Thursday, 28 August 2008

Beta Reading

So this last few weeks I've had my first tastes of beta reading. And I think it's harder than we writers let on. 

I mean, come on. You know you are reading someone's heart and soul, and what happens if you don't like it? How do you say that sort of thing? 

I am pleased to remark that I did like what I read, on both counts. But the first time I read them, I read as only a reader, which I think did a disservice to the writer. 

I think I'll need to look at beta reading like I'm an agent. 

*snort*, you say? 

I agree, but in this case it needs to be said. 

What I mean by reading it like an agent is really looking at it. Putting thought into it. Like:

- Is it believable?
- Plot good?
- Not Episodic (my new personal pet peeve)
- All loose ends tied up?
- Is the voice unique?
- Does the writer make me care for the characters in the book?
- Do I think about them after?

And so on. Before I got the invaluable critical information about my own book, I'd had it through beta readers. And they did me a heck of a lot of good, pointing out where they cried (HA! I made people CRY! On PURPOSE!) and typos and recurring words. Which was great. I really valued their input.

But I think that we need to look at these things like an agent. Critical. Evaluating. Questioning. Only then are we able to truly give the writer consequent feedback that might also help improve their book. 

Of course, the critiques of this nature are not necessarily friendly, and how could they be? You are critiquing their darling. Telling them where you didn't get it. What you didn't like. What could be brought out more, or have less of. 

Happily, the writers in Four Corners are all grownups and truly want to make their MS better, which means I can be the worst sort of critiquer - the helpful agent type - and help them make their MS better.

And isn't that what a beta reader is supposed to do?


Heidi said...


We need encouragers, for sure, but also we need great critiques, or it's all a waste of time.

Thanks for looking at my work as an agent, and as a friend. I know what you say is honest but meant with the best of intentions.

Debbi said...

And explain to me what Beta reading is again?

JKB said...

Heidi: I didn't have a way of saying it, but our story is very good. :)

Debbi: Your first readers who go through your MS. Like Jodie does for you.

Heidi the Hick said...

I agree with this. I used to read differently than I do now.

It's hard for me to specific with critiques though, and I usually just go for a general feel. I need to work on getting more detailed.

I never would have guessed two or three years ago how valuable this kind of interaction is!

Heidi said...

Jen, I'm glad you liked it. I really, REALLY wanted you to like it. But I already knew there were holes... characters not fully developed and plots that needed thickening... If you hadn't said anything needed work, I'd have questioned your honesty.

I really like this post, because it's important for everyone that's in a critique group to understand the value they add to a work by honesty. And what a disservice they do by only being nice.

I do try, when I critique, to take the same effort telling what I like as what I think didn't work. It's so easy not to be positive, but it's necessary as well, not just to keep up morale, but to help the work. I almost took out a paragraph that Marcia later told me made the entire chapter, because I didn't know if it sounded cheesy or not.

Great thoughts here... make me realize again what a great group we have!

Jarod said...

Well I felt uncomfortable at first when I started nit-picking over your book Jen, but when you took it so well, it got easier from there. I'm used to reviewing movies or games and taking their stories apart n' all, but it's different if you do it for a friend and don't know how he or she is going to react if you're totally honest with them. But y'know me, I can't _not_ be scarily honest anyway ;)