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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Photo credits: giphy

Top 2014 Posts – #5 – Stop the presses. Literacy isn’t important. Technology is.

To end the year, I’ve decided to spotlight my top 10 blog posts from 2014. I went into my stats page and looked up those articles, stories, and other published pieces that had the most number of views. Some surprised me, others did not.

And look at that! We’ve made it to the halfway point! Here’s my 5th most popular blog post from 2014: Stop the presses. Literacy isn’t important. Technology is.

IMG_4057This was one of the few posts I wrote that could be considered a “rant”. But, come on, what writer and/or book nerd isn’t passionate about literacy and gets revved up when someone says it “isn’t important”?

…Yes, I’m still fuming over this matter.


“Literacy isn’t important. Technology is.”


Believe it or not, a guest speaker actually spoke these words to over 3,000 teachers last week during an in-service event for one of the nation’s top performing school districts. As you might suspect, the reaction wasn’t positive. In fact, many in the crowd booed this man’s mind-boggling words: Literacy isn’t important.

Literacy. Isn’t. Important.

How…? Why…? How?

This guest speaker went on to declare the four core subjects (math, science, English and history) weren’t a priority either. Furthermore (yeah, there’s a furthermore), he said teachers shouldn’t teach content. They should be motivators. According to him, “Students shouldn’t learn. They should become.”

Yeah

Ironically, this man has written a book about this entire topic. Yet, when asked how anyone could read it if they didn’t know how, he responded, “No worries. It will be read to them.”

Yeah

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 2.18.05 PM

Did you know Mr. Guest Speaker that:

  • The United Nations considers it a human right to be literate?
  • “67.4 million children who are out of school are likely to encounter great difficulties in the future, as deficient or non-existent basic education is the root cause of illiteracy.”?
  • According to the CIA, “Low levels of literacy, and education in general, can impede the economic development of a country in the current rapidly changing, technology-driven world.”?

Let me repeat that last quote for you, Mr. Guest Speaker:

“Low levels of literacy, and education in general, can impede the economic development of a country in the current rapidly changing, technology-driven world.” I don’t know about you, but it sounds to me like literacy and technology go hand-in-hand. Doesn’t it? They work together to keep this world spinning. Moving. Progressing.

occupational-therapy-and-assistive-technologyAs you can see (and most of you already know), I’m passionate about this subject. I’m a literacy advocate, a book lover, and an imagination builder. I have hundreds of books lining my shelves at home (each cherished dearly), and I don’t go anywhere without a pen or a notebook (ya know, just in case I get a sudden idea for a story). When I visit my nephews, I always encourage them to read a book, put a puzzle together, or take flight on the wings of their imagination. And when I see my friends, I always tell them about a book they should read (okay, okay, I sometimes tell the stranger standing in line behind me at the grocery store about a great book, too). And I never stop clapping for those who go to work everyday to teach and motivate our future generations.

But, besides being pro-education, I’m also pro-technology. I love technology. I don’t know what I’d do without it. And I firmly believe it plays a vital role in our society, our educational systems, and our future. If used properly, technology can improve communication, share knowledge, expand worlds, and connect globally. My God, just look at this blog! I’ve reached thousands of people across the planet with it. I have followers in Australia, Japan, England, Nigeria, Sweden…It’s astounding. I couldn’t do what I do without the technology to back me up. I couldn’t.

However, I also couldn’t do what I do if I didn’t have a strong literate background. And, let me tell you, that literate background wasn’t technologically driven. Most of my schooling took place in the 90’s and early 2000’s, so besides TVs and overhead projectors, my teachers didn’t have much to utilize in the way of technology to educate me. I didn’t even have my first computer class until 7th grade, and I didn’t own a cell phone until my junior year of high school. My classes looked pretty much like this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(According to Mr. Guest Speaker, this is a “sad picture”…Yeah, he got more boos and hisses for that one.)

Yet, despite my less than “techie” upbringing, I’ve managed to adapt to our technology-driven society. Well, I’ve more than adapted. I’ve embraced it and made it a part of my life. I’m blogging. I’m active on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites. I’m a whiz on a Mac, and I just got my first Nook. But do you think I could’ve figured all of that out if I wasn’t literate to start?

Let’s take a moment to think about a couple of things, shall we? Without literacy:

  • This blog wouldn’t exist. How could it? I wouldn’t even know how to type the words I’m typing right now because I wouldn’t know how to s-p-e-l-l them. I also wouldn’t have the critical thinking, problem solving, or certain social skills I needed to get this site up and running. Even those pesky math and science classes I swore “I’d never ever need” played a part in the creation of this blog.
  • Technology wouldn’t exist. Who do you think created all of these wires and circuit boards in the first place? An alien who visited Earth for a summer vaca? An extraterrestrial being who generously decided to share a drop of its genius with humankind?

alien_in_UFO_cartoonSeriously, guys. Traditionally educated–literate–individuals were the ones who got us to where we are today. They used their reading, writing, math, and science skills to create our gadget-filled world.

  • Future technology won’t exist. We have fancy-schmancy technology now thanks to those smarty-pants who created it in the first place, but what will happen if schools and educators stop promoting literacy? What new and improved devices will we have in our hands in ten years? 20? 100? What unexplored paths will remain unexplored because nobody had the map to find them?

Okay, so I’m sure by this point some of you might be thinking, “There’s been a miscommunication. Surely Mr. Guest Speaker didn’t really mean literacy isn’t important. He must’ve been trying to prove another point that just didn’t translate well.” Some of the teachers in the audience thought the same thing, so they decided to attend his afternoon session…and they left it even more letdown and confused than before.

 Still not sold? Well, consider this: Mr. Guest Speaker was supposed to be live-streamed on the district’s website for the community to watch. Within five minutes, the plug was pulled (ironic?). Almost a week later, a video has finally gone up, but it isn’t the video filmed that day. If that’s not a red flag, I don’t know what is.

red_flagThis is obviously a subject I’m extremely passionate about. And normally I don’t take on such controversial topics, but I couldn’t let this matter drop without bringing it to other people’s attention. To think there is someone out there declaring literacy is a thing of the past isn’t right. It needs to be stopped. We can’t let future generations be deprived of a well-rounded education. It’s inconceivable and, really, a travesty.

So, if you believe literacy has and always will play an imperative part in our society’s future, please share this article and information with those you know. Blow the whistle and put an end to the idea, “Literacy isn’t important. Technology is.” How about instead we promote, “Literacy and technology work hand-in-hand.”? Or, “Literacy equals technology. Technology equals literacy.”?

One last food for thought: Did Mr. Guest Speaker ever stop to wonder what would happen if the big, almighty plug got pulled someday? Not to get all dystopian and apocalyptic on you guys, but let’s face it: there’s a chance the power could go out someday. Our phones, computers, iPods, Kindles and everything in between might stop working. What will happen then? What will we have? What will society fall back on? Hmm?

Be an advocate for future generations and support literacy!

Previous Top 10 2014 Posts:

#6 – How to Write a Novel Synopsis: 5 Tips

#7: Into Paradise

#8: Music Monday – Love The Way You Lie

#9: Operation Disney

#10: Over The Edge

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

Sources

UNESCO

The World Factbook – Central Intelligence Agency

Stop the presses. Literacy isn’t important. Technology is.

“Literacy isn’t important. Technology is.”


Believe it or not, a guest speaker actually spoke these words to over 3,000 teachers last week during an in-service event for one of the nation’s top performing school districts. As you might suspect, the reaction wasn’t positive. In fact, many in the crowd booed this man’s mind-boggling words: Literacy isn’t important.

Literacy. Isn’t. Important.

How…? Why…? How?

This guest speaker went on to declare the four core subjects (math, science, English and history) weren’t a priority either. Furthermore (yeah, there’s a furthermore), he said teachers shouldn’t teach content. They should be motivators. According to him, “Students shouldn’t learn. They should become.”

Yeah

Ironically, this man has written a book about this entire topic. Yet, when asked how anyone could read it if they didn’t know how, he responded, “No worries. It will be read to them.”

Yeah

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 2.18.05 PM

Did you know Mr. Guest Speaker that:

  • The United Nations considers it a human right to be literate?
  • “67.4 million children who are out of school are likely to encounter great difficulties in the future, as deficient or non-existent basic education is the root cause of illiteracy.”?
  • According to the CIA, “Low levels of literacy, and education in general, can impede the economic development of a country in the current rapidly changing, technology-driven world.”?

Let me repeat that last quote for you, Mr. Guest Speaker:

“Low levels of literacy, and education in general, can impede the economic development of a country in the current rapidly changing, technology-driven world.” I don’t know about you, but it sounds to me like literacy and technology go hand-in-hand. Doesn’t it? They work together to keep this world spinning. Moving. Progressing.

occupational-therapy-and-assistive-technologyAs you can see (and most of you already know), I’m passionate about this subject. I’m a literacy advocate, a book lover and an imagination builder. I have hundreds of books lining my shelves at home (each cherished dearly), and I don’t go anywhere without a pen or a notebook (ya know, just in case I get a sudden idea for a story). When I visit my nephews, I always encourage them to read a book, put a puzzle together or take flight on the wings of their imagination. And when I see my friends, I always tell them about a book they should read (okay, okay, I sometimes tell the stranger standing in line behind me at the grocery store about a great book, too). And I never stop clapping for those who go to work everyday to teach and motivate our future generations.

But, besides being pro-education, I’m also pro-technology. I love technology. I don’t know what I’d do without it. And I firmly believe it plays a vital role in our society, our educational systems and our future. If used properly, technology can improve communication, share knowledge, expand worlds and connect globally. My God, just look at this blog! I’ve reached thousands of people across the planet with it. I have followers in Australia, Japan, England, Nigeria, Sweden…It’s astounding. I couldn’t do what I do without the technology to back me up. I couldn’t.

However, I also couldn’t do what I do if I didn’t have a strong literate background. And, let me tell you, that literate background wasn’t technologically driven. Most of my schooling took place in the 90’s and early 2000’s, so besides TVs and overhead projectors, my teachers didn’t have much to utilize in the way of technology to educate me. I didn’t even have my first computer class until 7th grade, and I didn’t own a cell phone until my junior year of high school. My classes looked pretty much like this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(According to Mr. Guest Speaker, this is a “sad picture”…Yeah, he got more boos and hisses for that one.)

Yet, despite my less than “techie” upbringing, I’ve managed to adapt to our technology-driven society. Well, I’ve more than adapted. I’ve embraced it and made it a part of my life. I’m blogging. I’m active on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites. I’m a whiz on a Mac, and I just got my first Nook. But do you think I could’ve figured all of that out if I wasn’t literate to start?

Let’s take a moment to think about a couple of things, shall we? Without literacy:

  • This blog wouldn’t exist. How could it? I wouldn’t even know how to type the words I’m typing right now because I wouldn’t know how to s-p-e-l-l them. I also wouldn’t have the critical thinking, problem solving, or certain social skills I needed to get this site up and running. Even those pesky math and science classes I swore “I’d never ever need” played a part in the creation of this blog.
  • Technology wouldn’t exist. Who do you think created all of these wires and circuit boards in the first place? An alien who visited Earth for a summer vaca? An extraterrestrial being who generously decided to share a drop of its genius with humankind?

alien_in_UFO_cartoonSeriously, guys. Traditionally educated–literate–individuals were the ones who got us to where we are today. They used their reading, writing, math and science skills to create our gadget-filled world.

  • Future technology won’t exist. We have fancy-schmancy technology now thanks to those smarty-pants who created it in the first place, but what will happen if schools and educators stop promoting literacy? What new and improved devices will we have in our hands in ten years? 20? 100? What unexplored paths will remain unexplored because nobody had the map to find them?

Okay, so I’m sure by this point some of you might be thinking, “There’s been a miscommunication. Surely Mr. Guest Speaker didn’t really mean literacy isn’t important. He must’ve been trying to prove another point that just didn’t translate well.” Some of the teachers in the audience thought the same thing, so they decided to attend his afternoon session…and they left it even more letdown and confused than before.

 Still not sold? Well, consider this: Mr. Guest Speaker was supposed to be live-streamed on the district’s website for the community to watch. Within five minutes, the plug was pulled (ironic?). Almost a week later, a video has finally gone up, but it isn’t the video filmed that day. If that’s not a red flag, I don’t know what is.

red_flagThis is obviously a subject I’m extremely passionate about. And normally I don’t take on such controversial topics, but I couldn’t let this matter drop without bringing it to other people’s attention. To think there is someone out there declaring literacy is a thing of the past isn’t right. It needs to be stopped. We can’t let future generations be deprived of a well-rounded education. It’s inconceivable and, really, a travesty.

So, if you believe literacy has and always will play an imperative part in our society’s future, please share this article and information with those you know. Blow the whistle and put an end to the idea, “Literacy isn’t important. Technology is.” How about instead we promote, “Literacy and technology work hand-in-hand.”? Or, “Literacy equals technology. Technology equals literacy.”?

One last food for thought: Did Mr. Guest Speaker ever stop to wonder what would happen if the big, almighty plug got pulled someday? Not to get all dystopian and apocalyptic on you guys, but let’s face it: there’s a chance the power could go out someday. Our phones, computers, iPods, Kindles and everything in between might stop working. What will happen then? What will we have? What will society fall back on? Hmm?

Be an advocate for future generations and support literacy!

Related Articles

Musicians kick off campaign to boost literacy

Using Technology to Support Literacy

ENTREVESTOR: Fighting illiteracy is in her genes

Why Learning to Read Early is Crucial for Young Children

Sources

UNESCO

The World Factbook – Central Intelligence Agency