Thursday, May 2, 2013

On Critiquing and Beta Readers

One of the panels I sat on at the first annual Central Canada Lit Fest last month had to do with the topic of Beta Readers.

What is a Beta Reader? A rough definition might be: Someone independent (and not a close family member!) who reads over your manuscript before you send it off to your publisher, and who subsequently gives you feedback on the contents.

There were three authors on the panel. The other two may use several beta readers at a time, and while they wanted commentary on the plot and how the reader felt about their work, did not want any feedback on such as grammar or spelling. I use a single beta reader, and reciprocate in kind, often making comments back and forth regarding even these items.

Why a Beta Reader? Most of us belong (or once belonged) to a writer’s workshop or circle where we critique each others work. I find these quite suitable for getting feedback on a single scene or chapter, but not on the completed work. These workshops often meet only once or twice a month, and as the writers take turns, you might have to wait two or three months before your turn to read comes up again. There are also time limitations as there are often two to four readers at each meeting. Not a suitable method for getting feedback on your entire novel. The Beta Reader looks at the complete manuscript, follows the plot and gives you their impression of the overall storyline. You send the reader your polished draft, not the rough first copy. You want a review of the product that you are preparing to submit.

What to look for in a Beta reader? Ideally, you want someone who enjoys the same genre you are writing in. They can be someone who writes in that genre, or someone who is simply a fan and reader of your genre. You ask them to provide you with honest feedback. While you can allow someone close to you (spouse, parent, sibling etc.) to look at your draft, I would hesitate to use them as the primary or only reader of your unpublished manuscript. You want very honest, sometimes even uncomfortable, feedback.

The bottom line, however, when you receive that critique from your writers’ workshop, or the feedback from your Beta Reader, is that you alone are responsible for the final product. Look at what they have told you about your writing, think about it, and in the end, the final decision is yours whether to accept the wisdom of your peers, or press on regardless. Only you, the author, know what it is you are trying to say... or what plot point you plan to reveal later on, in the even more brilliant sequel!


The Dark Lady - February 2012
Housetrap - December 2012
Knight’s Bridge - March 2013
The Queen’s Pawn - April 2013
Dial M for Mudder - July 2013


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Good points about the fragmented attention in the groups. There is also a rotation of members, which is more disorienting. The scene splash is a better value. I use one such group and a few beta readers.

Naomi Stone said...

True that beta readers and critique groups serve different purposes. I think it's more helpful to have a small critique group, though. There are four in our group, all at similar levels of accomplishment (two published, two close) with very different approaches so that we each catch things the others don't and with only four, there's time to take a close look at each members work when meet, even if only once a month.

~ Naomi Stone