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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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It’s Official – I’m A Freelance Editor

For the past year, I’ve been kicking around the idea of starting a freelance editing business. I’ve always enjoyed editing and critiquing other people’s work, and helping them find ways to make it better. In fact, if I wasn’t pursuing a career as a published author, I’d likely be in NYC right now working for one of the major publishing houses.

…Well, trying to.

I finally decided to take the plunge a few months ago, during the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. Throughout the competition, multiple writers contacted me to see if I’d be willing to edit their work. And not just out of the goodness of my heart, but for an actual price.

That’s when it hit me: People value my opinion, and they value it enough to pay me. So, why not? Why not pursue another passion of mine by creating a freelance editing service?

I decided to start off small by accepting work from those who’d contacted me via NYC Midnight. I figured if I could handle those projects, then I could handle more. And if I couldn’t, well, I’d be able to bow out and nobody would ever know it.

Well, I handled each project just fine. I successfully edited two manuscripts, critiqued eight short stories, evaluated a screenplay (which is now being considered by Lionsgate) and reviewed two first chapters. Nobody got mad at me, rejected my evaluations, or told me I sucked…Not that I thought anyone would, but you know. I had to prove I could do this. And I can!

So now it’s time to take things to the next level.

Last weekend, I sat down and created my website, Jen’s Edits & Critiques.

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 9.27.28 AMI’m so excited to share this website with you and start promoting my editing services properly. And I hope you’ll help me by sharing it with your friends and colleagues. Whether it’s a manuscript, short story, website, marketing brochure, or anything else that requires red pen treatment, I can help. I want to help!

I hope this next step in my editing journey goes well. It’s always a joy to get to do something you love, and editing and critiquing stories is something I adore. So…Fingers crossed!

For a full list of my services and additional details, click here. You may also refer to the Jen’s Edits & Critiques tab at the top of my blog in the future.

Thanks, everyone!

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Critique Etiquette: The Ultimate Guide for Giving and Receiving Feedback

Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! As many of you know, I love to participate in NYC Midnight Challenges. Not only have they pushed me outside my writing comfort zone, but they’ve introduced me to the fine art of critiquing.

Since my first NYCM Challenge in 2013, I’ve critiqued approximately 500 short stories for my fellow competitors. During this time, I’ve learned a lot about the critiquing process. And I’m not just talking about how to write proper critiques, but how to give and receive them in a proper fashion.

criticism-cartoon-1 Believe it or not, there are general etiquette “rules” writers need to follow when giving and receiving critiques. And, trust me, I’ve learned from experience not all writers are aware of these.

To ensure you’re not one of those writers, I highly recommend you read this article by author, Angela Ackerman:

Critique Etiquette: The Ultimate Guide for Giving & Receiving Feedback

When Giving a Critique: it is the critique partner’s job to pay the submission the attention it deserves. Some important points to remember:

Focus on the writing, not the writer. No matter what shape a story is in or how green the writer may be, a critter’s job is to offer feedback on the writing itself, not a writer’s developing skills (unless you are praising them, of course).
Offer honesty, but be diplomatic. Fluffy Bunny praise doesn’t help, so don’t get sucked into the “but I don’t want to hurt their feelings” mindset. Your honest opinion is what the writer needs to improve the story, so if you notice something, say so. However, there is a difference between saying “This heroine is coming across a bit cliché,” and saying, “This character sucks, I hate her—what a total cliché.”
Be constructive, not destructive. When offering feedback, voice your feelings in a constructive way. To continue with the cliché character example, explain what is making her come across cliché, and offer ideas on how to fix this by suggesting the author get to know them on a deeper level and think about how different traits, skills and flaws will help make her unique. Give examples if that will help. Bashing the author’s character helps no one.

To read the entire article, click here!

For more useful advice, follow Angela Ackerman on Twitter!

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