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

ROW80 Check-In 3 On the importance of feedback and beta readers

Welcome gentle reader,

Week 2 of ROW80 (Round 3) has ended and today I wanted to mention the importance of getting feedback on your WIP.

Because writing your novels in a vacuum can only take you so far, there is always a time when you need beta readers in order to make some progress.

“What are beta readers?” you may ask.

According to Wikipedia, “the author or writer, who can be referred to as the alpha reader, may use several beta readers prior to publication. A beta reader (…) can serve as proof-reader of spelling and grammar errors or (…) work on the “flow” of prose. In fiction, the beta reader might highlight plot holes or problems with continuity, characterisation or believability.”

So, I’ll admit it, sending off your Precious Manuscript to beta readers can be scary. No one wants to hear their writing is dreadful and their WIP should be revised from start to finish.

But you need to take that plunge in order to know what your WIP is really worth and to make the appropriate corrections BEFORE you send your Masterpiece to a dozen agents.

Indeed, it is essential to query agents with a manuscript that is in the best possible form in order to maximize your chances of success. If you follow US literary agent Sara Megibow’s #10queriesin10tweets on Twitter, you’ll notice that she receives 200 submissions A DAY. And out of those, she often comments that the writing is “poor” or “weak” or “unclear”. You don’t want to be one of those writers, do you?

So to avoid such rejection, you need to find beta readers who will critique your query/novel/short story. They will find writing issues and they will tell you about it so you can fix them.

Now, how to choose your beta readers?

Even if I’m going against the flow here, I’ll say start with your family and friends. Often, you’re told not to do this because you need critique, not praise, and your relatives tend to just tell you that you are the next big thing. Or they laugh at you. However I have found that getting some of my friends and family members to read my WIP is worth it. Firstly they are all non-writers and they are readers of published YA novels, so it is interesting for me to get their reactions on my own YA novels. One of the earliest comments I got from one of these beta readers was that my WIP was “like a real book.” It was very encouraging for me to hear that my novel could be compared to published YA books. These non-writer beta readers will tell you if your WIP is boring or impossible to understand, if they liked your characters and if they enjoyed reading your story. That’s the first step.

Then you need to find beta readers who are writers themselves. These beta readers are valuable because they will spot writing issues more easily. They will tell you about spelling and grammar errors, about plot issues etc. You can find these beta readers through a writing group, an online community or via your social media platform.

This feedback may or may not be what you want to hear? But if you listen to what your beta readers have to say, you’ll improve your chances of getting published.

Some interesting articles on beta reading:

Susan Dennard

Diary of a Random Fangirl

Bryan Thomas Schmidt

To wrap up this post, my ROW80 progress this week:

1-     Write everyday: 5/7 days. This week I wrote every day except for Tuesday and Saturday. A special thanks to Lauren Garafalo for leading ROW80  sprints on Twitter, they really help!

2-      Self-edit The Last Queen: done. A little bit.

3-      Continue writing the first draft of The Cursed King: not done. Instead I wrote a short story.

Also, this week on my blog, you could:

–       find out how NOT to start your novel or how hook your reader from the first paragraph.

–     read an exclusive interview with YA author Kendare Blake about her writing and how she got her best-selling ghost story Anna Dressed In Blood published.

Here is the Linky for the other check-in posts. How are you other ROW80 writers doing?