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Thread: What do writers want from beta-readers?

  1. #51
    aka TomOfSweden
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    I want my beta readers to be cruel. I've had to drop two beta readers I was good friends with simply because they only said words of encouragement, and basically kissed my ass. Encouragement might be nice for somebody just starting out. But for anybody with any ambition to get published (=me) kind words are close to worthless. I'm pretty good at spotting what's good about my work. What I need help with is spotting my weaknesses.

    So if there's any sadistic, evil, grammar Nazi with a talent for writing and looking for a victim hurl abuse at, please send me a PM.
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  2. #52
    AW = Procrastination. cscarlet's Avatar
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    I'm just hoping that when my work is ready for betas it's actually interesting enough to make them WANT to beta it (and keep going past the first page). Otherwise I'll have a whole host of other issues haha

    Seriously though, when I get around to asking for Beta readers, I know I'm going to want them to be blunt, honest, and cruel if need be. I am used to handling criticism, and the whole point (to me) of asking for a Beta is to purposefully see what DOESN'T work so that you can make your work better.

    But, since I'm new to fiction and this is my first novel, I'm also going to need SOMETHING to back up/explain why things don't work. For example, I've been trying desperately to ensure I don't use passive voice. So, if a paragraph is still too passive, I want them to say "this sucks. Too passive." (not just "it sucks" but not saying why)... Otherwise I may not understand and make the same mistake again. "It sucks but don't know why" is also a valid criticism to me, because that means it "feels" off to the reader. Does that make sense??

  3. #53
    practical experience, FTW Sargentodiaz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrZoidberg View Post
    I want my beta readers to be cruel. I've had to drop two beta readers I was good friends with simply because they only said words of encouragement, and basically kissed my ass. Encouragement might be nice for somebody just starting out. But for anybody with any ambition to get published (=me) kind words are close to worthless. I'm pretty good at spotting what's good about my work. What I need help with is spotting my weaknesses.

    So if there's any sadistic, evil, grammar Nazi with a talent for writing and looking for a victim hurl abuse at, please send me a PM.
    Tell me what it's about and how long it is. If I'm interested, I'll gladly take a look at it.
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  4. #54
    practical experience, FTW egoodlett's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrZoidberg View Post
    I want my beta readers to be cruel. I've had to drop two beta readers I was good friends with simply because they only said words of encouragement, and basically kissed my ass. Encouragement might be nice for somebody just starting out. But for anybody with any ambition to get published (=me) kind words are close to worthless. I'm pretty good at spotting what's good about my work. What I need help with is spotting my weaknesses.

    So if there's any sadistic, evil, grammar Nazi with a talent for writing and looking for a victim hurl abuse at, please send me a PM.
    I agree! Though, I don't think criticism has to necessarily be bitchy -- you can give criticisms in a friendly and constructive way, as long as you give them. Don't just say "this is great!" Praise = nice ego boost, but not helpful.
    By the way, if you want to trade MSs for some harsh critique-sharing, just PM me... :P
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  5. #55
    At least I don't need backing-up Samantha's_Song's Avatar
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    Ya know, I'm pretty tactless with what I have to say, that goes for real life and my beta reading too. I go by word of mouth on here and can boast that, in the last two months, three of the people I've beta read for this year have now got agents. I won't say that my tactlessness helped them in any way, but it certainly didn't do them any harm, did it.
    Last edited by Samantha's_Song; 10-12-2009 at 11:24 PM.







  6. #56
    Wielder of the Witchblade Rowan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jst5150 View Post
    Teamwork mentality. Like it or not, the BR and the writer form a relationship. There's a generous amount of effort on the BR's end that compliments the generous effort that went into writing the manuscript. When the BR commits, then the writer must commit to that relationship and foster it. It's not two people bumping into each other randomly in an alley or aboard a cruise ship.

    Candor. If the words matter in the book, then they matter coming from the BR. They'd better be direct and have meaning.

    Maturity. There's a difference between a "focus group" and a beta read. In the focus group, I want to assess reactions from a specific demographic. In a beta read, I'm asking the BR to run a professional review of certain aspects of the manuscript. So, in short, someone with experience, savvy and guts is preferred.

    Knowledge.Opinions are one thing. Facts are another. If the BR is vehement about something, it better come with a reference or a footnote. It's not to say the BR should be a fount of knowledge. Rather, have the ability to acquire the knowledge and then tell me where to find it.

    [This is so true. On a slight tangent - I had a diverse group read a MS that featured witchcraft and witches. One girl - who was quite religious - attacked the occult elements in the book because she personally didn't agree with them. I asked her to step back and give me her unbiased opinion re: the story and she got over it. Having said that, it was invaluable for me in that I learned how the 'mainstream population' may react to such detailed information re: witchcraft. In the end, I toned it down (etc.). ]

    Detailed feedback. "I don't know how you'd fix this" or "I don't like this" are OK, but I'd like more if I can get it. If those statements were followed with "but I might suggest this ..." and "but you might try this and this because of these reasons" then that's someone who I want as a BR. As a client, I'm seeking complete objective feedback. problems without solutions are not helpful to the process. Put more succinctly, "mo' thorough is mo' better."

    All that said, I'm seeking a beta reader. My post is in this forum.
    {bold italics are mine}

    I agree with you here --- some people thrive on brutal criticism but I'm more into the (restrained) constructive criticism (I don't coddle or blow smoke up anyone's @ss though). As for criticism without a solution -- sometimes you may not know how to fix a certain problem. The important thing is that you've pointed it out to the writer.

    I'm not likely to say "this bloody MS sucks - it's the worst piece of crap I've read in ages" but instead, "You have an interesting premise but your characters need X, Y, Z and your plot is weak; you might want to consider A or B to fix that" (okay, bad examples but you get my drift). I think it's all in how you present the critique --- brutal is great for some but you have to show some restraint if you want to get your point across. Sometimes it's all about compromise. Again, it comes down to communication between the BR and the writer as to what is expected on both ends. It's a partnership! And yes -- this is all just IMHO!

    ETA: One of the biggest issues I've encountered are people who say they are willing to beta read and yet don't respond when approached with a project. Not even a "no thank you". ????
    Last edited by Rowan; 11-06-2009 at 02:56 AM.
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  7. #57
    At least I don't need backing-up Samantha's_Song's Avatar
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    I'm going to use my own posting for my retirement, permanently, from beta-reading.

    I have a few people who I'll always beta-read for, they know who they are. But as from today, instead of having a rest from it, I am giving up beta-reading for anyone else on AW. Most of the time I've had really good responses from the people I've beta-read for, even though I am very blunt with what I put into my notes. But when I take on stuff and offer my thoughts and am totally ignored afterwards, it really pees me off; it makes me feel as if beta-reading was a waste of my time. Let's face it, it's not something that takes an hour or two, it takes very many hours - I usually spend whole days, four or five of them or more on one novel of around 80,000 words, because I want to do it properly.

    Sorry if this sounds like a rant, but I have really had it up to my eyes with ungrateful people. If someone doesn't like my notes I would much prefer them to get back to me and say why rather than them just totally blank me. No, I don't think that I'm always right, and maybe I just don't see their work as they do, but I won't say something's brilliant and the next best seller for the sake of it.







  8. #58
    Wielder of the Witchblade Rowan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Samantha's_Song View Post
    I'm going to use my own posting for my retirement, permanently, from beta-reading.

    I have a few people who I'll always beta-read for, they know who they are. But as from today, instead of having a rest from it, I am giving up beta-reading for anyone else on AW. Most of the time I've had really good responses from the people I've beta-read for, even though I am very blunt with what I put into my notes. But when I take on stuff and offer my thoughts and am totally ignored afterwards, it really pees me off; it makes me feel as if beta-reading was a waste of my time. Let's face it, it's not something that takes an hour or two, it takes very many hours - I usually spend whole days, four or five of them or more on one novel of around 80,000 words, because I want to do it properly.

    Sorry if this sounds like a rant, but I have really had it up to my eyes with ungrateful people. If someone doesn't like my notes I would much prefer them to get back to me and say why rather than them just totally blank me. No, I don't think that I'm always right, and maybe I just don't see their work as they do, but I won't say something's brilliant and the next best seller for the sake of it.
    That's understandable! For those of us that work full time and are also working on our own projects--beta reading is very time consuming and it often means putting our own work on hold, etc.

    I've been lucky in that everyone I've beta read for has responded, or should I say acknowledged the input... Some actually go into detail and will discuss certain elements of the critique--it's always nice to know if your comments were helpful or even incorporated, etc.

    Sometimes you're just left hanging!
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  9. #59
    Old Hand in the Biz Barbara R.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Samantha's_Song View Post
    Since I've been a member on here, I've offered to be a beta-reader for other people's work via the forums, emails and PMs. I have been given around eight pieces of work to read so far and have always given my honest opinion on each of them. I don't know anyone on here, so aren't going to lose any friends by being totally honest and unbiased, which I would also be to a friend too btw. And to be honest, I like to critique other people's work because it makes me see what's wrong/right with my own.

    But what do people actually want from beta-readers? I'm honest with what I think and I do try to write my notes nicely to explain what doesn't work and that I personally don't like. I am often met with defensiveness, yes, which I can understand, I'm the same about my work. However, I do sit and think over what's been said about my work and I set about trying to put it right.
    But some people don't even bother to get back in touch to defend themselves over what I've said. Beta reading takes a lot of time to do, time in which I could be writing and correcting my own work. Am I always supposed to say people's works are brilliant, even if they're not? If so, I don't think it's really worth doing, which is quite sad as I enjoy looking at other people's work. Does anyone else, who beta-reads, feel like this? .
    There is only one thing writers ever want to hear from their readers, beta or otherwise: "Brilliant! Don't change a word." Alas, we so rarely (read "never") hear it. I do a lot of critiquing and evaluating professionally, so I encounter this phenomenon often, as well as sharing it when it comes to my own writing. But that's a first, instinctive protective response that usually passes quickly. Generally speaking, people who seek out critiques really do want to improve the work in question and are most grateful for specific, detailed notes as opposed to "I liked this" or "I didn't like that." It's also helpful to point out a piece's strengths, as well as its weaknesses.

    For recipients of critiques, defending one's work is a waste of energy. Editors have a saying: "Either it's on the page or it's not." Doesn't matter what the writer had in mind if it doesn't come through on the page. If readers misunderstand the writer's intent, the solution is to make it clearer, not kill the messenger.

    If you've done crits for people who haven't even bothered to say thanks, then shame on them.

    Barbara

  10. #60
    At least I don't need backing-up Samantha's_Song's Avatar
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    Thank you, Rowan and Barara, for the support. I will actually say which bits I like too: plots, certain sentences, a character, things that make me laugh or bring a tear to my eye, if I like the voice, etc, I don't just dwell on the parts I don't like. Even if the writer doesn't like, or doesn't agree with, what I've said about some things, at least getting back to me and saying something like, "You're right about the word count and the bits you said could come out and not be missed," would at least be something eh. But when get nothing at all back, it seems pointless that they asked my opinion in the first place. Oh, well.







  11. #61
    practical experience, FTW firedrake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Samantha's_Song View Post
    Ya know, I'm pretty tactless with what I have to say, that goes for real life and my beta reading too. I go by word of mouth on here and can boast that, in the last two months, three of the people I've beta read for this year have now got agents. I won't say that my tactlessness helped them in any way, but it certainly didn't do them any harm, did it.
    Tactless in a funny way.
    Some of your comments have had me in stitches.
    I'd rather have the harsh truth than have it sugarcoated.

    Quote Originally Posted by Samantha's_Song View Post
    I'm going to use my own posting for my retirement, permanently, from beta-reading.

    I have a few people who I'll always beta-read for, they know who they are. But as from today, instead of having a rest from it, I am giving up beta-reading for anyone else on AW. Most of the time I've had really good responses from the people I've beta-read for, even though I am very blunt with what I put into my notes. But when I take on stuff and offer my thoughts and am totally ignored afterwards, it really pees me off; it makes me feel as if beta-reading was a waste of my time. Let's face it, it's not something that takes an hour or two, it takes very many hours - I usually spend whole days, four or five of them or more on one novel of around 80,000 words, because I want to do it properly.

    Sorry if this sounds like a rant, but I have really had it up to my eyes with ungrateful people. If someone doesn't like my notes I would much prefer them to get back to me and say why rather than them just totally blank me. No, I don't think that I'm always right, and maybe I just don't see their work as they do, but I won't say something's brilliant and the next best seller for the sake of it.
    I really don't blame you, missus.
    That's why I've pretty much given up on SYW because it takes time even to critique a short piece and its frustrating when the writer comes back with excuses, ignores critters' comments completely, etc.
    Writers have to remember that not everyone will love your work the way you do. Take critiques with grace and learn from them and you'll do a lot better.
    I think it's rude that you don't even get thanks for all that hard work. I know the effort and hard work that you put into your Beta reading and it has certainly helped me become a better writer (I hope)

    put the fiver in the post.

  12. #62
    At least I don't need backing-up Samantha's_Song's Avatar
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    Sometimes, Lady, sometimes, but I do get peeved when I see the same silly mistake over and over again in an MS, when I say I'll leave them to find those same mistakes out in the rest of it, they know I'm peeved at reading the same old, same old, that doesn't work.

    You know I'm always available for you and I do think that you get things out of your beta read works and you don't mind getting told things. Remember the 'he kissed on the stairs'?

    I remember when I had my very first critique, I actually cried and felt quite defensive over it. But once I went through the critique again, I could see where the reader was coming from and was very thankful for it, it made me look more closely at what I'm writing.


    Quote Originally Posted by firedrake View Post
    Tactless in a funny way.
    Some of your comments have had me in stitches.
    I'd rather have the harsh truth than have it sugarcoated.



    I really don't blame you, missus.
    That's why I've pretty much given up on SYW because it takes time even to critique a short piece and its frustrating when the writer comes back with excuses, ignores critters' comments completely, etc.
    Writers have to remember that not everyone will love your work the way you do. Take critiques with grace and learn from them and you'll do a lot better.
    I think it's rude that you don't even get thanks for all that hard work. I know the effort and hard work that you put into your Beta reading and it has certainly helped me become a better writer (I hope)

    put the fiver in the post.
    Last edited by Samantha's_Song; 12-10-2009 at 06:45 PM.







  13. #63
    practical experience, FTW firedrake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Samantha's_Song View Post
    Sometimes, Lady, sometimes, but I do get peeved when I see the same silly mistake over and over again in an MS, when I say I'll leave them to find those same mistakes out in the rest of it, they know I'm peeved at reading the same old, same old, that doesn't work.

    You know I'm always available for you and I do think that you get things out of your beta read works and you don't mind getting told things. Remember the 'he kissed on the stairs'?

    I remember when I had my very first critique, I actually cried and felt quite defensive over it. But once I went through the critique again, I could see where the reader was coming from and was very thankful for it, it made me look more closely at what I'm writing.

    heehee, "He kissed her on the stairs" 'What part of her body is that?'

    I know there's mistakes I used to make constantly until you hit me over the head with them.
    Now...if I could just remember what those mistakes were......

    Honestly, you don't learn anything unless you take account of what critters are telling you. I'd rather be told that something isn't working than waste anyone's time trying to query a book which isn't going to fly.

  14. #64
    Treguna Makoidees Trecorum SadisDee raburrell's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by firedrake View Post
    heehee, "He kissed her on the stairs" 'What part of her body is that?'

    I know there's mistakes I used to make constantly until you hit me over the head with them.
    Now...if I could just remember what those mistakes were......

    Honestly, you don't learn anything unless you take account of what critters are telling you. I'd rather be told that something isn't working than waste anyone's time trying to query a book which isn't going to fly.
    Hm. I could argue for the 'kissed her on the stairs' bit. If we know who he's kissing, I'm fine with the body part being left to the reader's imagination (depending on context).

    If I post something for feedback, it's always because I know something's not working, and I can't put my finger on what it is, so the person who's kind enough to spend their precious time telling me what it is will most certainly not get his/her head bitten off for their trouble. Even those I happen to disagree with will often help me see how a reader perceives what I write once it gets into the big scary world outside my head. Anybody willing to do that at least deserves cookies or something.
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  15. #65
    AW benefactor Chase's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by firedrake View Post
    heehee, "He kissed her on the stairs" 'What part of her body is that?'
    Much better than attending a movie and having to watch him kiss her in the end.

  16. #66
    Boldly going nowhere in particular. Jess Haines's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Samantha's_Song View Post
    ...But when I take on stuff and offer my thoughts and am totally ignored afterwards, it really pees me off; it makes me feel as if beta-reading was a waste of my time. Let's face it, it's not something that takes an hour or two, it takes very many hours - I usually spend whole days, four or five of them or more on one novel of around 80,000 words, because I want to do it properly.
    This. THIS. Cheeses me off to no end. I am so with you on this.

    At least have the grace to say "thank you for your time," if nothing else, even if you disagree with every last part of a person's crit.

    Just my two cents.
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  17. #67
    Has anyone seen the sun? coryleslie's Avatar
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    Not sure if this is the right place, but I posted some tips on how to beta read.
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  18. #68
    At least I don't need backing-up Samantha's_Song's Avatar
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    It's funny that this thread has come to light again. I had an email over the weekend from a young man whom I bet read for around 5 or 6 months ago. He thanked me once again and then went on to tell me that he had followed all of my recommendations and was now beginning to query his MS. When I first sent him my notes he was quite downhearted and was going to trunk the novel, but I persuaded him not to - It was a brilliant story and stayed in my mind for weeks afterwards, it just needed a bit of rewriting in places and some bits taken out because they weren't really relevant. I think I can say that we're both happy with the outcome.







  19. #69
    Wielder of the Witchblade Rowan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by coryleslie View Post
    Not sure if this is the right place, but I posted some tips on how to beta read.

    Great link!
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  20. #70
    practical experience, FTW stitchingirl's Avatar
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    betas

    I think the ongoing feeling here is that one can beta other writers' work without sounding the Simon Cowell of the literary world.

    There is a huge difference between telling someone what works and doesn't and telling them that they truly suck as writers and to give it.

    I appreciate any and all input my betas can and do give me. I realize that I am taking (however long) -- from their own schedules. While I'm not stupid enough to believe that they purposely wake up just to critique my works, I do appreciate them. As a writer, I do tend to look for betas who catch any grammar mistakes, along with being patient as I strife to correct my tendency to flip flop between the tenses. I have no idea why I do this or even how to stop myself. Anything that a beta can offer me is just gravy. A word of encouragement, a threat to take away my delete button (that seems to be the common one among my betas. I may have to lock the doors shortly out of fear that my delete button will have been stolen through the night), helping me with my constant battle with my muse (she seems to want to go on vacation alot. Maybe I need a new one...or bribe this one with something).

    I know that some authors actually do crave those "Oh, you're so wonderful! I can't believe this is your first story. You write like you've been doing it for years." I like the truth. Tell me what works, "Okay, chic. This line here ---? That doesn't work. Try writing it like this instead --". That I like. Nudge me in the direction that I'm suppose to go. I may tend to veer off the road, just put a friendly hand on my shoulder, "Nope. Remember I told you this ---?" Nothing drastic. Nothing like a screaming shrew in my ear telling me what an idiot I am.

  21. #71
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    Simon Cowell's good at what he does though. Love him or loathe him, he makes the money and he knows the business.

    I was recently compared to "a cross between Simon Cowell and Gordon Ramsay" and took it as one of the best compliments I've ever received.

  22. #72
    practical experience, FTW stitchingirl's Avatar
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    I had to look up Gordon Ramsey, as the name didn't ring a bell. But I remember seeing the commercials for his show.

    That sounds kind of mean to say to someone. But since you're happy with that comparison, I guess it's all good.

  23. #73
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    I swear a bit more than him but I'm better looking.

  24. #74
    At least I don't need backing-up Samantha's_Song's Avatar
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    I'd rather sound like Simon Cowell than someone's doting old granny.







  25. #75
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    I'd rather have Simon Cowell beta for me than someone who is afraid to seriously critique.

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