Jen’s Editing Tips – Beta Reader Etiquette 201

Around this time last year, I wrote a blog post regarding beta reader etiquette, all from the perspective of the writer. Today, I’d like to turn the tables and discuss beta reader etiquette from the perspective of the beta.

Jen's Editing Tips

Yes, believe it or not, there are basic etiquette rules to follow when you volunteer to read another writer’s work. You don’t get a free pass to act however you please because you kindly offered to help out. Certain guidelines should be followed to not only ensure your feedback gets taken to heart, but also to maintain healthy, productive relationships.

Be Tactful

giphy

Every beta reader is different. Some are brutally honest, others are overly sweet. Most try to land in the middle. Whichever direction you lean, you should be as tactful with your words as possible. No, this doesn’t mean those of you who like to cut straight to the chase have to sugarcoat everything. It simply means you need to choose your words wisely.

For example, do you hate a character? Well, don’t tell the writer, “I hate Character A.” Or, worse, call them a crass name (yes, I’ve had a beta call one of my protagonists the “C” word.) When you take this blunt, zero-filter approach, you risk losing the respect of the writer (no matter how thick their skin might be). They won’t care why you hate the protagonist. They’ll be too offended to take anything you say seriously.

Instead, consider voicing your dislike in a direct, but helpful way. For example, “I admit, I wasn’t a fan of Character A. They lacked emotional depth…” and so on.  You can still be honest (to the point of giving the writer a little slap in the face), but you won’t knock the writer out. They’ll shake off the sting and read the rest of your feedback.

Of course, there are exceptions to this “rule.” Some writers beg their betas to be as blunt and cruel as possible. (I’ve had writers ask me to say exactly what was on my mind, however horrible it might be.) However, the majority of writers react better to negative news when it’s presented in a tactful manner.

Listen

source

When a writer asks you to beta for them, they might request a certain type of feedback: Big picture, character arcs, pacing, grammar, etc.  If this happens, listen to them. Don’t nitpick grammatical mistakes when all they want is a general first impression; and don’t nitpick the plot when all they want is a proofread. Focus on what they ask for. Give them the answers they seek.

If a writer doesn’t give you specific instructions, then I suggest you ask them. Many will respond, “Any and all feedback would be appreciated.” But others might clarify. If they do, follow their directions. Listen!

Give REAL Feedback

giphy-3

Beta reading is a tough job, especially for those who are sensitive and don’t like to hurt other people’s feelings. But, when you volunteer to beta, you volunteer to point out the good, the bad, and the ugly. There are no rewards for being Miss/Mr. Congeniality. If you tell a writer you absolutely LOVED their AMAZING, INCREDIBLE, AWARD-WINNING MASTERPIECE, then you aren’t doing them any favors. You need to help them find their story’s flaws, however big or small, before the rest of the world does.

Does this mean you should only look for flaws? Absolutely not. Telling a writer what you enjoyed about the story is just as important as telling them what you disliked about it. It’s all about balance. You need to be honest, but constructive. Encouraging, but realistic. Explain to a writer why you loved their concept, but disliked their characters. Explain how the beginning and ending worked, but the middle grew murky and slow.

Remember, even the strongest stories have flaws that need to be addressed. Don’t be afraid to address them.

Think Before You Commit

giphy-1

Everyone is busy nowadays. We all have jobs, families, chores, writing projects, etc. Therefore, before you volunteer to beta for someone, find out what you’re committing to. How long is the story? 1K words? 10K? 100K? How quickly does the writer need your feedback? A couple hours? A couple weeks? A couple of months? How much feedback is the writer looking for? A few sentences? A handful of paragraphs? In-depth notes in the margins?

These are important questions to ask. Why? Because you don’t know what the writer expects from you. You don’t know if they’re on a deadline, taking a long break between drafts, or staring at their computer every second of every day, anxiously awaiting your judgment.

Although you’re doing the writer a favor, you’re still working on their watch. This is a fact. Every project has a timeline. You must stick to theirs, not yours. So, before you volunteer, make sure you can deliver. If you can’t, that’s okay. Be honest with the writer. Tell them why you can’t help out (“I have too many projects on my plate at the moment.” Or “I could get my notes back to you in a month, not a week.” Etc.). They should be understanding. Or, if they really, really want your opinion, they’ll adjust their timeline to fit yours.

Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

giphy-4

If you critique another writer’s story, then etiquette dictates that writer offers you one in return. Beta reading is and should be a two-way street. You give, you get. You get, you give. Easy-peasy.

However, not every writer follows this rule. In fact, I’d say at least a third of the writers I work with don’t return the favor. I’ll admit, it’s frustrating, but…what can I do about it? Beg? Bribe? Guilt-trip? That’s not how things work. When you offer to beta, you can’t expect to be rewarded for it. You just can’t. You have to enter the process with the intention to help someone else (not yourself).

With that said, I urge you to resist getting used, again and again. Apply a Three Strikes policy to every writer. If you do not receive a return critique from them after reading three of their stories, then stop offering to help. I know it can be hard to do that, but there are plenty of writers out there willing to give back. Don’t choose the ones who only worry about themselves. It isn’t right, it isn’t fair, and it most definitely isn’t proper.

giphy

Beta reading is a hefty, responsible task. But, if you do it right, and do it well, you should come away from the experience satisfied. Not only have you helped a fellow writer improve their story, but you’ve likely made connections that will help you improve your own work in the future!

How about you? What are some of your beta reader etiquette tips?

Don’t forget, my editing website is up and running! If you’re looking for someone to help with your story, check out Jen’s Edits and Critiques.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Photo credits: giphy

Jen’s Editing Tips – Beta Reader Etiquette 101

Most of us know how important beta readers are. They’re the ones who catch major flaws, cliches, loopholes, and other problems in our work before the rest of the world sees it. That’s why it’s so important we treat them with the respect and courtesy they deserve.

Jen's Editing Tips

Respecting beta readers seems like an obvious thing, right? Well, not to everyone. Unfortunately. Although most don’t mean to do it (and most don’t even know they’re doing it), many writers offend, snub, and/or annoy their beta readers.

To help you maintain solid working relationships with your beta readers, here are some basic etiquette tips to consider:

Say Thank You

Duh, right? Well, believe it or not, there are writers who forget to thank their beta readers. They’ll email them a story, wait and wait, and then dig into the feedback the second it returns. And they’ll completely forget to say, “Thank you!”

This. Is. Not. Acceptable.

No matter what a beta tells you about your story, you need to thank them for taking the time to read and evaluate it. Because they took the time to read and evaluate it. They didn’t have to, but they did.

A great way to prevent this major faux pas is to thank a beta before you read their feedback. That way, you won’t get distracted and forget.

Tactfully Reject

Asking someone to be a beta reader is sort of like asking them out on a date. You won’t know until you sit down and review their feedback if there’s chemistry between you.

Sometimes there is. Sometimes there isn’t.

If there isn’t, that’s okay. Thank them for taking the time to read your story and then–quietly–set their feedback aside. You don’t need to use it. You also don’t need to ask that person to read your work again. In fact, unless a beta asks to stay involved (usually a friend or family member), it’s rude to request additional input from them.

Which leads to the next tip…

Don’t Waste a Beta Reader’s Time

Rejecting a beta reader’s feedback is perfectly okay.

Rejecting a beta reader’s feedback and then sending them another draft to review is not.

Beta readers have busy lives just like the rest of us. Jobs, families, chores, projects, etc. Why would you ask them to read multiple drafts of the same story if you’re not going to heed their advice? It’s a waste of their time and, let’s face it, inconsiderate.

So, before you send someone a draft, ask yourself, “Will I use this person’s feedback?” If the answer is “no” (or even a shaky “maybe”), then be kind and leave them alone.

Keep Track of Betas

Some writers like to only use one beta reader. Some writers like to use many. It all depends on your personal preference and goals.

For those of you who like to use multiple beta readers, it can be hard to keep track of each one. Lines get crossed. Emails get lost. Names get mixed up.

That’s why it’s a good idea to keep a spreadsheet (or some kind of list) to remind yourself who’s who and what’s what (story sent, feedback received, thank you sent, etc.) If you do that, then you’ll have a much better chance of keeping everything straight. And you’ll have a far less chance of offending someone.

Don’t Badger

“Can you read my eleventh draft?”

“Do you think I should change my character’s hair color from red to blond?”

“Should his name be Bob or Bobby?”

“Would this sentence sound better if I wrote it like this?”

“What about this sentence?”

“And this one?”

Poke, poke, poke! If you badger your beta readers with too many questions or requests, they’re going to get annoyed. Really annoyed. So annoyed, they might stop helping you. Let’s remember, beta readers have lives, too. And, if they’re writers, then they probably have their own projects to agonize over. So, be careful. Don’t drown them in questions and countless drafts. Be wise and pick your “battles.”

Bottom line: Whether it’s another writer, a friend, or a family member, you need to treat your beta readers with the respect and courtesy they deserve. After all, most of them are helping you out of the goodness of their hearts.

So, what about you? What are some of your beta reader etiquette tips?

Don’t forget, my editing website is up and running! If you’re looking for someone to help with your story, check out Jen’s Edits and Critiques.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Photo credits: giphy

Friday Funny with Paint, Chocolate, and Wallow

There isn’t much to say except:

Well everyone, this week was a doozy on the writing front. In a nutshell, I felt like this:

So, last weekend I sent my beta reader my latest two chapters. She liked them, but she wasn’t crazy about their setting. “I wasn’t wowed,” she explained. “This is a big moment, and you nailed the emotions and the action, but the actual location wasn’t thrilling. I wanted…more.”

Always more, Mrs. Beta Reader. That’s all you ever want. More, more, more

Yeah, yeah. I know what you’re all thinking: “It’s good your beta reader pushes you to do better–to give a reader more. That’s their job.” I know, I know. But, still. Grrrrr.

The problem is–and I know you’ll find this bizarre considering I’m passionate about novel writing–I’m not a fan of painting a setting. The sky, the clouds, the house, the trees…blah, blah, blah. If I could, I’d literally say, “There’s an old house that’s creepy and scary. Get it? Got it? Good. Let’s move on.”

Horrible, I know. But, unfortunately, true.

And these chapters my beta reader wanted “more” from are all about painting a setting. So, rewriting them this week has. Been. Pure. Torture! Compared to writing dialogue and action sequences, describing a location is hell for me. Going from blank page to vivid scene is a rough and frustrating process. There’s lots of writing, deleting, crying, screaming, writing, deleting, groaning, kicking, writing, deleting…

…punching my computer in the face. Apologizing to my computer for punching it in the face. Punching it again. Apologizing again…

Seriously, by the time I finished revising these chapters last night, I felt like this:

Okay, Okay, I wasn’t that bad. But I really wanted to curl up with a big bag of peanut M&M’s and wallow. Maybe chow down on some cookie dough ice cream, a slab of fudge, and an entire chocolate cake.

What? Every writer is allowed to gorge on chocolate once in awhile, right?

Right?

Fingers crossed my beta reader gives me the thumbs up on the new location I painted for her. If she doesn’t, then I will be buying a GIANT bag of peanut M&M’s and I will be wallowing….And then, after my pity-poor-me party, I will roll up my sleeves, gnash my teeth, and try again. Because, as the saying goes, “You fail only if you stop writing”.

Right?

Anyway, in honor of my rough writing week, here is today’s Friday Funny. Enjoy!

tumblr_mb67pu0DLF1r7d8e0o1_500

How was your week? Wallow worthy? Or full of rainbows and glitter and blah blah blah? 😉

Jen’s Weekly Roundup

In case you missed my posts from earlier this week, here you go!

Music Monday – Love The Way You Lie – Eminem and Rihanna

You Know You’re a Writer When…Alter Ego

8 Words to Seek and Destroy in Your Writing

Photo credits:

http://stevencee.com/author/stevencee/

http://giphy.com/gifs/b55x0VFpFKm7S

http://www.gifwave.com/3kSL/reaction-cameron-diaz-the-holiday-grrrr-gif

http://giphy.com/gifs/obG1fKl754GZ2

http://fivefootattack.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/the-five-foots-top-five-christmas-movies/

http://itsbetterblonde.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/hey-guys-learn-your-manners/

http://rebloggy.com/post/funny-humor-book-write-epic-fail-writting-distractions-to-write-writing-humor-st/32599840340