I thought I already had a blog post about this topic, but I didn’t. Is déjà vu blogging a sign of something worrisome? *smile*
Anyway, I want to thank agent Laura Bradford, who gave me the idea for this post when she shared several great tips on Twitter yesterday about beta readers and critique partners. For those who aren’t familiar with the difference, let’s define these terms the way most people probably would (and how Laura saw them).
A beta reader is someone who reads our “the best we can make it by ourselves” draft and gives feedback about big picture things: the characters, the plot, the pacing, etc. A critique partner is someone who gives feedback that includes all of the above—and can go more in depth on a sentence-by-sentence level.
Why All Writers Need Beta Readers or Critique Partners
Either way, the purpose of beta readers and critique partners is the same. We can’t edit ourselves because we’re blind to our weaknesses and typos. So we need someone with a fresh set of eyes to check our work. Ideally, they’d catch our mistakes, saving us from sloppy writing, and push us to new levels with our craft and our story.
Laura brought up the topic because she doesn’t want to see authors reach a point where they think they’re “above” needing beta readers. Just because we have an agent doesn’t mean we’re suddenly capable of editing our own work.
She pointed out that agents shouldn’t be the ones dealing with things like “spelling errors, plot holes, continuity issues, the wrong their/they’re/there, etc.” Agents are agents, not editors.
The Essential Quality All Good Beta Readers Need to Have
But she also doesn’t want authors to think that having anyone as a beta reader or critique partner is good enough. Why are we told we shouldn’t depend on our mom for editing help? Because typically (yes, I know some mothers don’t fit this stereotype, but we’re talking typically here), our mothers would love our work even if it was in crayon and everything was spelled phonetically.
Our beta readers/critique partners need to have a critical eye.
They shouldn’t be reading our work for pleasure. They should actively be trying to find things that are wrong. When I beta read, I usually read the manuscript twice because I’ll unfailingly find additional issues on the second pass when I’m not as caught up in just reading the story.
What we really need to look for is someone who pushes us to go beyond what we think we’re capable of—but pushes us in a nice way. Maybe they’re able to push us on a craft issue where their strength lines up with our weakness. Or maybe they push us to see missing character motivations, low tension scenes, or new layers in our story.
However, if they aren’t able to critically look for those issues, chances are they won’t find them. And a generic “I liked it” won’t help us craft our best work. That should be our cue to keep looking for new beta readers who will be a better match to our needs.
Laura Bradford’s Tips about Beta Readers and Critique Partners
So let me share some of Laura Bradford’s advice about beta readers and critique partners from her tweet stream yesterday (edited for tweet speak).
- Have Multiple Beta Readers
“Everyone has different strengths and they may catch different issues. … [E]xamine your own strengths/weakneses. … Seek beta readers that can help you monitor/fix those areas where you are weakest in your writing.”
- But Don’t Have Too Many
“If you are getting too much advice and it is all over the place, that can be really detrimental. You need to learn (and there is a learning curve here) how to find the right betas for you. And you need to learn how to filter the advice/suggestions they give. Do not change your work just because someone said to.”
- Be Picky about which Beta Readers You Reuse
“[J]ust because you used a beta reader once does not mean that you have to keep using them. … [I]f you find yourself in a situation where a beta reader is not working for you, add another and see if he/she works better. You can add as many betas as you want until you find a good group, phase out the ones who were not as helpful. … [Y]ou owe it to yourselves and your work to do what you can to serve your work the best way you can. … That means finding a good beta reader for you, not just a beta reader.”
- Be Appreciative of Every Beta Reader’s Time (Even the “Bad” Ones)
“Even if they were a bad fit for you, unhelpful or soul-killing, they donated their time to you in order to help you. Say thank you. … Let me say this in big letters: BE APPRECIATIVE OF YOUR BETA READER’S TIME AND EFFORT.”
Additional Tips: How to Get the Most out of Our Readers
Others piped into her conversation with advice about making sure we’re sending big chunks to our readers. This is often more a concern with critique partners, when we might send one chapter at a time, rather than with a beta reader who typically sees 50+ pages to a full manuscript at once. A piecemeal approach makes it hard for the reader to see the forest for the trees, and they won’t be able to evaluate the overall story arc.
That said, this insight into the type of feedback we want should not be anything along the lines of “only tell me the good stuff.” We shouldn’t ask for “beta readers” or “critique partners” unless we’re willing to receive (hopefully, constructive) criticism.
One of my best readers is burnt out on beta reading because too many of her writer friends reacted badly to her feedback. I think her feedback is amazing, and it’s frustrating to have her unwilling to read anymore because of people just looking for praise.
Sure, we all want praise, but that’s not beta reading. If compliments are all we want, say we’re looking for “reading cheerleaders” or something. But don’t call it beta reading. *smile*
P.S. And now you know the secret to being a good beta reader: Have a critical eye. *grin*
What makes a “good” beta reader for you? What makes a “bad” beta reader for you? Do you know enough about your weaknesses to find beta readers or critique partners with that strength? Do you disagree with any of the advice here? Are you able to read with a critical eye?Pin It