ROW80 Check-In 3: On the importance of being a good beta-reader or critique partner

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Hello gentle reader,

It’s Sunday, and it’s time for my third ROW80 Check-In of this round. My goal this round is to write every day and this week I managed 5/7 days. I’m getting more organized as weeks go by and I’ve almost settled into a routine, which means I’m hoping for a 7/7 next week.

The reason I didn’t hit my 7 writing days this week is that I had to give priority to my critique partners in their hour of need…

Back in July 2012 I wrote a blog post about The Importance of Feedback and Beta Readers. I explained why it is essential for writers to have their work read and critiqued before they send it to an agent or a publisher. But there’s another side to this process: the part where you, the writer, give feedback on someone else’s Work In Progress.

As it happens this week, I spent a good amount of time thinking about how and why we should thrive to give helpful feedback to other writers. First I beta-read the full manuscript of the very talented Rachel. Later in the week I helped out the ever-awesome Jessica revise her first chapter then deal with negative feedback from another writer on her first pages. I also read this Conversation between Critique Partners on the Publishing Crawl blog and this blog post about How To Break Up With Your CP by Kat Ellis.

And I shall try to summarise the outcome of my little brainstorm below:

  1. Nothing and no one forces you to beta-read or critique other writer’s WIP if you don’t want to. Although it’s customary to swap WIPs, there’s no rule saying you should always reciprocate the favour. The way I see it, it’s more of a “pay-it-forward” process. I read Rachel’s novel but didn’t ask her to read anything for me. However I asked Juliana to read a short story for me and I have never beta-read any of her work.
  2. If you accept to beta-read or critique someone’s work, make sure you have the time and right frame of mind to do it. Comments should be honest but presented with a positive spin. The last thing you want to do is discourage the writer, even if her WIP needs tons of work. When commenting, you should always follow the THINK rule: is your comment True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary and Kind?
  3. Make sure you’re clear on what the other writer wants from you. Prior to reading the WIP, agree on a timeframe, and on the type of feedback you’ll give (line-editing, overall feelings, etc.). An experienced writer and a newbie will be likely to have very different needs, be sure to understand what they are.
  4. Don’t try to make the story your own. Don’t try to change the writer’s voice or to tell her how her characters and her plot should be. She wrote the story, it’s hers. You’re just here to help her make it stellar, not turn it into your work.
  5. Keep the conversation going. When beta-reading or critiquing for someone, communication is key. And if it takes 5 emails or a 1-hour phone call to make sure the writer understands what you mean, it’s worth taking the time to avoid confusion.
  6. Last but not least, use the time you spend reading other people’s work to ponder on your own writing. See what works, see what doesn’t, marvel at other writers’ talent. Learn from them, from their mistakes but also from their achievements.

What is being a good Critique Partner to you? How did you build a productive relatonship with other writers? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!

And don’t forget this is a blog hop! Here is the Linky for the other check-in posts. How are you other ROW80 writers doing?

M.LIN snow

Snowy UK this week, by my friend M.LIN

16 thoughts on “ROW80 Check-In 3: On the importance of being a good beta-reader or critique partner

  1. Kat Ellis says:

    Great post – and excellent CP rules to live by! Thanks for the mention, too.

    I have to admit, I struggle with #2. Mostly it’s because I agree to take on CP or beta work that I don’t realistically have time to do (or time to do well). But I’m learning to say no, because I realise people won’t be upset – other writers definitely understand that some times are busier than others.

    • EM Castellan says:

      Saying no is sometimes hard, but I’ve found that saying yes then having to say “I don’t have the time after all” is worse 😉 Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  2. kathils says:

    Excellent post. The most valuable quality I look for in a reader/CP, and try to give back when I’m doing the reading, is honesty. It can be brutal at times, but as writers we need to grow thick skins. We can all get sugar coating and coddling from our friends and family members who think we want to hear our work is brilliant. Which we do want, but only if it really is.

  3. Yael Itamar says:

    I’m in the stage of semi-actively looking for CPs, so thanks for those links!

  4. Shah Wharton says:

    I know only too well how a final round of be a readers BEFORE I published, but after the editor would have saved me a LOT of work and cringing from behind sweaty palms. Great post. x

  5. It’s a fine line to walk to critique for others. On one hand I find it helps my writing immensely – and of course I appreciate all the time and thought that goes into a critique. On the other hand sometimes your best intentions (to help) can be misconstrued. I always try to get a good handle on what the other person wants before I critique – and have learned from experience if you haven’t got time it’s better to say so up front. Great post.

  6. Lauren Garafalo says:

    Lovely post 😀 I’m not there yet, but it’s really helpful to see what others expect and need at that stage in the process! And great progress this week. You probably learned just as much helping your CPs as you would have if you wrote those extra days. Have a good next week!

  7. S. J. Maylee says:

    5/7 well done, I’m so glad to read your routine is really starting to groove. CPs are the best thing since sliced bread, lol. I have one where we are kind of like yin and yang, and let me tell you, she sees things I never would and it pushes me to be a better writer. Just like in writing, you need to trust your instincts when you’re critiquing. I agree with Lauren, I always learn something about my writing or my style when I’m helping others. Maybe it’s better than sliced bread 🙂
    Hope you have a great week.

  8. EM Castellan says:

    Haha, CPs ARE better than sliced bread 😉 Hope you have a great writing week SJ!

  9. Tony Dutson says:

    Good points! Paying it forward is key, especially if you’re really high on the word count.

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