There are many problems that I hear writers talk about when it comes to beta readers. I would like to believe that all of us are awesome at what we do but I know that isn’t necessarily true.
A lot of this is from my own experience with talking to writers about their work and building a good relationship with them.
There are two kinds of criticism good and bad.
Constructive and destructive.
It’s important for writers to decide which kind they are receiving. I can’t say that criticism doesn’t hurt. I’m personally terrified of it. But it is necessary. So, in case you don’t know, how do you tell?
Constructive criticism has examples and reasons why. I tend to ask a lot of questions with my feedback. This works for me and it builds a dialogue with my writers.
When I throw out ideas (which I do sometimes)– I’m never committed to how a writer should write their story “better”. This is their book, not mine. My suggestions can be used or not. Pushing my ideas isn’t going to help a writer. Every once in awhile they’ll like an idea but a lot of times they solve the problem on their own. It’s their story. Their voice. And most of the time, it’s better when they solve it their own way. Let them be creative. You are an observer, they are creating.
Destructive criticism tears you down. If there aren’t reasons and it just “sucks” — that’s when it’s obvious. If the beta only talks about how much better your book will be if you did this or the other… that’s not good either.
The best way to deliver criticism is to cite an example. Followed by why this is something that they should look at.
I usually copy lines into my feedback with page references. Some people, I hear, put the notes in the document or write in the margins. I think all of these are good ideas. I never print the pages, out of fear that I will start editing like crazy. It’s important to me that I stay away from editing. This is just personal philosophy. There are betas that do that too. I don’t believe that those betas remove the need for an editor’s touch though.
Examples aren’t only for problem areas. It’s great when you show writers the parts you really loved. Great lines. Amazing descriptions. Examples of strong writing from them. They need to see that too. If for no other reason, I add things like that ,out of fear that if I don’t, it may be deleted and gone forever!
On the Defense
Betas and writers have a relationship. Just like any other relationship, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
If feedback is poorly received most of the time I don’t hear from the writer again. But there are times when it becomes an emotional experience. Those times when that happens — listen to each other. Set the book aside for a moment and talk about how you need to work on communicating.
It’s hard to receive criticism and sometimes well intentioned criticism isn’t any easier.
If trying to talk about what you need or what you are looking for, from the relationship doesn’t work… accept that and end the relationship. I have advice on that here: Breaking Up: Ending A Beta/Writer Relationship
For my writers and I, this is a long process and a relationship builds organically. We begin to understand how the other is approaching the book. What kind of advice is most helpful.
Building this relationship is important. Writers shouldn’t be afraid to interact with their betas. We want to hear from you!
These relationships turn into a support system. It’s important that a beta knows how to talk to their writer. It’s important that the writer knows the intentions of the beta.
I’m not saying we should know each other’s life stories. If the relationship becomes heavily emotionally involved it’s harder to give objective criticism. But if we are supportive and stick to talking about the work… it is a super fun relationship.
There are many situations that come up beta reading. I couldn’t possibly cover it all in here. But I hope that some of this advice is helpful.