Monday, September 5, 2011

Pay the Beta Forward

Happy Labor Day, fellow Americans! Hope everyone's enjoying the holiday. Today I'm thinking about my bloggie friends.

Back when I finished my last MS, the one that got me my first offer of representation, I discovered the greatest thing as a result of this blog right here: Beta Readers.

There's a difference between beta readers (betas) and critique partners (critters), but I can't remember what it is. I think it has something to do with the amount of material you send them.

So I probably use the terms wrong, but I credit my betas (or critters) with being a big part of where I am today.

They gave me encouragement when I needed it, pointed out character problems and plot holes (still sounds dirty), suggested direction for characters who were stalled, gave me ideas when agents requested revisions that I didn't know what to do with, read my MS again (above and beyond)...

And now it's payback time.

Please understand, I can't wait to return the favor. It's unexpected that all the payback has hit at once, but anywhoo! Not the point.

I was thinking about giving (and getting) critiques and feedback. I learned the hard way in my work that electronic communication can quickly break down.

As a result, I tend to be very careful in my phrasing and always couch criticisms in a healthy padding of praise. I would encourage my readers to do the same. If you're a beta (or critter) remember there's another person on the other end who has invested emotional time and energy into whatever it is you're reading.

I like to give at least three compliments for every one criticism. If I can. Please, my betas/critters, don't start counting. My point is, while I am thorough, I realize the importance of sugar with the medicine.

Why am I telling you this? Well, a bloggy friend of ours shared that she cried after getting a query critique, and that made me angry. We're here to help and support each other. We'll get kicked in the stomachs enough from reviewers, agents, editors. We don't need it from each other.

So I've got five, shiny MSs on my Kindle, and I can't wait to get reading! And I take this opportunity to thank my awesome betas. They're encouraging and supportive. And I wouldn't be here without you.

I know Clarissa and Summer offer beta/critter hook-ups on their blogs. If you know a great place to find betas and/or critters, please share in the comments! And do remember the Golden Rule when helping each other.

Have a super holiday, reader- and writer-friends! Til Thursday~ <3


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Leigh .. absolutely right - as in life too .. the pats on the back are so important, as to perhaps pointing something out kindly or giving that extra thought re something - a link to explain.

When I think of critters - I think of Lenny .. the 11 year old and his critters .. slightly different sort & they don't complain ...

Cheers .. important post for authors, betas and critters to read .. and Clarissa and Summer would be two very good friends for budding authors ... Hilary

Matthew MacNish said...

Sandwich anyone? I always point out the positives when I'm critiquing someone else's writing, because it always helps to know what works, too.

In the interest of time, I have at times asked people reading my work to skip that, and just tell me what to cut. My situation is a unique one, though.

Enjoy your reading!

Unknown said...

YOu're awesome!

And you're right, I do still offer critiques. I am working on a few right now but I do enjoy helping out my fellow writing companions.

Stina said...

I love to give the positive (gushing comments) with the negatives. It's good to know what you do well at, too, so that you can continue to do it that way. No point thinking something sucks and changing it when it was an incredible strength.

DEZMOND said...

a big applause to all the good beta readers :)
And it's important to know how to chose your beta readers and it is also important to know how to take the truth and the criticism in the right way and not shed tears like your friend :) You always have to have reliable and knowledgeable people as beta readers.

S.A. Larsenッ said...

Being a beta and/or CP is truly an honor. I totally agree!

Old Kitty said...

Oh I am so sorry for your bloggy friend. I so know how she feels having been at the end of a few really bitter and unhelpful but emotionally damaging critiques in the past.

Critiquing and being a beta reader takes such skill and are artforms in themselves that a good critter/beta are true and rare finds indeed! I hope your friend continues to write with confidence and find truly helpful and positive critters/betas.

I know I could never be one myself - I lack the skill to be a critter/beta (being a learner not very good writer) but I will cheer you on at every stage of your writerly journey! Take care

Summer Ross said...

Its funny I learned more about giving a good critique in my communications class than I did reading stuff about how to critique. I use one simple rule the sandwich. You give a compliment, give a criticism, and give another compliment. Great post.

vic caswell said...

yeah. tact is never underrated. yikes!
i hear you about meeting good critters through blogging. it helps to get to know something about a person's tastes and petpeeves before diving into a creative exchange with them!

Creepy Query Girl said...

I've been very lucky to find some great beta partners. I think the difference is that with Critters you send out the manuscript in chunks and they help you clean it up as you go along. with beta's you send them the whole manuscript and they help with the bigger issues like pacing and characterization. My methods are much like yours and if I have a beta who doesn't follow the same guidelines and is too brash and unhelpful with their crits, it's over.

LTM said...

@Hil--Right! And I was also thinking it helps to find others working in the same genre as you. Forgot to add that... Clarissa & Summer I think offer connection services. Where you can seek for someone to work with. Just fyi! :o) <3

@Summer--Right! That's probably more like my approach. The sandwich. Thanks, girl! <3

Miranda Hardy said...

I love beta reading and hope to provide both good feedback and area for improvement. I wish everyone was the same.

Lydia Kang said...

Hi Leigh!
I always think of my betas as the ones who read my stuff because they're avid readers, but not necessarily writers. They tell me what doesn't make sense, if it's shelf-worthy, and point out inconsistencies and stuff.

My crit partners are the ones who are actively writing and give me nitty-gritty inside detail on what works and what doesn't. Tension, voice consistency, plot issues, stuff like that.

So glad you have good ones on your side!

Theresa Milstein said...

I'm with Lydia. That's what I've heard the difference is too. I've always been a critique partner - never a beta reader under that definition. But I've had both types read my manuscripts.

YaY for betas and critique partners!

Michelle Fayard said...

What a great post filled with wise advice! Because I’m an editor in my day job and because time is always at a premium, when my colleagues and I receive a manuscript, we just get in there and fix what needs to be corrected (proofreading and copyediting types of errors) and make suggestions to the authors regarding content edits.

While we always aim for positive professionalism and try to phrase each change as a suggestion, the bottom line is we’re all busy professionals who realize we need to take, and give, edits as they are meant—as suggestions for improvement not something designed to make anyone feel bad.

I often am concerned that when I’m critiquing or beta reading that I’m going too much into my day-job mode of just getting in and trying to be constructive. I always try to give an equal balance of positive feedback, but the devil’s advocate in me will start to say, “Agents and editors won’t crit your work this way. They’re going to tell you only what they think needs to be revised. No comments mean that section works.”

Is that spoonful of sugar only deferring the reality cramps? Maybe. On the other hand, maybe editors from all walks of life should consider couching our suggestions as do the best critters and beta readers of fiction manuscripts.

Again, an excellent and thought-provoking post.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

So true, and so important! I'm sure I don't hit that 3:1 ratio, but I try to put in a lot of "Nice!" and "LOL" as well as helpful criticism.

p.s. I hope my teeth aren't as long as that critter!

RaShelle Workman said...

Leigh - I agree. Helping each other is so important AND can be worderful. I have several peeps who I consider great crit partners. They're awesome!

Michelle Merrill said...

Beta's and critter's are the best thing that can ever happen to a MS. Hands down. And positive criticism and praise is a must!

Great post :)

Lola Sharp said...

I'm with Lydia and Theresa on how I define betas and CPs. My betas are avid readers that don't write, but who are happy to read and give their thoughts on what doesn't work/make sense or any inconsistencies, plot glitches. CPs are my select group of writer friends with whom I trade critiquing.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday weekend, love. :)


Anonymous said...

I love my beta readers and treat them like gold! I would not be where I am today without them. And the cricism they provide is worth listening to and making necessary adjustments before going to print.

Anonymous said...

Karma, it always finds you.

I think you're always willing to listen more deeply to criticism given by someone who appears to have a soul. :)

LTM said...

@Stephen--excellent! Great to hear~ :o)

@Liz--no kidding, right? Instant karma... :D And that's the greatest way to put it. People do respond better to others who are thoughtful and kind. :o) <3

Shannon said...

Good post, Leigh! I couldn't agree more. Hrm, I just may come tapping at your door when I finish my revisions. :p

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

I'm always on the look-out for more experienced critters. They are so valuable and the clever ones can make the experience fun too :)

Anita Grace Howard said...

Great advice. I learned to give my critiques out in a kind of sandwich, with the harsher criticisms tucked between soft and tender praises. It seems to work really well. Hope you had a great weekend!

Jessica Bell said...

So true. I sometimes forget when my head goes in editing mode. I need the reminder! :o)

LTM said...

@Anita--thanks, girl! Yeah, that sandwich thing seems to be the best approach. I forgot that analogy... *snort* :D <3