Receiving critiques from beta readers, critique partners, and even fans who have volunteered to provide you feedback on your latest WIP, is an important step in the writing process. One which takes a while to develop as you search for people who give you good feedback, quickly, and don’t mind being “bugged” on a regular or semi-regular basis.
Let’s address the first part of that… What Makes a Good Critiquer?
Many times, beta readers and critique partners return notes and suggestions which are too basic. Or perhaps too nice is the word? On a single page they might make one small correction, and as lovely as that is for your pride (and as much as you appreciate the time they took to help – because you absolutely do), it’s not what you’re looking for as an author. And on the critiquer’s side, the tricky part about doing a critique or a beta read is wanting to give advice while at the same time not changing an author’s voice or offending them into despising you.
Here’s the problem: a critique is just that…critical.
The JOB of a critiquer or a beta reader is to BE A CRITIC. To point out those things that need work, that need fixing, that could be done better–at least in their opinion. And the reason an author asks for a critique is to help them find those things. You WANT to make your manuscript better.
Don’t get me wrong. Receiving a heavily critiqued manuscript with red slashes through everything can be rough on the ego. But if the goal is to get better, sometimes a bruised ego is worth it. Right?
We could devote months to what kind of edits we could be applying. But let’s at least touch on what a good critiquer or beta reader will do for you:
WILL – Critique EVERYTHING
A good critiquer or beta reader WILL look for any and every instance where an aspect of the manuscript might be improved (from word choice, to character development, to flow, to pace, to…well…everything). You should get back 3 things:
- Direct edits within the text
This can be grammar changes, but, more importantly, it should include suggested word changes, clarifications, moving paragraphs or lines for flow, etc.
- Notes about specific sections of text
This is cleanest if done with Comments in MS Word. Notes can be as simple as “this sentence is awkward, try to reword,” or can affect a large chunk of text, such as “the last few chapters have been slow, pick up the pace.” You can also use notes to add praise (important).
- Overarching notes about the manuscript as a whole
This doesn’t have to be an essay on the manuscript. But a few lines. For example “Loved the overall plot, but the middle felt slow. I also didn’t connect with the heroine. You might consider making her more sympathetic.”
WILL – Find the Positive
A good critiquer or beta reader will also point out the GOOD stuff. An author can grow just as much by getting feedback on what they do well. Knowing what you do well helps you incorporate more of it. Plus, it helps you not take the more critical aspects of the feedback so hard. 🙂
WILL NOT – Insert Their Voice
A good critiquer or beta reader will NOT insert their voice into your manuscript. This can be difficult, as most folks who will edit for you are probably authors themselves. A good way to avoid this, when giving a critique, is to only make changes in line (in the text) which are basic edits.
Anything that is a “bigger” edit, make it a suggestion using Comments in Word (under the Review tab). Even something like “this sentence is awkward” in a comment can be better than actually rewording that sentence for the author unless you have a very specific way to reword it that doesn’t change the feel or meaning.
WILL – Be Respectful
Finally, a good critiquer or beta reader will treat the author with RESPECT. Someone who makes you feel like a total idiot is not a good critique partner or beta reader for you. This may not even be their fault, it could just be a difference in how you communicate. But the goal of a critique is to HELP you improve, not to break you down.
These are just a few key aspects of what makes a good critiquer or beta reader. You will probably have to try many helpers before you develop a solid base of folks who you work with regularly. If you come across a critique that doesn’t jive with how you work, with your voice, or what you’re looking to get out of the critique, move on to someone else. (Yes, sometimes easier said than done.) But when you do find someone whose feedback jives with yours, treat them well. You want to keep those gems around!