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Monday, April 7, 2014

A Beta by any other Name...

I had the darndest conversation with an online acquaintance. When I remarked how important critiques were for a manuscript, she sniffed and said it wasn’t nice to put down another’s ms.

I said, “But...but, you gotta have critique partners? Someone to read your words.”

She came back with, “My family said my book was good. I don’t need someone else to point out grammar or punctuation mistakes.”

I dropped the conversation thread after that. Well, actually, they kicked me out of the forum but, as Alton Brown would say, that is another show.

It is simply this: critique partners/betas find the problems before you self-publish, before you hit the send button to that agent or editor.

Betas or critique partners look for sneaky typos, flow, grammar, incomprehensible sentences. Sometime it is how long a sword should be, where Stonehenge is located, and what season it is in Australian when it’s winter in the US. Plot and believability is crazy-important. You want to know what is going on in a reader’s mind at a critical point in the manuscript.  They see the places you missed, give second opinions so the writer can compare them. Writers need someone to read their mss. Even experienced ones. Look at the acknowledgements on any famous book.

But how to find these elusive creatures?

Here are the rules to finding and being a good critique partner:

Genre. If you hate fantasy, then I doubt critiquing it will appeal to you. Find someone with the same interests.

Experience. The person closest to your writing knowledge. Critiquing a ms that is way below or way above your level is frustrating for both of you. Don’t do it. If you can't find a person who is close to your level of expertise, pay an editor to read your ms instead. 

Publishing experience. This is a bonus. If you can find someone who knows what makes a good book—plot, character arcs, structure—then this is you Pearl of Great Price. You want someone who knows what makes a book come alive.

For the one reading the ms, I say the most important aspect is be genuine. Be honest. Give what you can in time and expertise but don’t be cruel in your remarks. That is no help to anyone.

My hardest task is telling an author the truth, that I don’t find their ms interesting. I hate using the phrase, “This isn’t for me”, but it has happened.

So, preaching is over. Time to begin the search. Here are
some sites to try:


Tomorrow, we go back to critiquing. Send your queries.


Patchi said...

I love CPs and betas. My MS wouldn't have evolved without them. But I can handle the truth. It just makes me more determined to fix the mistakes.

For SF and Fantasy, I'd recommend Critters.org There are critters of all levels in the group. I've gotten really good crits over there for chapters and full MS.

Huntress said...

Good idea, Patchi.

And watch for events that match like-minded Critique Partners.

I found my two Pearls of Great Price via my blog by simply asking.

Charity Bradford said...

OMGoodness! I don't think I truly became a "writer" until I had good critique partners. The best thing is that when you have several you can be sure every aspect is covered.

I have one friend that is my sounding board. We just talk and talk about the idea until it makes some sense. Then I write and revise before sending it to MY Pearls of Great Price. These gems cover other things that I often don't think about. It's a wonderful process!

L.G. Smith said...

It's taken me about ten years to find the ideal critique partner, someone who knows how to rip my ms to shreds for all the right reasons, and without being cruel or snarky about it. Found him through my blog. And a few others, too, who have given invaluable feedback. Can't stress how important honest critique is to improving a work.

stu said...

There's a culture around writing in some corners of the internet where being supportive has spilled over into never saying anything critical. There are moments when the most supportive thing to do is to be critical, because that's the best opportunity for people to do better.

Liz A. said...

I think the problem here is that critical has two definitions that would fit. Critical as in someone who criticizes or critical as in someone who critiques. Big difference.

My family "loved" my book as well. Still, I knew it wasn't done and I needed someone to give me some real feedback.