Beta Reader Group discussion

159 views
Writing Advice & Discussion > How to tell a writer they need to improve

Comments Showing 1-30 of 30 (30 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Thyssen (rachelthijssen) | 121 comments Okay, the title sounds a little mean... but it's a fact. Some writers are just not... good. In fact, they are bad. They need to improve, unless they don't care about readers or publishers.

So, my question is... How do you tell a writer he/she needs to improve? Like, a lot.
Here's an example: someone creates a beautiful world and an exciting story, but the writing is a little off. Typos don't matter in this sense, but his/her choice of words is just not right. To add to this, the story is hard to follow. You can see that a lot of things were inside the writer's head, but didn't end up on the paper.
How do you say this without making the person feel bad? I've had someone critique my work a long time ago... and that person made me cry. That's how mean that person was, so I don't want to do this to someone else.
Do I just say "here's some advice"? What do you guys think?

Thanks,

Rachel


message 2: by Dakota (new)

Dakota Rayne | 199 comments Mod
Hello everyone,

I'm seeing a lot of comments on beta readers and things, so I thought I would share some of my research. There are so many resources out there, I cannot stress enough for everyone to do their own research, whether you want to be a beta reader (or are one) or want one to read your work.

I know many of you have questions such as these and maybe a separate post is warranted full of just research that we, collectively, have been able to find. But here are some resources to help:

https://www.helpingwritersbecomeautho...

https://jmmcdowell.com/2012/05/05/bet...

http://blog.bookbaby.com/2016/08/how-...


message 3: by Aaron (new)

Aaron Kennedy | 29 comments There are a thousand different "techniques" for providing feedback.

It depends on what/how you are doing.

As an example, if you are treating the beta reading as a "draft edit" use Review Notes and just say "I'm not following here" or "the word choice here is repetitive/odd/dislike/whatever."

There's a certain point where every work stops being "my baby" and has to shift into "the best PRODUCT it can possibly be." Leave ego at the door as a writer.

As a writer, they always have the choice not to follow your feedback but they need to hear it so they can identify "trends" from a variety of readers. As an example, I know my pacing is considered slow for many modern readers. However it works for my target demographics. I adjusted specific sections/chapters (removed a few completely) because of this issue while keeping other sections in place. Remember, every opinion is a subjective analysis of the product. You might not like a specific choice however the author may have chosen it for a specific reason. When others bring up that same issue it gives the author more cause to revisit their initial thoughts.

Example: In an early draft of my book the narrator used the term "fem" in place of women. It was a substitute word and not designed to be (overtly) sexist merely highlight his specific background (flavor of the world). The first two betas I had (one man, one teenage girl) both brought it up. I ditched it. It made the narrator more unlikable than I wanted for a specific demographic (unintentionally). Without that feedback from multiple people I just wouldn't have known.

The big thing is that if you provide a piece of feedback, tell why. Even if it's "something seems off here"

R/Aaron


message 4: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Thyssen (rachelthijssen) | 121 comments Aaron wrote: "There are a thousand different "techniques" for providing feedback.

It depends on what/how you are doing.

As an example, if you are treating the beta reading as a "draft edit" use Review Notes a..."


Thank you. This may help me, I think.

Rachel.


message 5: by Kevis (last edited Oct 06, 2016 10:44AM) (new)

Kevis Hendrickson (kevishendrickson) | 130 comments I have to be honest. I'm from the school of hard knocks. I've worked with literally dozens of editors over the years and have been taken to the wood shed by some of them. Some of my manuscripts have had so much red ink spilled on them, you'd think it was blood!

Does it hurt to have someone tell you that your precious book isn't any good? You betcha. But it doesn't do any good to have it sugar coated for you.

Do you want to really write stories that move readers and make them laugh or cry? Then you have to understand that it takes time to learn our craft and that sometimes we won't like what we hear when people tell us that our work can be improved. Different people give feedback differently. Some are kinder in their approach, others more stern and authoritarian.

My advice to authors is to keep your ego in check and try to understand where the beta reader is coming from. That doesn't mean that some beta readers aren't being mean. I'm sure some of them see reading your book as a chance to impress their superiority or knowledge over other authors and do everything they can to rip your book to shreds.

There are others like myself who won't lie to you and tell you you've just written the equivalent of Pride and Prejudice if that isn't what I see. But I'm not going to go out of my way to hurt your feelings either. Every day I learn something new about the craft and understand that learning is a lifelong process.

If there's anything I've learned over the past few weeks, is that to be a truly effective beta reader you need to pay close attention to the needs of writer you're working with and understand that some of us don't take criticism as well as others. If I can find a way to deliver my comments without making an author feel bad, I'll make the extra effort to do so.

I think the best way to do that is to point out when an author has done something right in their story to counter some of the harsher criticism. Either way, it's definitely a balancing act to keep from hurting an author's feelings because we are all emotionally invested in our work and just want to have a little respect shown to our projects.


message 6: by Sandy (new)

Sandy Frediani I wish I knew. So much depends on how you say it, but it also depends on the person receiving.

Rachel, if it's any consolation, when I first began writing I posted what I believed was a well written short story to the group I was a member of at that time. There were some comments and suggestions and one person "ripped it to shreds." I cried for two days. It took a few more days to step away from both the story and my hurt. Then I got angry. How dare this person criticize my story like that. The bones of the story were good - so I rewrote it. Proofread. Edited. Resubmitted a story which was 100% better than the first 'incarnation.' I learned a great deal with that experience. The most important were to keep writing, keep learning the craft and develop a thicker skin. To be able to step away for a while and come back when the emotions are less charged/fragile. This last one comes with time and experience.


message 7: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Thyssen (rachelthijssen) | 121 comments Sandaidh wrote: "I wish I knew. So much depends on how you say it, but it also depends on the person receiving.

Rachel, if it's any consolation, when I first began writing I posted what I believed was a well writ..."


I suppose every writer has had a point when they realize their work isn't perfect. But I just hope I won't crush someone else's hopes and dreams.
Yet like many already said: sometimes it's necessary to wake up and get rid of that ego. I got a wake up slap myself already and might get a few more, lol.


message 8: by Fabi (last edited Oct 06, 2016 10:53AM) (new)

Fabi | 5 comments I love your question. I think it's very sensitive to ask it. It means that you care about the writer you are helping out by reading a draft of their work.

I hope I don't end up writing a book as an answer. Maybe this comment box has a word limit. Crossing fingers. :-)

I think the first thing to realize when you are beta reading or editing a book that is not yours is that your opinion may or may not be the same as someone else's opinion.

Once you get this firmly in your mind, then it will be easier to comment back to the writer from a personal perspective. You should use a lot of "I's", "I feel", "In my opinion", "From my perspective", etc.

You can also phrase something as a question. If there is a scene or even a sentence that is bothering you for some reason. Then ask the writer why it is written or developed that way. You can also state that you personally imagined it some other way. It's also alright to ask for more. If you wish you had more internal dialogue from a character, or you wish a situation was more detailed, or maybe you needed some foretelling for a twist that doesn't seem to mesh otherwise, it's alright to give your opinion on those things.

It's extremely helpful if you can find and add examples of other writing to compare with so that your point comes across with references. You don't want to simply change sentences to your own preference since you're not the writer. But if there is a word or phrase that bugs you, then point it out, give your reason why, and suggest a brainstorm of alternatives.

Always realize that your opinion will be one of many (unless you are a highly paid professional editor). Among those many, yours may or may not be mainstream. That's perfectly fine. It's your opinion so own it. You don't have to apologize for it. You only have to make sure you state it as your personal opinion.

I am always astounded at the imagination and talent needed to develop a story, so I always make a point of letting the writer know how honestly impressed I am. In fact, I consciously comment on scenes and lines that I adore and not only on the ones I don't. This is easy to neglect because if you're enjoying reading something it's easy to just enjoy and keep going. It's when something jars us that we stop to make a note. Just make sure that anything that pulls a reaction out of you is a feedback comment.

As far as typos, some works are not ready for copyedit so I always ask before starting a beta read if the writer wants me to point out any typos. I don't want to waste my time or theirs with silly typos if the book is not ready for proofreading yet.

Lastly, it's important to remember that the writer has expressly asked for your opinion. Hopefully, your opinion won't make them cry, but if it does, realize it's part of the process. As long as you're honest and polite, there's nothing you can say that would be wrong since you are simply expressing your opinion.

I better quit now before I get going on Chapter 2 of my answer. Sorry for the long post. This is something I'm pretty passionate about.


message 9: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Thyssen (rachelthijssen) | 121 comments Fabi wrote: "I love your question. I think it's very sensitive to ask it. It means that you care about the writer you are helping out by reading a draft of their work.

I hope I don't end up writing a book as a..."


Don't worry, your long answer contained some things I thought about myself. And being passionate about this is a good thing, I think :)
I'm sure this discussion could be helpful for more betas and CPs.


message 10: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Thyssen (rachelthijssen) | 121 comments Fabi wrote: "I love your question. I think it's very sensitive to ask it. It means that you care about the writer you are helping out by reading a draft of their work.

I hope I don't end up writing a book as a..."


Don't worry, your long answer contained some things I thought about myself. And being passionate about this is a good thing, I think :)
I'm sure this discussion could be helpful for more betas and CPs.


message 11: by Kevis (last edited Oct 06, 2016 10:55AM) (new)

Kevis Hendrickson (kevishendrickson) | 130 comments Sandaidh wrote: "Then I got angry...so I rewrote it. Proofread. Edited. Resubmitted a story which was 100% better than the first 'incarnation.' I learned a great deal with that experience. The most important were to keep writing, keep learning the craft and develop a thicker skin. To be able to step away for a while and come back when the emotions are less charged/fragile. This last one comes with time and experience."

Now this is the right attitude to have. Love this.


Roughseasinthemed | 263 comments A lot of my beta clients have mentioned the humour (unintentional I should add!) but it clearly helps.


message 13: by J.L. (new)

J.L. | 48 comments I agree with Kelvis. If my writing sucks, just tell me. BUT be able to tell me where I need to improve. As long as a reader can let me know where/what I need to work on I'm fine.

I rewrote my first MG novel 11 times. I wanted to make sure it was as good as it could be, now a year later with 3 new books under my belt, I'm rewriting it again with hopes to self-publish sometime in 2017.

Someone who cares about their work will be appreciative of help and an honest opinion. BUT you can't help everyone. Some people just want you to love them and their are not seeking to become a better "whatever" (this doesn't just include writers) they are seeking admiration.


message 14: by Lin (new)

Lin | 213 comments Mod
It helps for a writer to remember that they are not their story. Their story is something that can be polished, but criticism of it is not criticism of them.
I try to shape my reports according to the writer, acknowledging what they've managed to do, how well they've done so far, suggesting areas they may need to work on and resources that might be useful - whether specific resources such as an article or book on a topic, or general resources such as suggesting a writing group or online critique group.
But a writer will get nowhere if they're not prepared to accept criticism, and if they're aiming for publication then criticism is what they'll get.
This is why I usually charge for beta reads - it's unlikely that a writer paying for feedback will get upset if they receive advice for improvement rather than pats on the back, and they've shown they're willing to invest in their work.


message 15: by Bonnie (new)

Bonnie Ferrante (bonnieferrante) | 3 comments Dakota wrote: "Hello everyone,

I'm seeing a lot of comments on beta readers and things, so I thought I would share some of my research. There are so many resources out there, I cannot stress enough for everyone..."


Thank you. I'm going to share those links.


message 16: by Dakota (new)

Dakota Rayne | 199 comments Mod
Awesome :) absolutely


message 17: by Mimi (new)

Mimi Marten | 27 comments Bonnie wrote: "Dakota wrote: "Hello everyone,

I'm seeing a lot of comments on beta readers and things, so I thought I would share some of my research. There are so many resources out there, I cannot stress enou..."


I agree with Bonnie....
Dakota is one of the "on it" moderators not only in this group, but on Goodreads in general.

I would like to take a moment and express some gratitude....
Thank you for doing such a good job and always coming up with direction, information or sources.
We say you are DA BOMB in Hawaii. :-))

Just in case it wasn't clear, it was a compliment and well deserved appreciation. I want you to know, we /not 'me' the queen, but 'we' the members :-))/ don't take you for granted!


message 18: by Mimi (new)

Mimi Marten | 27 comments And to the overly sensitive about criticism....., you really need to find a new profession. This one requires a thick skin. :-))


message 19: by Dakota (new)

Dakota Rayne | 199 comments Mod
Mimi wrote: "Bonnie wrote: "Dakota wrote: "Hello everyone,

I'm seeing a lot of comments on beta readers and things, so I thought I would share some of my research. There are so many resources out there, I can..."


Thanks Mimi for the compliments! We as moderators try our best to make this community a fun and comfortable place to be and it's good to know that our efforts are working :)

And to your comment, thick skin is necessary in life in general, I believe. It is hard to not take things personal, it takes some work to take criticism after such a courageous effort involved in putting your work out there (it's like a piece of your soul I think), but that doesn't mean criticism is the end of the world. Breath, take it with a grain of salt, pick yourself back up, and become better than you were yesterday.


message 20: by Mimi (new)

Mimi Marten | 27 comments Dakota wrote: "Mimi wrote: "Bonnie wrote: "Dakota wrote: "Hello everyone,

I'm seeing a lot of comments on beta readers and things, so I thought I would share some of my research. There are so many resources out..."


AMEN! Well said!


message 21: by Kaia (last edited Oct 16, 2016 02:30AM) (new)

Kaia Leigh (kaialeigh) | 6 comments As a writer, I'm passionate about getting better. Even the harshest criticism, while it may feel a bit like a kick to the stomach at the time, can only lead to a better outcome.

It's great if a beta reader can say what they DID like, so at least I know what I did well... and then let me know where I fell down, so I can improve. The positive feedback keeps me going, the constructive-negative lets me know what work I need to do to reach my goal.

Friends and family give silence, rather than negative feedback. That's no help to me at all. I need to know what they hated. Stephen King's words ring in my ears... a competent writer can become good if they work hard. A good writer can never become great. We all want to be great, but failing that, the best I can possibly be is what I aim for.

So my advice is, give all the positives you can, and then be open and honest about the negatives. If word choice is a problem, being specific can help. I know I'd personally be grateful for that.


message 22: by Lara (new)

Lara | 29 comments Great post - beta readers are the writer's last line of defence to stop us publishing rubbish, so we need you to highlight our weaknesses.

For me, the straight-forward, non-sugar-coated approach is usually best. I've had plenty of constructive criticism that has really helped me move forward...but keep it polite. I had one reader who was so negatively sarcastic that it put me in the doldrums for weeks.

Oh, and balance the criticisms with some positives...and I always value your personal, overall opinion.


message 23: by Lara (new)

Lara | 29 comments Kaia wrote: "As a writer, I'm passionate about getting better. Even the harshest criticism, while it may feel a bit like a kick to the stomach at the time, can only lead to a better outcome.

It's great if a be..."


Well put!


message 24: by Helen (new)

Helen | 28 comments As an author I appreciate any feedback, I have had Betas rip my work apart sentence by sentence but there is often something in there I haven't considered and that makes sense and is useful. As a Beta I will point out the faults in your manuscript (that I see) and will always tell you what I loved.


message 25: by Julie (new)

Julie | 58 comments Mod
I try my best to sandwich my negative feedback in between the positive to cut the sting a little. I also give links to blogs that I've found over time that better explain different things that I may have a hard time explaining...things like show vs tell or writing realistic/interesting dialogue. I read a ton, but I'm not a writer and don't pretend to be. I love when I find a good blog, written by an author, that clearly explains different techniques or writing issues.


message 26: by Ann (new)

Ann Swaim (chirpyann) | 83 comments Compliment sandwich. Say something good, all the critical stuff, and end with encouraging thoughts.

It might be good, if you have one, to give the writer an example of a critique you've done in the past or an example similar to how you critique.

Above all else, if you're honest and do everything to help, on their terms, and they still respond badly, either never read for them again or always tell them "good job" and move on xD

Good luck!


message 27: by Rosie (new)

Rosie (RoseandBurn) | 6 comments Chirpyreading wrote: "Compliment sandwich. Say something good, all the critical stuff, and end with encouraging thoughts.

It might be good, if you have one, to give the writer an example of a critique you've done in t..."

I really like this advice.

I say go with Empathy, compassion, criticalness, and then you get thoughtful analysis.


message 28: by A.S. (new)

A.S. McGowan (ASMcGowan) | 16 comments When I beta read a novel yesterday. I fell in love with it. The author gave me what was almost a completely polished piece of work. However there were some typos, which I used track changes in MS word and I corrected the typos. Other areas, the wording seemed off to me. So what I did was use the MS word comment feature and posted "Possibly consider rewording to this" and then gave my opinion on the wording. For me the wording may have just been off to me so I gave my suggestions. I also took the time to tell the author the areas were I was completely in love with the scene, the characters or the dialogue. When I got to the point where there was a plot twist that I did not see coming, I took the time to tell the author that I did not see this coming and that having it where it was made the novel all that more powerful.

I will use the same method for any work that I read that is not "as polished" as the previous one. My hope is that I can give them something to work with to polish their work.

As a writer who has a work in progress with two betas, I hope I can also follow the suggestions here about writers needing to check their egos at the door. :-)


message 29: by Ann (new)

Ann Swaim (chirpyann) | 83 comments RoseandBurn wrote: "Chirpyreading wrote: "Compliment sandwich. Say something good, all the critical stuff, and end with encouraging thoughts.

It might be good, if you have one, to give the writer an example of a cri..."


My hubby is always the first person to read my work and he has done loads of critiques for writers/screenwriters and filmmakers and he lives by the compliment sandwich. I love getting his feedback, because I know it will be honest and always have something nice to say, even if it sucked xD lol


message 30: by Ashlee (new)

Ashlee | 12 comments The best criticism I ever had of any work I've done was my year 12 Literature teacher (so this was 12 years ago) who would take a red pen to my work and write things like 'YUK!' and 'why would she say this?' and 'I see what you're trying to do here but it's just not working'

It sounds harsh but getting that kind of blunt and honest feedback at such a young age made me such a better writer. Now whenever I write something or am reviewing what I've written it's like I've got a tiny version of my old lit teacher sitting on my shoulder making me see through my blinders to all the yukky bits that just don't work.

I think every writer needs an experience like that to make them the best they possibly can be. Even if they hate you for it initially, they will love you for it in the long run.

(For the record, my lit teacher was actually nice as pie in person lol and fortunately I've always had a pretty thick skin so the criticism didn't hurt my feelings - if anything it was actually kind of a amusing lol)


back to top