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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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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Confession: I Fear Sharing My Stories

Ever since I posted my first round story for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2014, I’ve been a bit of a mess–anxious, queasy, stressed. Perhaps you find this reaction surprising–maybe even a little unbelievable–because I’ve always acted like sharing my work with you is no big deal. But, to be honest, it terrifies me.

Last week, when I hit the “publish” button on my blog to post Inevitable, I had a moment of pure panic. A million “what if” questions flew through my mind: What if people hate it? What if people laugh at me? What if this is the stupidest story I’ve ever written? What if I didn’t push myself hard enough? What if I offend someone by accident? What if. What if. What if…

 It doesn’t seem to matter if I’m sharing my story with a friend, a beta reader, or a complete stranger, I’m always petrified I’ll be judged, ridiculed, and/or ripped apart. The minute I put a story on my blog, or I hand chapters of my manuscript over to a beta reader, I experience a sharp twinge of anxiety, and my heart does a pitter-patter–stutter–halt!–boom-boom-boom! dance.

You’d think this fear would go away after years of sharing my work with others, but it hasn’t. I always experience a sickening sensation, followed by a silent chant of, “Oh God, oh God, oh God…”

Part of my fear stems from the worry people will read my work and think I’m someone I’m not. Let’s face it, many of my stories are on the darker side: Tragic. Morbid. Whacked out! I’m so scared people will read them and think, “Wowza, this chick is messed up!” Or, “Poor thing, she must have a terrible life.” Or, “Yeesh, this writer scares me.”

And, who knows? Maybe people do think those things about me? Maybe people see me as this:

When, in reality, I’m like this:

The only thing I can do to manage this particular fear is to explain to people my writing process. I like to tell them, “When I write, I’m not there. I’m pushed into a cage and locked up while my characters hijack the story. They’re the ones writing it, not me.”

Hmm, maybe I am a little crazy–ha!

But it’s the truth. When I sit down to write, I check “Jenna” at the door and let my characters orchestrate the plot. They tell me how the story is “supposed to go”. I do my best not to interfere as the outsider.

For example, when I started writing my short story, Chasing Monsters, I planned on telling a story about a little boy who’d witnessed a murder in the forest. But when I arrived at the murder scene, my characters said, “Um, no. That’s not going to happen. This is!” And they yanked the plot out of my hands and twisted it into something completely different and unexpected…It was horrible and beyond terrifying, and I did not want to write it.

I think I almost threw up when I posted Chasing Monsters on my blog. If there was ever a story people were going to judge me for, it was that one. Thankfully, nobody did–at least not to my face.

Truthfully, I’ve never been outright slammed for any of my stories. Of course, that’s not to say I’ve never had negative reviews, or had my feelings hurt by less than tactful individuals. Just this past weekend, I had someone send me feedback for Inevitable. They point blank said, “I didn’t like it at all.”

Yeah, that one hurt. But it’s okay. One of the things I’ve learned from sharing my work is not everyone will be a fan. Even if I have pure gold on my hands, someone out there will think it stinks. The best thing I can do is move on and let it go.

…Easier said than done, right?

The bottom line is I will always be afraid of sharing my work. Even if I become a New York Times bestselling author, I’ll struggle with the knowledge there are people out there reading my work and judging me in one way or another. And there will always be critics and, well, insensitive meanies who will tell me, “I didn’t like it at all.”.

But you know what? I can’t let my fears stop me. Even if I have an anxiety attack every time I press the “publish” button on my blog, or sit and stare at my email until my beta readers return with their feedback about my manuscript, I need to be willing to share my work. I need to suck it up and take the terrifying plunge.

If I don’t, how else will I discover my strengths and weaknesses? How else will I become the best writer I can be? There’s only so much I can learn on my own. Without constructive criticism from a variety of sources (friends, family, strangers, bloggers, other writers, etc.) I’ll never reach the next level.

And, really, I need to get used to people reading my stories if I want to be a published author. That’s kind of the point of all of this, isn’t it?

So, how about you? Do you fear others reading your stories? If so, why?

Related Articles:

What are you afraid of, dear writer?

Purging Your Writing Fear

Fear of Writing – 3 secrets of writer’s block

Photo Credits:

http://gifbuffet.tumblr.com/post/9431389021

http://imgfave.com/view/1351342

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20629796-fighting-for-you

http://seeyouinaporridge.blogspot.com/2014/07/confessions_30.html

http://silverscreenings.org/2014/04/25/day-6-the-great-villain-blogathon/

http://setsunajikan.blogspot.com/2012/08/34-ways-that-you-can-be-remarkable.html

http://borg-princess.livejournal.com/95677.html?thread=1791677

Friday Funny with a Reminder: Pain is Gain

Congrats, everyone! We made it to Friday.

Overall, I had a good week…though, much of it was spent recouping from last weekend, after the crazy 24-hour final round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. Simply put, I’ve felt like a zombie. I still can’t believe how much those 24-hours drained me, both physically and emotionally. However, all the pain and tears were worth it. On Tuesday, I was given the thumbs up from the competition to publicly share my story. And, so far, Into Paradise has received positive feedback.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what people would think of my story. I based the entire thing off a rather sensitive topic, so I knew there was a risk of rubbing someone the wrong way. But, so far, people have told me I handled the topic in a respectful, gentle, even hopeful manner, so I’m pleased. That was my intention, after all. In fact, I purposefully kept my setting for Into Paradise vagueeven misleading. I didn’t want people to be focused on where/when this was happening. I wanted them to be focused on my protagonist and the difficult choice she had to make.

…It’s funny, though. I did make it pretty clear by the end where/when this was happening, yet some people still didn’t grasp it. Meanwhile, as vague as I tried to keep it at the start, some people knew instantly where/when this was happening.

It doesn’t really matter. Like I said, the setting wasn’t the focus. And, either way, people have told me Into Paradise is a heart-wrenching, yet touching story. Even comforting. So, I’m good 🙂

The only real complaint thus far–and this is from a few of my competitors–is that I didn’t use the “jealousy” prompt in a satisfying way. Some think I squeezed it in. In retrospect, I can see what they mean. But to be honest, I wouldn’t change it. I used the jealousy prompt in a way I felt fitting for my story. I mean, maybe if I’d had more words to use (1,500 is so limiting!) I could’ve weaved it into the plot more. But, then again, it likely would’ve weakened the story, so I’m glad I didn’t.

If this “issue” means I lose favor with the judges, then oh well. It’s not like I have high hopes of winning the competition. I’m competing against 39 highly talented writers. I’m just honored I made it this far. I know it’s cheese-to-the-max, but I feel like a winner already.

winner-crown-on-ladyAnyways, now that this harrowing short story journey has come to an end, it’s time for me to put all of my focus back into my manuscript. Unfortunately, due to making it this far in the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge, I doubt I’ll be meeting my spring deadline for a first draft 😦 But don’t worry. I’m bound and determined to have a solid draft ready to query by the end of summer. So, it’s time to roll up my sleeves, stomp on those distracting butterflies, and get to work!

In honor of my hard fight last weekend, and all the pain and agony I endured while writing Into Paradise, here is today’s Friday Funny!

8ec9ba8ccaaf08a0334b34fcc8cb707fHow was your week? Better tell me now! I’m going into the zone with my manuscript starting tomorrow and will be in la-la land for awhile.

P.S. Thank you for all of YOUR positive comments on Into Paradise. I can’t tell you how much each one meant to me.

Jen’s Weekly Roundup

Crazy with a Capital C – The 3rd and Final Round

Into Paradise – Final Round Entry – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

How to Take Criticism Like a Pro

Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! Today’s gem comes from one of my favorite bloggers, Kristen LambHow to Take Criticism Like a Pro

Personally, I feel very strongly about this post. It’s so true! One of the biggest, hardest, worst, toughest, suckiest, lamest aspects of being a writer is being criticized. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil if you’re serious about getting published/having people read your work. For me, it’s taken years to thicken up my skin and be able accept feedback on the stories I write. Not only accept it, but accept it like a “professional”.

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Let’s face it, pro or amateur, criticism of our work always stirs up a measure of disappointment. That’s why we must train ourselves to respond as the pros we claim to be or aspire to be. In the age of specialization, people have high standards for the work of others. We must have those same high standards for ourselves.

Read the entire article here!

Related articles 

Friday Funny and a touch of success

Hey, would ya look at that? It’s Friday! Time for a happy dance.

My week went pretty well–much better than last week. I’ll admit I didn’t get any writing done, but that’s because I was participating in the second (and best) part of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge: reading all the amazing entries. On Tuesday, the forum on the competition’s website opened up, so many competitors, including myself, posted our stories for others to read, enjoy, and critique. Thankfully, work was super calm this week, so I was able to read, enjoy, and critique many of them. Like, over 40!…Yeah, my eyes are starting to hurt, lol.

In addition to reading stories, I received terrific feedback for my own, Chasing Monsters. So far, the general consensus has been positive! I think that calls for another happy dance 😉

Here are just a few comments people have made:

That was an incredibly suspenseful and horrifying story…”

Wow.  THAT was one of the best short stories I’ve ever…

Wow Jen!!! What a story!!! You had me right on the edge of my seat from start to finish!”

I LOVED this story.”

I wanted to let you know I am still thinking about/cringing over your story a day later. Can’t think of higher praise for a suspense story.”

Very Guillermo del Toro-esque and I mean that as a compliment.”

Wow – an espresso coffee hit of a child’s tale! (Laced with rum!)

Love your writing! This was like a modern Grimm tale!

Okay, one more happy dance? Yeah?

Success! Thank. God!

Honestly, I didn’t expect this positive response for Chasing Monsters. I was so, so, soooo nervous and “ugh” about it. Why? Well, mostly because the subject matter was so dark and intense. I’d originally plotted a different twist in my story, but when I approached that twist, my characters yanked me in a different direction–a scary, grim, uncomfortable direction. I was also anxious because I genuinely struggled with writing this story (details here), and the more I struggle with writing something, the more likely it’s horrible and needs be tossed out.

I’m glad I didn’t.

And I’m glad I trusted my characters and followed them down the bumpy, twisty path they led me.

In addition to the positive feedback, I’ve also received some awesome constructive criticisms that will definitely help me improve Chasing Monsters should I ever decide to go back and revise it…Will I do that? I don’t know. People have asked me to, but to be honest, this was the hardest story I’ve ever written. It emotionally destroyed me last week and took me to dark places I never want to revisit…But, then again, I do tend to torture myself, so maybe… 😉

Anyways, in honor of my small but sweet success this week, I’ve dedicated today’s Friday Funny to my characters from Chasing Monsters.

0ace93e64f2504ec6a77f2f63ad29552Thank you to everyone who has read Chasing Monsters. I won’t know for over a month how I officially did in the first round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. Despite the positive response from readers, I’m still not holding my breath. Judging for this contest is 100% unpredictable.

How was your week? Read any good books? Make progress with your own writing? Tell me, tell me!

Jen’s Weekly Roundup

Done and Done – Round 1 Short Story Challenge 2014

Book Review: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Chasing Monsters – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge Entry

A True Thursday Treasure – Hermione is born