Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How To Be A Good Beta Reader

Good critique partners and beta readers are a must for any writer, aspiring or professional. If you have a writer friend, or if you're a writer yourself, chances are you'll find yourself in this role sooner or later. Want to be the best you can be? Here are some tips for ways to improve your beta reading/critiquing.

Be honest

You can't help the writer if you aren't being honest with them. Don't feel like you can't be critical--that's kind of the point! If something isn't working for you, say so. If you are bored during a chapter, say so. If you find the main character unlikable, say so. 

Be kind

Don't take the "I must be critical" advice in the wrong direction. You don't need to be all "Doctor House" here. Beta reading is not an opportunity for you to get your snarkfest on--not unless you specifically know that the writer will find this funny or helpful. If you derive some sense of satisfaction from ripping someone a new one, tap that crap down when critiquing. Be professional. Be kind. Be mindful that you are trying to be helpful--and being unnecessarily hurtful is not usually helpful.

Be specific

When you're being (helpfully and kindly) critical, don't simply say "I didn't like this chapter." Vague feedback is unhelpful feedback. You could have disliked any number of things, and the writer will have a hard time fixing something when she doesn't know where to start. Instead, say "I found the pace too sluggish" or "The dialogue in this chapter was unrealistic to me" or "When the main character complains all the time, I lose sympathy for her," etc. And then expand from there--give specific examples, and perhaps suggest some changes.

Offer both positive and negative feedback

Remember, your ultimate goal should be to help the writer. If you only succeed in discouraging the writer, you probably haven't helped them. Some crit partners fall into a "negativity rut" and only talk about what is wrong with the book or short story they are evaluating.

I like to say two positive things for every negative thing when I'm critiquing--it makes the negative things more palatable, and it helps keep the writer from becoming too discouraged in the fact of all the problems I may have found.

Don't try to make the book into something it's not

Remember that this isn't your book. Your goal is helping the writer, and that means encouraging and shaping their artistic vision for their project. If the book is a young adult paranormal thriller, don't suggest that the writer turn it into a contemplative, contemporary literary novel. Don't insist on making the book something you'd write. Your goal is to help the book be the best it can be as it is, not as you might make it if you were the writer.

17 comments:

  1. This is super helpful. Being a beta can be a little intimidating. Trying to balance helpful and kind can be a little difficult. Good points all!

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  2. I like your thoughts under "be kind." I think people like to prove their creative legitimacy and authority by being creative within the critique. Not the right place.

    (I know because I've done it.)

    If someone's asking you to critique, they've already given you authority.

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  3. I have more trouble finding beta readers, let alone good ones. :( Thanks for the advice, though. I'll keep it mind if I'm ever asked to beta.

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  4. JJ: This is true ... you can always seek out readers on Twitter. That's where I've found most of mine. Sometimes it helps to start small, like with a query or a book description, and THEN work up to asking for critiques (offering critique of their stuff in exchange, of course).

    Also, a number of my beta readers are family and friends who read a lot of books or dabble in writing.

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  5. Great points! Being snarky never helps anything. Hey, I've found at least one critique partner on Twitter, too!! :)

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  6. SO true. I agree with you completely.

    By the way, I just wanted to let you know that you are one of the three amazing bloggers I listed for the Pay It Forward Blogfest! I hope you see some major blog love! :)

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  7. I was wondering where that spike in traffic came from. Emily, you are my hero. Again. :)

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  8. An accurate and important list--thanks!

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  9. Oh, yeah, I came from Emily White's Blogfest post.

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  10. Thanks, Elle, and nice to meet you! :)

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  11. So true, I'd rather have negative feedback, constructive that is, than positive most of the time anyway, that way I can make it better and won't do it again, blog hopped your way too, great post.

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  12. Just found you through L.C.'s "Pay it Forward" shout-out... This post is spot-on, and I can't wait to explore your site some more! :)

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  13. Hi, I found your blog through the Pay it forward blogfest and love your post about being a good beta reader or critique partner. I am struggling to find one now and have been trying to get as much information as I can. Thanks for the advice.

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  14. Pat, LisaAnn, and Melissa: So nice to meet you guys! Welcome!

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  15. Excellent tips. As far as the first one goes, I guess it's good that I don't mind telling people how it is. Except, well, not being douchey about it.

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  16. Joshua: Thanks! And beta readers who'll tell you how it is are pure gold :)

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