Beta Purgatory

I love my critique partners. I love my beta readers. I would be nowhere without them.

One beta reader in particular, I can always count on for honesty, clarity and humor. She has an amazing eye for how everything fits (or should fit) into the big picture.

But, everyone can have a bad day (or week, or however long it takes to read a friend’s manuscript).

In the past, I appreciated her humorous way of pointing out character or plot inconsistencies. Her comments made me laugh and took a little of the sting out of the criticism.

The last time she read a manuscript for me, however, was different. The humor had more of an edge and made the criticism sting more. I couldn’t get through her comments. They made me so mad that I had to close the document by page 40.

I know how great a reader she can be, though, so I didn’t want to give up on her critique. But it took me weeks to get through her comments, and also the help of another beta reader who read the critique and was able to see past the wrapping to the golden ticket hidden with the unusually bitter chocolate bar.

The bottom line is, my friend had amazing insights into my manuscript. My story will be better for her having read it. And yes, I would ask her to beta-read for me in the future.

So, my friends, remember that there is a breathing, feeling, insecure person on the other end of the manuscript you’re critiquing. I’m not saying you have to sugar coat anything. I’m not saying you shouldn’t point out the problems. But give a little thought as to how your comments might be received.

And, my friends, when you’re reading someone’s feedback, remember he or she is also a breathing, feeling, possibly insecure person with who-knows-what issues of his or her own to deal with that could be coloring his or her comments. Do your best to ignore what hurts and get to what helps.

In the comments, please share any other advice you have for dealing with difficult critiques.




Filed under writing

9 responses to “Beta Purgatory

  1. So true, Vicki.
    And so much is lost through the written communication. The beta reader might have thought jokes were softening the criticism, when maybe they were throwing salt in the wound.

    I try really hard to give good, solid, non-insulting feedback. But I recently read about a writer I beta-read for getting representation. I went to her blog to offer congratulations — and then I read her story. She listed all the beta readers who helped her. I was not among them.

    Then she mentioned “a reader” who “tore her story to shreds.” I cringed. Was that me? She and I exchanged several emails after my critique. We brainstormed revisions together. I thought she appreciated my feedback because she sent me several follow-up ideas for how to fix the plot holes I mentioned, and I responded to them.

    I slunk off, feeling really bad, but wondering — was it me? Was I too tough? But did I help her? Did she use my suggestions? Since she didn’t answer my last email, I am guessing I must be “the shredder.” Whether my comments actually made a difference is something I will never know. I admit I’m a little hurt, because I gave my honest opinion and tried really hard to help her. I LIKED the story, gosh darn it.

    But in written communication with someone I’ve never met, who knows what went wrong. 😦

    • That’s absolutely true what you say about never knowing what went wrong, Dianne. I try to be caring and tactful in my critiques, but one never knows how the message might be received. This post was a good reminder, Vicki.

  2. I’m always a little bit snarky in my comments to critters, which is why I’m very careful to take on new projects to critique. So far it’s worked out well (I knew most of the people before I critiqued for them, so they knew my sense of humor), and they appreciate the real-time thoughts a reader has while reading. And of course I always highlight the parts I love too (I draw a lot of hearts on my critiques) so they know the entire thing isn’t one giant fail. Hopefully that softens the parts where I say “blah blah blah, get to the STORY” 🙂

  3. First off, good for you, finding a solution. I’m proud of you. Second, I find it’s best to be professional.

  4. Hmmm… I’ll say this: A beta should never discourage you from writing. And I don’t mean that it shouldn’t sting a little. ALL corrective feedback stings, no matter how well-intentioned or softly put. However, if the negativity is such that you’re having to put it away, etc. I don’t think that’s productive for you as a writer.

    Betas and critters need to have an eye for the good as well as the bad, and if you’re getting that frustrated I’m thinking this person probably isn’t balancing those things out enough. I’m very up front (maybe even blunt) when I beta for people, but I definitely make an attempt to keep spirits high by finding the things I really enjoy and telling the author about it.

    It’s good you have a positive attitude about the big picture, and I know you’re a hard worker who is determined to get better, so you’re taking this as a challenge, not a setback.

  5. I think you did what I usually do. Take time off to deal with the sting and then read through again.

  6. Ooh, so true! It’s tough to give and to receive critique. I sometimes take for granted that my beta partners know that I love their writing so much that I skip the good stuff. It’s a great reminder that that stuff is just as important. You have to know what you’re doing RIGHT after all! And I’d never want to hurt someone’s feelings.

  7. That’s a tough one! I agree what others have said–it’s hard to tell the tone/intent via electronic communication. Sometimes it’s hard to take, tho. I agree, time away helps ease the sting.

  8. I had a similar experience with a long time writing friend; I got an unsually harsh critique once that made me reluctant to share anything with her again. But after I finally got over the hurt feelings, of course everything she said was quite true, and later i found out she was going through a really difficult time! SHe just critted another one of my stories and her advice is so valuable.

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