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View Full Version : Which is better in beta readers? Critique from a Reader or critique from a Writer?



underthecity
04-27-2012, 09:25 PM
I've had beta readers of both types, a writer and a reader. "Reader" meaning an average reader, but not a writer.

I think both have their own positives. A Writer beta-reader will be much more nitpicky, will scrutinize the dialogue, narrative, words choice, punctuation, adverbs, said-bookisms, and grammar much more closely, while also analyzing the big-picture stuff, plot, characterization, story arc, etc. I know I do when I beta-read something. I can't just read it, I have to flag every problem I come across.

But the average Reader beta-reader probably won't notice the small problems. I mean, with me the overusage of adverbs, said-bookisms, and punctuation really stick out, but the average reader glosses past those and reads it mainly for story and characterization, or focuses on a cerain aspect that might be that reader's expertise and he's making sure that part is right. (Like the diabetes subplot of my own novel.)

Which is better?

It seems to me that the Writer beta-reader is so focused on nitpicking that he loses focus on the story and how well it works overall. In fact, some writer beta-readers just give up when the story gets too bogged down in technical problems.

But the Reader beta-reader focuses more on the story than poor grammar or missing commas. And you might get a better reaction from the Reader beta-reader if you ask a lot of follow up questions.

Thoughts?

Violeta
04-27-2012, 09:47 PM
Well, now, that's a good question!

I couldn't agree more with you there, and I believe one should always have as many betas as needed. As you say, you need at least one of each kind, but if they don't do all they're supposed to be doing (like leaving stuff out that you really need to have checked out), then you should get another beta of that "group", be it the Reader or the Writer group.

Neither one is better than the other, they're both necessary, I think.

thothguard51
04-27-2012, 09:58 PM
Both serve different needs, but lets not forget that many writers are also deep readers, while not all readers are writers...

Bufty
04-27-2012, 10:03 PM
I don't think it's right to place folk in clear cut categories like that. Doesn't happen that way.

Most beta readers, I suspect, would simply read until something caused them to hesitate. What that 'something' is will no doubt vary from person to person.

In any event, re the small stuff, if something goes to be beta-read it should be as good as the writer can make it and the writer should be grateful if a beta-reader spots what should have been caught in the first place - no matter what it is.

Puma
04-27-2012, 10:18 PM
There have been times on beta reads when some of the glaring errors get in the way of reading for the story and I'll have to either writer beta read it and then go back and read it for content or divorce myself from the writer side and read for content and then go back and read and comment on all the grammatical types of things. There have also been times when I'll get so far and put a note in for the author - you have more instances of misspelling X or more cases of improper dialogue tags or whatever you need to look for and correct (which is obviously also an indication the writer is going to have to put more time in on the work). But, all in all, for me a beta read means at least two complete reads - one as a reader and one as a writer. Puma

MaryMumsy
04-27-2012, 11:48 PM
IANAW (I am not a writer). When I beta it is for overall continuity (especially if a series), does it make sense, what parts evoked more of a response than others, etc. That said, I also keep my eyes open for misspellings, homonym errors (one of my particular bete noir), missing or extra commas, and things of that nature. I don't usually notice the adverb thing or dialog tags. I am most aware of dialog tags if they are missing and needed. If I have to go back and read the previous few sentences to determine who is speaking, you need a tag.

Another thing I notice, if you are using made up words, make them consistent. In one big name writer's work that I love, she constantly shifts back and forth between two spellings of a word she made up. And it annoys me every time.

MM

VanessaNorth
05-05-2012, 11:22 PM
Well, I think both are valuable. When my novella was ready for beta-reading, I had two lined up: one was a friend's husband, who doesn't typically read romance but loves to read and is completely anal about grammar/spelling. The other is a multi-published romance writer and editor.

Both gave me invaluable feedback.

The writer friend addressed some big picture issues. She also gave me input on my voice and characterization, as well as some imagery that I had questions about.

The reader friend told me that my hero was a douchebag and the sex was too vanilla. So, I fixed those things. ;)

Edited to add: I'm paraphrasing a bit, but you get the point. Both provided input that led to changes in the manuscript. One was not more valuable than the other. Both were important.

austen
05-08-2012, 07:18 PM
I think the differences you are describing between writers and readers for betas are the differences you might find in all betas. I think that's why it's valuable to have both or more than one beta. I always get unique insights from each beta I have--whether it's more detail, nit-picky stuff or overall comments.
I have one beta who is not a writer but has a good understanding of plot. He's very good at picking out the "this couldn't happen this way sort of things." He actually makes more comments than some of my writer-betas.

quicklime
05-08-2012, 07:24 PM
I doubt one is "better"...


I don't want my niece who devours Dan Brown and talks about taking "pitchers" with her camera to be my sole input on grammar and sentence construction.

I don't want someone with an MFA who only writes litfic and hasn't stooped to read anything more pedestrian than Jane Austen telling me if they feel my thriller is paced properly for the genre.

different sorts of betas that bring different things to the table. if I had to choose only one, I have less personal fears on pacing than I do technical aspects, and I would absolutely pick betas for technical strength (presumably writers), but since there is no bag limit, why not get at least one of each?

Unimportant
05-09-2012, 01:34 AM
Which is better?

Each author has their own strengths and weaknesses, and each book has its own strengths and weaknesses.

lorna_w
05-09-2012, 01:56 AM
great question.

For me, I'd give the nod to "only" readers. I think it was (?) David Brin who once said he gave his novel to regular readers and told them all he wanted was for them to make a mark in the ms anytime they got up to do something else, including eating or peeing. I thought, what a smart thing to do, if you're writing in an action-y genre. You only want them to put it down in the two or three places you've designed slower pace; otherwise, you want them to be unable to put it down. You're a pro writer, so you don't need them to tell you why they put it down--so long as you have the right spot, you'll be able to see your error for yourself.

The only problem with "just" readers is that they can unconsciously think less of the novel if it's in ms form, so you can set up a version that's maybe landscape, two columns, single-spaced, so it looks like a book, and they'll see it more accurately.

I say this having written for over 20 years and so forth. People with less experience probably benefit from writer betas more.

PorterStarrByrd
05-09-2012, 01:56 AM
First thing you have to know is what you want and find someone who will do that for you, regardless of your defining them as a writer or a reader.

Some beta readers are so stuck on reading a ready to publish manuscript they lose interest or can't continue for another reason if that is not what they get.

Some BR's are indeed knit-picky and can find find lots of little things even a MS that is ready to publish.

On the other hand, I have discovered that most writers asking for a beta really have no idea of how good or bad their work is. They like what they have written and believe it is fine. They, like I do, almost always have a lot of work left to do before they would want to present it to a publisher or agent. It's worse yet with MANY e-publishers who do that because they can't find anyone to publish them in the traditional manner. They really need beta help but often don't go for it.

Part of the reason is that they run into beta readers who give don't give them what they want but what they don't want. Often that is good advise. It doesn't take them long to give up on beta readers like they did on agents and publishers.

I'd say bottom line, get all of the beta reading help you can get. Accept the feedback gratiously and decide how valid it is based on multiple readers' feedback. Don't bother to sort what kind of a beta you get. All have something to send back your way.

IMHO the only beta to avoid is one who insists on reading something that is actually ready to publish. I think they are often wannabe reviewers or are looking for free entertainment. That doesn't mean they can help you with their 'review'. In reallity though, you need a lot a 'fixers' before you get to that point.

Kerosene
05-09-2012, 06:08 AM
I see myself as more of a writer, than a reader. With that said, I write more than I read... Go figure.

I think a writer would be more penile on things. A reader would be more willing to bend.

If you want to improve your writing, go for a writer.
If you want to improve your story, go for a hardcore reader.

eablevins
05-09-2012, 10:50 PM
For me, I'd give the nod to "only" readers. I think it was (?) David Brin who once said he gave his novel to regular readers and told them all he wanted was for them to make a mark in the ms anytime they got up to do something else, including eating or peeing. I thought, what a smart thing to do, if you're writing in an action-y genre. You only want them to put it down in the two or three places you've designed slower pace; otherwise, you want them to be unable to put it down. You're a pro writer, so you don't need them to tell you why they put it down--so long as you have the right spot, you'll be able to see your error for yourself.

Wow, I love that. What a great idea. :)

I almost always start nitpicky for a few paragraphs, then go into overview Reader mode to look for plot problems. This way, the writer gets an idea of his/her common grammar issues without it being the whole focus of my response.

Lynn
05-15-2012, 07:40 PM
I think the problem with beta readers is they often edit chapter by chapter, with days or weeks in between critiques. A regular reader will power through and get a more genuine feel for the flow and pacing of the story. I've found that average readers can often catch awkward writing or plot holes that an experienced beta reader might miss because of this. I always like to use betas and then have regular readers go over it.

My problem is where to find williing readers in my genre (I write YA and my friends are older, preferring women's lit). Also, when I give my stories to readers I know personally, I'm always concerned that their review is biased to the positive because of our relationship, when a critical review is always more helpful.