I’ve been reading a lot about beta-readers, critiques, feedback, editing, and all the things that surround it. This post (well series of posts) is me working out my thoughts about feedback of all kinds. It’s going to start fairly traditional, but expect it to take a weird turn at some point in the second or maybe third post…(UX…dun…dun…dun)
I’ve read about writers who are scared of feedback, nervous about sending things out into the world, and protective of the things they’ve written.
I’ve read from the professionallier people that you have to get lots of betas, you have to take in everything, you have to pay all your betas, you have to do 2 or 5 or 7 rounds of feedback, or that you have to [insert thing I read once here x 74].
I have absolutely zero authority, and zero whatever it takes …this is what I think!
Feedback is important
What is feedback? From who? What kind? How do I get it? What kind? What do I do with it? How do I respond to it? How do I use it? Oh god oh god it is all awful I should just delete the whole thing! (STOP!)
You may already know the answers to all of these questions. I didn’t. I still don’t. I guess we all have to struggle with our own things, but hopefully someone else is helped by me flailing in my continued quest to sort out the answers to these questions.
I have tried a lot of stuff. So this is sort of the ways I’ve gotten feedback, not really what I do with it, or even so much what kind, how I respond, how I use it. I’ll get to all that later.
I am a member over at Critters.org which is a site where you submit your own pieces, and other people critique it. You have to critique about three pieces for every piece of your own that gets critiques. The feedback varies greatly. Sometimes it is awesome and detailed and helps pinpoint exactly the problem. Sometimes it is…not great. It isn’t quite anonymous but you don’t know the people, you might get to know them a little after doing a bunch of critiques or getting a bunch, but the turn over seems fairly high, so there will always be people who know nothing about you giving feedback.
The anonymous aspect of it is interesting, people are generally quite polite, but people aren’t afraid to say that something doesn’t work for them, that they hate characters, arcs, etc.
There are also some other aspects of this that make it more or less useful. It is always weird to get people who don’t read flash fiction critiquing flash fiction and saying they wanted like pages and pages more background. It is odd to get things from people who hate that genre or type of work reading it and then saying how they didn’t like the thing that fits the genre. There seems to clearly be a sweet spot of length that works best.
I know there are other sites like Critters that do similar kinds of exchange things. I just haven’t used them.
Friends and family
I have a couple of family members who read inside my genre and a couple friends who do as well. Personally, I’m very nervous about sharing my work so it took me a long time to get to the point of sharing things with them. (I have a friend who bugged me for years before I let her read anything.) I generally have them read a fairly close to final version and some of the picky ones come back with grammar things (which I love, comma fail).
I do have one extremely picky and brutally blunt friend who I will ask to read early things, because I know he’ll say things I don’t really want to hear. He never feels bad (at least he doesn’t seem to!) about saying that something sucks, or needs a rework, or even isn’t working at all.
Most friends and family you’d share things with should like you, and want to be nice to you. This is great, and can be a good way to sort out ideas early on, get a boost that you should keep working, and the like.
Novel swaps from NaNoWriMo
I’ve done this a couple times. Or tried would be a better way to say this. I’ve signed up and read a lot of books for other people and sent critiques, feedback, reviews, whatever you want to call it.
Sometimes this works well. I’ve met people who are wonderful are excited to give feedback and are glad to hear what you have to say. Sometimes people don’t ever respond past the first, here’s my novel now read it.
Personally, I’ve found that sending a sample of the first chapter or two back to the person and then asking them if that is the level/type/kind of feedback is what you are looking for helps. It helps identify the people who never respond again. It helps make sure I’m looking at the things the authors wants looked at. It helps make sure we are on the right page. And personally, if they say thank you? It helps me feel better about spending a lot of time on a read and feedback.
You can pay for beta-readers and all levels of editors, copy editing, proof-reading, etc. I know some people think this is absolutely vile and disgusting, but whatever. I don’t pay beta readers. I do try to:
- Show my extreme gratitude with specific and thoughtful thanks
- If they are also a writer offer to give them feedback/beta-read for them (and then make sure that I do a detailed and thoughtful job and a quick turn around)
- If they are a local (friends and family basically) and not a writer, buy them dinner
- Help with other things, if appropriate (I have NonWriterly skills…most of my skills maybe…)
On the other side when I do give feedback to people I want to be thanked, to know my contribution was valuable and useful. I want reciprocation (most of the time).