Monday, December 3, 2012

Types of Beta Critiques: It's Important to Know the Difference

While I've had some amazing beta readers help me with Sacred Fire, I've also been disappointed on occasion with how things worked out. I discovered a big part of that was due to poor communication. They didn't always understand what I wanted.

At Write on Con - an amazing online writer's conference - I read an article called "Tips for Choosing Readers."  It opened my eyes to a lot of things I was doing wrong.

For instance, the most helpful advice was knowing the difference between three types of critiques. I usually just hand my book over to readers and say, "Here, fix it." The results would be much better if I told them which of these I wanted: 

The I’m Stuck Read: You know there are problems with a major element of the story (the big battle scene, the love interest, the overall structure, etc.), but you don’t know how to resolve them.
The Big Picture Read: You’ve written a complete first draft. You need your readers to focus on Logic (Did the story makes sense? Was the reader ever confused); Pacing (Were there places where the story lagged or the reader was bored?); Emotional Resonance (Did the reader feel invested in the character and the story’s outcome? Did any of the emotional beats fall flat or feel unearned?)
The Line Edit: You’re done with the story and don’t intend to make fundamental changes. You want your reader to identify typos, grammatical errors, awkward language, word repetition.

How do you go about communicating to your beta readers?


  1. I think these three delineations sum it up really well. I'd also add another category: the "Should I Keep Working On This?" beta read. These are priceless when you're starting a new project and need reassurance. I guess they could be considered alpha reads, since they're so early on.

  2. I like to start the process with an enormous THANK YOU because people are investing so much time and energy into my project. Usually I'm asking not for any line editing (though I ask if they see a glaring repetitive error to please point it out), but more of the big picture look--did you fall in love with these characters, or are they eh?

    Also, when I provide critiques to my fellow MFA students, I'm always on the lookout for things I's nice to sandwich criticism with praise.

    My two cents...

    1. I agree with you on the THANK YOU. I start this way too. I know folks could easily be doing something way more interesting than working their way through my WIP. Time is so valuable! If they're choosing to read my work in a raw format, I owe them big! I don't forget that!

  3. Kris, that's a great idea. I need alphas right now, and I have one person who's helping me, but I'm new to it and not even sure how to use one. I bet an in-person critique group would be best for this kind of edit.

    Anita: I used to ask for line edits all the time, but I realized like you that it's much better for me (and easier for the reader) to do a big picture look. Giving praise along with criticism is a struggle for me... I'm usually too mean!

  4. Mean can be good. :)

    I usually do what they call the 'glow and grow': say what worked for you (the glow), and then what didn't (so they can grow). It's similar to the sandwich Anita mentioned above. In my Sackett Street Writers Workshop, we were instructed to set up our critiques as follows:

    1. How we perceived the work of writing
    2. What worked for us
    3. Where we had questions or issues

    Number 1 helped the writer become aware of how their writing was being read—ie, if it fulfilled their intention. Very useful!

  5. This is awesome advice especially when you are reading your work to a group and its up to you to tell them what you are looking for in a critique.

  6. I'm usually asking for a big picture when I ask, but I'm happy to get any kind of feedback. It takes time to give feedback and I'm so appreciative when folks do it thoughtfully and honestly - even (and especially) if it means I have to get back to work! That said, when someone asks me and doesn't specify what they want, I usually give big picture, but I've received all kinds of responses to that, from super positive/thankful to super negative and argumentative. It takes time for an honest, productive match to find each other!


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