Dear Beta Readers and Critique Partners,
Writers need constructive criticism to perfect their manuscripts, but just because “criticism” is in that phrase doesn’t mean you have the right to be nasty. “Constructive” is the keyword there. To be constructive is to be helpful and being rude is never helpful.
Etiquette for Beta Reading and Critiquing:
- Before you begin reading someone else’s work, keep an open mind from beginning to end. The story may start off boring but could become amazing.
- As you beta read or critique, it is perfectly fine to fix any errors you see with grammar or punctuation (with Track Changes). This is extremely helpful to the writer. Even switching some words around in sentences to help the flow is fine. Just restrain yourself from doing so much that you’re editing their work.
- If you find repetitiveness (repeated phrases or ideas) or redundancies (sentences that don’t need to be said), point them out to the writer and suggest cutting them.
- Don’t just shine a light on the bad, though. If you read a metaphor that tickles your fancy or a sentence that strikes you with awe, let them know. Did a part make you laugh-out-loud? Highlighting it and leaving a simple comment like “Hilarious!” can really lift a writer’s spirits.
What if you find big problems?
- Don’t leave a scathing remark about how awful a scene is or how dumb the characters are. Instead, say you didn’t really care for the highlighted scene then explain why. Perhaps the characters’ actions weren’t believable, the scene wasn’t realistic, or something confused you. Then offer a suggestion or two for how the scene could be fixed if the writer chooses to do so.
Many people create a separate document of notes about the story or paste their notes into an email when they return the manuscript. There is also a way to go about doing this.
- Highlight the things you loved about the story, even if there wasn’t much. Tell the writer which characters you loved and scenes you enjoyed. Is the writing vivid? Does the writer have a knack for action scenes? Let the writer know all of this to boost their confidence.
- After you talk about the good, mention the not-so-good…the things you feel could be worked on. Tell them which scenes or characters could use some help, and include a sentence or two for why you feel this way. If there are plot holes, point them out and offer a suggestion for how the writer could possibly fix it. Try to be helpful no matter what; that is your job.
- Whatever you do, DO NOT write huge paragraphs bashing their writing, characters, or scenes. This is bad taste. And it doesn’t help the writer at all.
Below are real beta reader comments and what should’ve been said instead.
Beta Reader Comment #1: Oh, there are one or two one-liners in her first person POV, but not even those mentally spoken words show any real emotion. So it all just comes across as an author trying so hard to make the heroine the star that she's willing to make the men look weak and incompetent.
What Should’ve Been Said: Work on adding more deep POV and emotion into your main character here. And try to divide some of the heroism among the other characters in this scene.
Beta Reader Comment #2: You also put a couple of scenes in this book that were either unbelievable or ***** acted so contrary to anything a normal person would do that I just couldn't buy into the fantasy.
What Should’ve Been Said: I pointed out a few scenes that need some work. I think your character’s actions need to be more believable. What would you do if you were in his/her shoes?
Beta Reader Comment #3: Single lines of deep, 1st person POV monologues work very well when used sparingly, but in my opinion, you've over used them in this manuscript and at times, it comes across as a short cut so you can avoid writing something more personal and descriptive.
What Should’ve Been Said: I found spots that could use more emotion and physical
responses so readers can connect personally with your characters.
There comes a point when “constructive” criticism becomes bullying. So remember, it’s important to be considerate during every phase of critiquing. From the first correspondence to the last.
Author of Hurricane Crimes, Seismic Crimes, 30 Seconds, Ghost of Death, and Witch of Death. Blogger. Reader. Auntie. Vegetarian. Cat Lover.