide-eyed gaze. “There is nothing, and I mean nothing in this store worth your life. Do you understand me?” His heart pounded as he tried to get his meaning through to Anthony. There’d been enough carnage in that store. Something in him ached at the thought of Anthony hurt or even killed by an intruder. God, he’d left the cameras off last night, left the store without setting the alarm. Some big badass protector he was.

“Okay, Jesus.” Anthony sat frozen, the straw halfway to his mouth.

“I’m not kidding, Anthony. You call the fucking police.”

“Okay.” Anthony rolled his eyes. It was less than Patrick wanted but probably all he’d get.

Then, under Anthony’s breath, he heard, “God. Good thing you didn’t get the strokerritto.”


Anthony (A Survivor Story) on Goodreads

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

About JP Barnaby

JP Barnaby, an award-winning gay romance novelist, is the author of over two dozen books, including Aaron and the Little Boy Lost Series. She recently moved from Chicago to Atlanta to appease her Camaro who didn’t like the blustery winters. JP specializes in recovery romance, but slips in a few erotic or comedic stories to spice things up. When she’s not hanging out with hot guys in leather, she binge watches superheroes and crime dramas on Netflix. A physics geek, she likes the science side of Sci-Fi, and wants to grow up to be Reed Richards.


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7 thoughts on “The Landmines of Beta Reading ~ Outside the Margins with JP Barnaby

  1. I just signed up to follow you on your website. Plus I purchased ‘Aaron.’
    So those are positives!

    Just think of all those doctors who go to cocktail parties and get hit up for diagnoses. Your in august company!

  2. I was hesitant the first time a much loved author asked me to beta read for them. I was all “OMG, what if I piss them off by giving my opinion or what if I am unable to be critical because of this fear”. Thankfully, I was able to get past my own fears and be open and honest about how a work spoke or didn’t speak to me. I enjoy beta reading. Thank you for your insight on what it is like to be an author as well as a beta reader,


  3. As a beta reader, I’ve gotten to the point where I’ll read the first ten pages of a newb’s manuscript. That’s usually enough to catch the typical mistakes, and I have a lot–too much, really–going on in the rest of my life.

    Reading for a proven author is a different matter, and I read to whatever depth I’m asked to.

    As a writer, I cherish my beta readers. Anyone who’s willing to volunteer his or her time to read my work deserves to be treated royally. It can also be rewarding to train a new beta reader, because as a reader his or her reaction is not wrong. S/he doesn’t have to diagnose the problem. That’s my job. But if a reader suddenly finds him/herself dropped out of the story, I need to know where.

    • I agree – like I told Kassandra above – most readers have read thousands of books. They know how it should flow and if something is off. They may not know the technical author-ly term for it, but “I fell asleep in Chapter 4” means bad pacing. 🙂

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