and you’ve asked them to beta read,
people are strange when they are readers,
reading your work that you love, they are straaaannnnge.
I love people who volunteer to beta. Love them. Sometimes I don’t so much like what they say. And not always because it is so true it stings. Sometimes….it’s just….painful. I’ve been thinking a lot about something I heard a panelist say sort of under her breathe to another panelist at Norwescon “There is nothing worse than a beta reader who’s comments are all designed to make your voice as a writer more like their voice.” I don’t think she meant this comment to be heard by everyone but I sure heard it in every sense of the word.
I want to give some beat feedback examples, and I’m going to exaggerate to make the points clear.
-I got feedback once where the reader thought I should remove all the footnotes in my book. Now that is clearly a stylistic choice, one that I embrace. One that plays a seminal role in what defines me as a writer. To remove that flattens my work.
-“It is the worst thing I have ever read.” Really? Fabulous. Why? “It just is.”
This tells the author NOTHING. It is the worst commentary ever. It just is.
Remember when your mother told you if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all? Yeah, try this, if you can’t say something specific, don’t say anything at all.
-“I hate this. It’s horrible.” um, ok, can you tell me why? “I hate spy novels.” or “I hate smut.” or “I hate romance.”
I don’t know about other authors, but I can assure you, I warn every person who is beta reading for me what the novel is about, in general. Don’t say yes if you hate that genre of writing. You’ll just hate my book and waste both our time.
Ok so those were some pretty heavy simplifications. But all have happened to me in one form or another at some time in my writing career. So it happens, a lot.
Let’s talk about how to give good beta.
First, what did the author ask you for? Do they want a full line by line edit for grammar and punctuation, plot overview, time line correction, character assassination, etc?
I have two superb line editors. I never ask for that, except from them. I ask for where the story breaks the flow, places you were confused, things that seemed out of place, when did you fall out of the story and why.
Second, are you criticizing their voice, their style, their way of writing, or are you finding issues that interfered with your suspension of disbelief?
Third, do you seek to find fault or do you seek to help them produce the best novel they can write?
Actually this last one is not bad for life in general.