Three Tips for Being a Better Beta Reader
The Golden Rule of “treat others how you’d like to be treated” applies to most aspects of our lives—including our author life. One of the best things we can do to find beta readers for our work (at least among our network of author friends) is to offer to beta read for others.
Inside the beta reading relationship, the Golden Rule applies to the feedback exchanged as well. As someone who has been fortunate enough to have had many beta readers over the years, I know that not all feedback is created equal.
We might implement 80% of the suggestions from one reader and only 10% of the suggestions from another. How likely are we to reuse that 10% reader again? Not very. Unless that 10% is brilliant, it’s not going to be worth our time to reciprocate and continue to beta read for them.
That question can be reversed too. When we read for others, are we closer to being a 10% reader or an 80% reader? If we provide poor feedback, the recipient is less likely to encourage an ongoing “beta buddy” arrangement, just as we’d do in their place.
So to maintain a group of willing beta readers, it’s in our best interest to ensure our feedback is truly helpful. Like the story of Goldilocks, we have to find a middle ground where we’re not too harsh or mean, not too soft or timid—but just right.
Even more importantly, we have to provide feedback that helps the author improve their story, not the story we’d write. Here are three tips for how to increase the helpfulness of our feedback and become a better beta reader.
Tip #1: Focus on Making Their Story Better
The right kind of feedback makes us invaluable to other writers. They’ll be excited to read our work in exchange. Some of my readers’ feedback is so good that I not only instantly see the problem they point out, but it also makes me eager to dive into revisions. That’s good. *smile*
So what makes feedback “good”?
My number one tip is that we must work toward making their story better. We shouldn’t focus our comments on how we’d do it.
How we’d do it is irrelevant. Our voice is not their voice, our goals are not their goals, our themes and worldviews are not their themes and worldviews.
The only exception to this rule is when something about their writing isn’t working for us. Maybe the writing is passive, maybe the characters lack motivations, etc. Then—and only then—can we provide an example and say, “This doesn’t work for me because of xyz. Maybe something like abc would be stronger.”
Tip #2: Suggest Changes Only When the Writing Doesn’t “Work” in Some Way
Just because the writing is different from how we’d do it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. For all we know, the impression we’re left with is the impression they wanted.
Once, a reader of mine made tons of word choice suggestions to my manuscript because they assumed I didn’t intend the impression I’d created. However, I’d used those specific words for subtextual foreshadowing of a major plot point later in the story, and now I felt bad the reader had spent all that time on irrelevant suggestions. They could have saved a lot of time by giving one comment along the lines of, “Words like a, b, and c are creating an impression of z, and I’m not sure that’s what you wanted.”
If the writing works, suggested changes like word choice or sentence structure aren’t helpful. Unless the writer asked us for line-by-line, copy-editing-level feedback, we’re more likely to mess with their voice than to provide useful information.
If the writing doesn’t work, we should focus on why it doesn’t work for us. Separating our thoughts on whether a section doesn’t work or if it’s just not how we’d word it can be tricky sometimes. So we should ask ourselves why we want to change the writing.
- Does the current wording take us out of the story (confusing wording, voice/characterization seems off, too repetitive, slow pacing, no conflict/tension, etc.)?
- Are the stakes, goals, motivations, etc. unclear or weak?
- Do we not like or care about the characters?
If we can’t come up with a reason, we should leave it alone.
Tip #3: Always Give a Reason for Suggested Changes
The only time I make a change and don’t give a reason is when I find a missing word. Those are fairly self-explanatory. *smile*
Every other suggested change has my explanation of why. With that reason, the author can judge whether my suggestion comes from me not getting their voice, misinterpreting something, being confused, etc.
If we don’t give a reason, crossing out their writing and replacing it with our own is disrespectful. On the other hand, if we have a real reason, even nitpicky things like suggestions about word choices and sentence structures are helpful.
Leaving a comment like “I’d use x word instead of y word” isn’t a reason. Again, we must respect their voice.
In contrast, “I don’t think the character would use x word (would they even know that word?). Y seems more like their voice” is a real reason. The author now has enough information to decide whether to make the change or not.
We know what qualifies as a “real” reason. We’d want to know if the wording is confusing or caused others to stumble. We’d want to know if a section is too wordy or slow. We’d want to know when a character is too whiny or harsh. In short, we should give the type of feedback we know to be more helpful.
Give the kind of feedback we’d like to receive. There’s that Golden Rule again. *smile*
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Do you have other tips for giving good feedback? What feedback have you found most helpful? What feedback isn’t helpful to you? How much does the quality of feedback you receive affect whether you reuse a reader? How would you rate yourself as a reader?Pin It
Beta readers should also be honest.
Seriously, one reason I use my friends as beta readers is that they will actually tell when when they dislike a story or couldn’t get past the first few scenes. We then discuss to figure out why—maybe it’s just an issue of their taste, maybe it’s an issue with the story—and then we go from there.
For example, one friend of mine can’t stand vampires. Another can’t stand unreliable narrators. Most of my work has one of those things. That means they will dislike most of my writing and stop reading early in, but that doesn’t make them incapable of offering excellent feedback on what they do read, as in one of them helping me notice that a particular narrator was too paranoid and whiny.
Very true! Especially if the author has asked for honesty (as I always do)! I really want to know what my readers think, or I won’t know whether they interpret things the way I meant or not.
Truth isn’t disrespectful. We can couch our suggestions in “maybe try this…” or “would something like this work…” to make even the hardest feedback respectful.
Disrespectfulness has more to do with the tone of our comments, “you should…” Um, no. Then we’re assuming we know better than they would about what they’re trying to do with their story. 🙂 Thanks for reiterating that point!
Excellent suggestions, Jami. As a reader who happens to write, I find it quite the challenge to separate from “my way” of getting the words across. (Hopefully, practice makes progress; that translates to I like to think I’ve improved. ;)) I like all the points you mentioned, but the one about giving feedback to improve the writer’s vision for the story stands out best.
BTW, I HAVE to comment on the thoroughness and diligence and time you put into your previous package of posts. Slowly working my way through them, there is so much to be digested. I’m amazed and overwhelmed at how much you put out there for the rest of us. Thank you, and may good and blessings follow and lead you as well.
Enjoy your day!
Oh absolutely! I used to do more of the “bad” kind of feedback when I first started too. But as I noticed what kind of feedback worked best for me, I changed my approach–and decided to share what I’d picked up over the years. 🙂
Aww, thanks for the kind words about all those website-oriented posts! I’m glad that information is out there, but boy, am I glad to be working on other subjects again too. LOL! Thanks for the comment!
All fantastic points, Jami (as usual). My favorite is number 2.
Yes, I’ve seen an establish author rewrite a newbie author’s (neither of them me) work when there was nothing wrong with it to begin with. The changes were all word choice and sentence structure stuff. The poor newbie author thought this more-established author must know what she was talking about and felt pressured to change her voice to fit. *sigh* Thanks for the comment!
Thanks for these great tips. I know I’ve been guilty of these in the past. Now that I know how they are pitfalls, I can work to be a better beta reader!
Your tips are always so helpful!
Yes, I’ve been guilty of these in the past as well. 🙂
If sharing these tips means we become better beta readers for each other, that helps us all. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
LOVE these tips, Jami. So spot on! I’ve been personally trying to get better at being a better beta reader and critique partner. I’d have to say that in times past, I probably wasn’t as good as I needed to be for my writing friends, and that may be mostly because I was so “new” with being a beta reader and/or critique partner. BUT, I have definitely gotten more confident and therefore much better at this. I recently responded to a fellow author’s cry for help who needed her pages ripped. Which I did even though it made me nervous as hell–LOL! But the fantastic response from the author after she got my feedback let me know that I’d found my confidence and my “groove.” Quality feedback with constructive reasons behind *why* something isn’t working is #1 in terms of whether a beta reader and/or critiquer is re-used. Another plus in that decision is whether or not I learned something new from the reader. Ex: I make a decent amount of pop culture references (I can see you’re not surprised, Jami. 🙂 ). That was something a particular author didn’t like doing in her own work, so instead of removing the reference entirely, she highlighted and attached a link to a blog post on why pop culture references may not be a good idea. Whether I followed the advise was up to me, but still, I learned something. And the same happened when I received your feedback … I learned… — Read More »
Exactly! When we first start out, we don’t know what we’re doing–as an author or as a beta reader. I’m just as guilty as the rest of us because we all have to start somewhere. 🙂
Thanks for the great example of how we can share the “why”! Yes, if a reader doesn’t like something, we want to know why. Was it clunky? Did it trigger their “whiny” or “unlikable character” senses? Does it break grammar rules that we’ve consciously decided to break?
Also when we’re a reader, as we figure out the why when something isn’t working in another’s work, we might discover something about our own. Win-win. 🙂
I’m glad my feedback actually followed these tips (I don’t always listen to myself 😉 ) and was helpful for you. Thanks for the comment!
Good points, and something that takes a few tries to get right. That difference of what I would write and what will keep their voice and their story strong is the probably the biggest quality of a strong reading relationship.
Exactly! When I give an example in the comments of how to fix a broken section, I usually end it with something like, “But better. And in your voice. 🙂 ” That way they know that I’m not trying to rewrite it for them, I’m just trying to help jumpstart their brain. LOL!
I enjoy seeing examples from my readers, so I’m certainly not advocating that we get rid of those. 🙂 But I need insight into why they felt the need to “correct” my version so I can decide how to move forward. Sometimes I wanted the original impression, so I leave it. Sometimes their example gives me my own ideas of how to fix it. Sometimes their example is perfect and I use it as is. And sometimes I see their example and their reasoning and figure out that the problem was actually caused by a sentence on a previous page!
The point I hope to make here is that it’s best to not just rewrite the words for no reason. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
Fabulous advice! I’ve had both helpful and unhelpful betas. Someone telling me that they want a character to be completely different or they want a happy-go-lucky, walk-off-into-the-sunset ending (when that’s totally not my book) is not helpful. Like you said, that is what THEY would write, but I didn’t.
But I also don’t like a general “it’s good.” I can’t improve anything with that feedback. So yeah, I’m happy with a beta ripping my pages to shreds, as long as they give reasons why it didn’t work for them. Spot on with this post, Jami. Thanks!
So true! I’ve had both kinds of readers as well.
I had one contest judge point out all these characterization things saying the heroine wouldn’t do this or that or that because only a such-and-such kind of character would do those things. I banged my head on the keyboard and said, “Exactly. And she is a such-and-such kind of character.” But at least then I knew I’d gotten the characterization right. LOL! Thanks for the comment!
This is certainly true. I really do my best to be the beta-reader I want to have, someone who’s honest but respectful of my genre, and the more niche your genre is, the harder that is to find. I think because I had some less than joyous beta-reader experiences I early on, I really make sure what I bring up is really important when I’m the beta-reader for someone else. BTW, I’m glad my advice on your query was helpful, Jami. Unless I’ve already had a particular lesson drilled into my head, I’m not as helpful with the technical stuff (When to use a semicolon versus making short sentences out of a longer one), but I know when emotions in character ring true, so it’s key to have beta-readers who are stronger in areas you’re weakest, and vice versa, so you both get news you can use, in a way that encourages you, without being misleading just to spare someone’s feelings. What Jami’s saying about how feedback is delivered and inferred is VITAL! I had many a beta-reader who while pointing out things I needed to know, the way they put it didn’t exactly encourage me to redo it. You don’t have to go demonic drill sergeant on someone to make your point. While many writers I know take well to that approach, I don’t, though some changes (That I do agree with once I know WHY they’re being suggested) are harder to make than others. Thankfully I did have… — Read More »
Hi Taurean, Yes, so much of this really comes down to having respect for others’ genres, voices, and intentions. As for your observation about technical things, I agree that’s tricky. I know about 99% of the grammar rules, but when I comment on those in someone’s manuscript, I still give them the reason. Like Melinda mentioned above about one of her readers, I often link to a post explaining the rule. When I first started writing, I was a stickler for grammar rules and used to comment on them all the time when I read for others. Bad me. 🙂 Now, that I have a voice, I break grammar rules all the time in my blog posts and my fiction–on purpose. 🙂 I use fragments for voice and rhythm and emphasis. So now when I give grammar corrections to things that might be voice-related, I give the reason and end with a “But this might be a voice thing, in which case, just ignore this comment. 🙂 ” As for writers who don’t feel strong in their critiquing skills, I’d say it comes down to a combination of reading with a critical eye (that is, reading with awareness so we’ll notice when things strike us as “not working”) and commenting with respect. And great point about how the author can help focus feedback by stating what questions they want answered and what style of feedback they’re looking for. I don’t blame you for staying quiet on the website posts. Like… — Read More »
I know I’ve been guilty of some of these things. I’m always trying to do better. It’s difficult. You have to make a judgment call on how much in detail your read should be. If someone is giving you a 3rd or 4th draft, it’s best to get down to the nitty-gritty and give feedback on everything – sentence structure, voice, word choice, etc. If someone is giving you a first draft, I think it’s better to give feedback on the big picture stuff –characters, story arc, etc. The question remains: Have I picked apart too much or have I not done enough. Hopefully, my judgment will improve with time and practice. As a beta reader, you’ve got to do a bit of a juggling act. You have to point out what’s not working at the same time you need to stay positive. I’m very fortunate to have beta read for things that I enjoyed. I don’t know how hard it would be to have to tell someone that nothing is working. As writer, I prefer to get back honest feedback. Even if that feedback is harsh. I may sulk and feel sorry for myself for a few days, but if even one or two of those things are useful to me, I figure the momentary wound was worth it. I’d use that person again if for no other reason than keeping my ego in check. 🙂 As an aside, I’ve read for people who didn’t bother to run the… — Read More »
I’m right there with you about being guilty of some of these things before I learned better. 🙂
Great point about how we probably should get more nitpicky if the author is sharing a later draft. This goes back to what Taurean reminded me above about how the author can ask questions for the reader to focus on. And again, being nitpicky about word choice or sentence structure or voice stuff isn’t a bad thing as long as we can give them a reason why. It’s the making changes without a reason that’s a problem. 🙂
And I’m with you. One of my favorite beta readers is also the harshest as far as number of comments and things she doesn’t like, but she gives her reasons and she doesn’t try to change the story or the characters, so her feedback is still respectful of what I’m trying to do. Perfect. 🙂
Ack! No spell check? I’ve read for some that had distracting issues too. I’ve stopped after 5 pages or the first chapter or so and sent them what I had with a note about having them check to make sure my feedback is going to be helpful before I continue because I keep getting distracted by xyz issues. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
I think I’ve gotten better at being a beta reader too. At first, I was afraid to suggest any sort of word or sentence changes, because even though I thought a sentence might be confusing, I couldn’t guarantee that it wasn’t just a difference their voice vs. my style. So I would say nothing. Now I have abetter feel for such things.
It also helps when you and your CP have been together for awhile.
Yes, I try to point out issues I see and give the reason behind my comment–and then add a note that it might just be a voice thing, in which case to ignore it. That way the author is aware of the potential problem, knows how I’m interpreting the current wording, but also gets the encouragement to judge for themselves. 🙂
And you’re absolutely right about how once we’ve had a CP or beta reader for a while, we have a better handle on their voice and what they’re trying to do with their story. Then we can focus our comments better toward what would help them, and we trust that they’ll take our comments in the spirit we intended. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
Arg! I just realized I missed your on-line discussion tonight.
Are you talking about the live Facebook Q&A? Nope, that’s next Thursday, April 11th at 7 p.m. Eastern time. 🙂
Yep, just realized that while reading your latest post. Unfortunately, this Thursday is when my critique group meets. Sigh.
I’ll probably turn the Q&A into a blog post next week (depending on how interesting the questions are). LOL! And if you have any questions that don’t get answered, you’re always welcome to ask. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
Jami, thanks for that great information. I’ve never been a beta reader. I’ve also been wary about letting my friends read my work, because I never get anything critical back. Just nice things and wondering when it’s going to be ready in its final form. I did let Linnea Sinclair look at part 1 of my time travel “Whirlwind.” The best thing she did was let me know that my heroine was not sympathetic in the beginning. I fixed it and it worked much better. I can see where beta reading is essential, but I’d be at a loss as to where to begin it. Thanks much for your help!
I know beta reading is critical for my work. No matter how long my work sits, I have a hard time seeing how things could be different until it’s pointed out to me. (That’s the downside of having a photographic memory. LOL!) Then once I see it in their comment, I usually slap my head and say “duh.” 😉
When I give feedback, I often give stream-of-conscious comments as I go. (“Wait, I’m confused here. Didn’t he just say…?” “Eh, I don’t trust her here. She’s already done xyz, so why does the hero believe her?” “I don’t understand why she’s doing this? Couldn’t she just…?”) Those types of comments give the author insight into a reader’s thoughts and let them know when their words might not be interpreted as they intended. They get insight into confusing sentences, plot points, missing motivations, plot holes, etc.
I started giving comments like that because that’s what I’ve found most helpful to me. So by giving comments like that to others, if they find that style of commenting helpful, they’ll now have an example to follow when they beta read for me. 🙂 (Yes, I’m sneaky that way. I teach people how to be a better beta reader by becoming a better one myself. LOL!)
If any of your readers are also writers, you could try a similar teach-by-doing approach. I hope that helps! Thanks for the comment!
I agree with ChemistKen that it helps when you’ve been working together for a while. Then you have a sense of each other’s style and tendencies as well as authorial voice.
I like to read all the way through a manuscript once before I make any comments that I would give to the author (I may make notes to myself). That way, I have a sense of where s/he is going and what his/her purpose is, and I won’t make comments on page 40 that I have to negate on page 140. It takes me a lot longer to read and comment doing it that way (just ask my poor partners!), but I feel like I do a better job, and I think they do too.
Exactly. My beta readers probably know my crutch words and phrases better than I do. 🙂
Great point about doing more than one pass! I do make comments on the first pass because those reactions might be what a random reader is thinking at that time too. If I write a throw-the-book-against-the-wall scene, it won’t do any good to make up for it later. For the random reader, there might not be a later. 😉
That said, I usually do a second pass to comment on things now that I know the whole story: dropped subplots or threads, conflicting motivations or characterization, areas where the theme could be strengthened, unneeded scenes, etc. On that second pass, I also tweak my first pass comments if they’re too harsh and add thoughts about how to fix any issues I’d pointed out now that I know the big picture.
As you said, that’s more work, but if I hope others would do the same for me, I have to be willing to put in the effort for them. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
Agreed that first impressions are important. I was thinking — but didn’t say — more of a first draft when the author is seeking my input on a lot of things but mostly my overall impression of where the story is going and what’s important to focus on in their second draft. You have to read a first draft differently than a subsequent draft, I think. However, you’re absolutely right that if there’s something that stops the reader in his/her tracks, you have to point that out in ANY version of the story.
Thanks for another great blog topic!
One of my strengths as a beta reader is focusing on those big picture things, so I do that no matter what pass it is. 🙂 But yes, I know what you mean. And I think you mentioned in your original comment that you make notes for yourself sometimes, so those probably help you remember your initial impressions as well. Thanks for the comment!
Nice post! I especially liked your point about how critiques should be to make their work better, not how you would write the story. One of the most important things I’ve learned about writing and fiction is that there are so many different types of stories, different styles, different goals, that you can never (or rarely ever) say that novel X is “superior” to novel Y. E.g. X is one with complex world-building and plots, like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. Y is one with a simple, straightforward and fairytale-like telling, similar to the Wizard of Oz. Just because someone personally prefers more complex plots doesn’t mean the Wizard of Oz is “inferior” to HP and LotR, because there will always be people who prefer the more straightforward stories. There will always be people who like both too. So I would be wrong if I told the Wizard of Oz style novelist to “work in more subplots” because their story is not intended to be that kind of story! Another related example from my experience is how some people prefer simpler, more economic prose (like Hemingway’s); some prefer more verbose and 19th century-esque or more flowery prose (like George Eliot or Ralph Waldo Emerson). So I think it’s unfair for a reader to request a writer to make their language more descriptive when that’s not what they’re aiming for. Stories don’t have to engage the “five senses” and have a “very vivid sense of setting” to be good!… — Read More »
Hi Serena, LOL! at your long comment. But I’m glad I inspired so many thoughts for you. 🙂 Yes, I agree with you that different writing styles are just that–different. They’re not better or worse than another method, even if one method doesn’t appeal to us personally. That’s a great question about how to balance our open-mindedness with the need to provide feedback and/or decide on a direction in our own stories. And I think you came up with your own right answer when you said: “I ignore everyone and listen to myself.” Writing is subjective, so it’s all opinions. 🙂 When we’re beta reading, that means we share our opinions about what works and doesn’t work–for us. I qualify my suggestions as opinions all the time. (“I’m not a regular reader of this genre though, so maybe this type of description is normal in that market.” “My attention is starting to wander with all this backstory information, do you need all this now? Or can some of it be moved to later in the story?”) Words like “I” and “my” emphasize that my comments are just my opinions. All I can do is share my experience in reading their story, and then they get to decide what to do from there depending on how they wanted their readers to interpret things. In other words, yes, it’s often impossible for us to tell them what they should change because we don’t know what they were intending. But if we share… — Read More »
Thanks for your long and thoughtful reply 😀 Unfortunately my reply to your reply will be very short, lol. “I qualify my suggestions as opinions all the time. (“I’m not a regular reader of this genre though, so maybe this type of description is normal in that market.” “My attention is starting to wander with all this backstory information, do you need all this now? Or can some of it be moved to later in the story?”) Words like “I” and “my” emphasize that my comments are just my opinions. All I can do is share my experience in reading their story, and then they get to decide what to do from there depending on how they wanted their readers to interpret things.” “I” and “my”. Oh, good idea. Thanks. 🙂 “As you said, a flat character might work for a story, but we could point out missing motivations (“Why do they care about…?”), missing emotional reactions (“Wow, that revelation was a big deal, could we get insight into his reaction here? Is he happy or sad about this?”), etc. In other words, if you have questions while you’re reading a story (“Why are they doing…?” “Doesn’t she know…?”), write those down. A straight critique partner might be expected more to “find the problems,” but beta reading is more about sharing our reading experience with the author so they can get insight into whether the story works the way they want it to.” Good points. I should keep these in… — Read More »
No problem! Some writers won’t like any type of criticism, but they’re probably people we wouldn’t get along with as long-term critique partners or beta buddies anyway. 🙂
For the rest, as long as we’re sharing our comments with respect for their story, we’ll be providing a service. 🙂 Good luck and thanks for the comment!
I can relate to much of what Serena said in her comments here. Serena, if it helps, I appreciate what you said about Twilight being more than what’s often assumed. That said I did try reading the first one, but I wasn’t getting into it, and I was still a teen at the time, just to make it clear I wasn’t some overly prudent old fuddy duddy. (Though I’m prudent about gross humor and sex in the way you are about swearing…) After what you said, I might give Twilight another chance, now that the hype’s died down since the initial release of the books, and movie quartet, that helps a lot, too. Anyway, what Serena said about making the story better vs. the story you would write is also true for me. Even with my early beta-reading efforts I kept this in mind. That’s also why I made a rule early on not to critique stories I don’t write or read enough to be helpful. I think making that clear when offering beta-reader services to others, especially on forums with widely diverse group of writers. I read various things for other writers early on just to find possible longer-term beta-readers. Now that I know my personal limitations, I always make sure I know what those beta-read for want, what the terms are, and what specific things they need, in return I do the same when I’m needing a beta-read of my work. For example, I wouldn’t blindly read someone’s… — Read More »
I understand. 🙂 And yes, I absolutely agree with your take about harsh feedback should still be respectful.
As for a catchphrase, that’s a good point. Some catchphrases can really stand out, while others just feel like that character’s voice. It can be a tricky thing to find that line.
I’m struggling with that issue in my latest WIP in fact. The paranormal character has his version of “OMG,” “Oh God,” “God, no,” “Jesus Christ,” and all those other religion-based profanities. That’s his world. But because his wording doesn’t match ours, it stands out more. So it’s a balance to be true to his character while not overdoing it for readers. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
Don’t feel too self-conscious about your long comments, Serena, mine are often longer, and like you, minimalism is NOT my thing either. (Though for a children’s writer like me, that can be an issue, but I won’t go there here…)
That said, I’d probably get more feedback on some of my social stuff I could be more short (length wise) in my opinion.
Unfortunately, you’re probably right about the length of your opinions interfering with some relating to you. I respect my commenters because I appreciate the time they took to leave a note, but others might not be as quick to grant respect.
As someone who struggles with really long blog posts, I sympathize. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
Great advice Jami. FANTASTIC. I once had a critter say, “This chapter just didn’t work for me.” I totally agree that statement needs to be followed up with a reason. If not, the writer can only assume the problem was on the reader’s end.
Ugh! Yes, did it not work for them because of the characters, plot events, pacing, believability??? Those are all different problems. Even if the reader can’t pinpoint the specific cause, they can share what happened that made them notice it didn’t work for them. Did they roll their eyes or did they doze off? 🙂
Otherwise, like you said, all we’re left with is an empty opinion that means nothing. Thanks for the comment!
Great post, Jami! I’ve bookmarked it for future reference.
I would add that giving positive feedback for what you really liked is also important. That eases the pain of the negative feedback and also tells the author, “Don’t change this! It works!”
Absolutely! Great point! As I’ve mentioned in another comment, I often do stream-of-consciousness feedback for beta reading, and that mindset makes it easy to give positive feedback too. Pretty much any of my own internal monologue I notice while I read gets typed into a comment, so that includes “Love this line!” and things like that. 🙂 Thanks for making that important point!
I’d also add “Stay Open Minded,” especially if you’re a writer and critiquing. I decided that writing my story in omniscient viewpoint was the best thing for it. But when I posted online for a series of critiques, about 10 writers came in with closed minds to omni. I got comments like “I don’t like omni” (um, you were volunteering to do the critique. Why didn’t you stop if you didn’t like the viewpoint?); “You’ll never get published if you use omni”; and my personal favorite: “I’m sure you know you’re story, but here’s how you’d do it in third.”
No one commented on the writing itself because they got so focused on the rule! It was so bad that I eventually wrote an article about how to critique omni: http://fmwriters.com/Visionback/Vision%2055/Vision1.html
But there are a lot of things that “break rules” like flashbacks, dream sequences, second person that may turn up in a story. Stay open minded. Does it work in the story? If it doesn’t, how can it be fixed to work? BTW, doing stuff like this also makes us better writers.
Hi Linda, Great tip! Yes, I’ve had some people comment solely on the fact that one of my stories is 1st person present tense and they don’t like that POV. Um, what about the story itself? Did the POV interfere with the story itself or just their enjoyment of it because they don’t like that POV no matter how well written? So I know what you mean. 🙂 That said, as a critiquer or beta reader, unless the author had warned me ahead of time that the story was in omni and that’s the way they wanted it, I’d probably mention the difficulty of publishing/selling in omni and point out 1-3 times how to make a section deeper 3rd POV–just to provide the information. That point goes back to the author giving information upfront about the kind of feedback they’re looking for. If the author hadn’t pointed out the omni ahead of time, I’d mention the issue because there are far more newbie authors who don’t know the difference between POVs and how to go deep 3rd than there are authors who have the knowledge and consciously decide to go omni. 🙂 Even so, after those initial “here’s a potential issue” comments, I’d try to make the rest of my feedback focus on other aspects of the story. If I mentioned the POV again, it would be only in reference to why it was making the story not work for me beyond any personal dislike. (“I get the sense this… — Read More »
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Great suggestions, Jami! I hope to put these to good use next time I’m critiquing for one of my writing buddies. 🙂
Happy to help. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
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