Saturday, March 5, 2016

Betas and Critiques and Edits! Oh My!

Meela, my first beta.
Hello all!

Lately, I have been beta-reading/critiquing some manuscripts for my fellow writer-friends, and I thought I'd share with you my process for doing so. Beta-reading/critiquing is when the author asks for outside eyes in reading their work with the intent of gaining feedback. Depending on the author's needs, beta-reads can be merely reading the work for enjoyability, or it can be as extensive as asking for a developmental overhaul from outside sources.

Some people lump beta-reading/critiquing together, while some see the two processes as distinct. But both things accomplish the same end goal: moving a transcript from rough draft status to a more polished status. Some distinguish beta-readers as non-writing people who read your work as your audience will read your work. Critique partners, on the other hand, trade their work with each other  to focus on things like character development, plot holes, continuity etc. Critique partners are usually (but don't have to be) writers themselves who help one another improve upon their craft.

Regardless of what you call them, here are some beta-ing/critiquing tips:

Use a word processor that allows for comments/track changes 

I use Pages, but Microsoft Word/Open Office works fine for this. Any time I see something I'd like the author to notice, I put a comment. Save these changes, and send the document back to the author so they will have a running "to-do" list. *

Be open and honest

Be upfront with your critique partner/beta about what you expect out of this partnership. Do you need developmental help or do you just need an extra set of eyes? Tell them.

Give compliments as well as critiques

That old cliche of a "compliment sandwich" has stuck around for a reason---there's some truth to it. No one wants to hear how much their work sucks. While giving critiques, I like to point out what I loved/was surprised about while reading. It makes everyone's day just a little bit brighter. 

Give reasons/ask questions

If you notice a recurring problem with grammar or voice, correct it. Then, give a reason why you made the correction that you did. Sometimes all it takes is a good explanation for someone to learn something new. If there's something in the manuscript you don't understand, ask!

Be punctual

Especially if the author is on a deadline. If no deadline is there, agree upon a rough time in which to get the work back to the author. Waiting is it's own nightmare, don't make it worse by procrastinating. 
     *Edit: Recently, I've been in the process of edits and have found that Google Docs is a great tool. I didn't do this with the first chapter I've completed, but I believe I will with the next ones. This way, I can share the entire MS in chunks with my CPs all at once (with their consent) and everyone can comment on one document. This cuts down on me having to lump 10 e-mails about the same chapter just to go over comments.

How do you beta/critique? Answer in the comments or on Twitter at Evie_Redding

May your words be great, and your pages many.

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