Critique/Beta Responsibility

Posted on 06/15/2010

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Sometimes you suck and sometimes you suck hard.

I am talking about beta reading/critiquing.  Seems to me there is a certain measure of responsibility that goes along with helping a friend by reading their work and giving feedback. You have to be honest, you have to be nice (this is their freaking baby after all! Don’t call it ugly!) you must give both positive and negative feedback, and you must offer insight.  Insight? Yeah.

See, most people don’t know how other people think. Hell, none of us know how anyone besides ourselves think.  But by reading something that someone has asked you to, and giving good, truthful feedback, you’re giving them insight into you.

A couple of rules I would like to offer up to beta readers/critiquers:

  • Don’t offer to beta read or critique if you really and truly don’t have the time. I have caught myself doing this a few times and wished I hadn’t of offered (especially when I got a book that was supposed to be 120k, but turned out being nearly 280k!).  If you aren’t sure you’re going to be able to get feedback to the writer sooner, rather than later, just tell them up front. It will be much easier on you in the long run, and you won’t have to start dodging your friend online, and at the workshop.
  • If you do offer to critique, ask the writer if they (I’m not going to write, he or she every ten times. We’re going with THEY) want you to read 50 pages, submit feedback, rinse, repeat.  Or do they want to wait for the entire thing?  Check first.
  • Find out just how brutal the writer wants you to be in your feedback. There are certain writers I know I can HAMMER the hell out of when I read their stuff, but they never bat an eye. They want brutal, they want harsh.  Then there are others, who I have to be more…diplomatic in my approach. I’ve also found the longer the person has been writing, the harsher you can be with the critique. New writers just can’t take the pummeling of their stories.
  • Find out if the writer wants copy-editing, grammar, sentence structure checked, or just overall storylines.  Sometimes you’ll offer to beta-read, make changes to sentences or punctuation, and the writer will get pissed.  Check this before and save yourself some grief.
  • Work inline in the document if you can, and write up a short overall crit afterward.  This way you can capture your thoughts in the document as you go. (Unless, like me, the 280,000 word novel was in NOTEPAD….FUCE)
  • Be honest. I don’t know how many times I can say this. You must tell them what you really thought. If you lie or pussyfoot (I LOVE that word) around, you’re not helping your writing buddy. Think about it, wouldn’t you rather have someone tell you there was a huge problem with your story BEFORE you started sending it out into the world?

Well those are my quickies. Is there anything I missed? Tell me.

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Posted in: Writing