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View Full Version : how to give a feedback? isn't it subjective?



jaus tail
05-29-2015, 07:18 AM
Hi,

i'm confused about giving feedback. It's like if i read someone's yet to be published book then i'm more happy to suggest improvements. but if i find the similar errors with a published book then i'd mostly think of it as an 'exception' and probably even use it in my own work.

how do you give a feedback? isnt it subjective?

i'm having trouble framing the question. i'm biased when beta reading, like i think 'ok this could be this, this could be this, this could be this' but when i read a paperback published book, i'm more in the learning mode. but it could be that the book that i am beta reading could be perfect to be published but just because i know it's not published i'd be more in the give suggestions mode and some of those suggestions may be terrible.

lianna williamson
05-29-2015, 07:29 AM
It's not a beta reader's job to fix the book; it's their job to give their honest reactions as a reader. It's the writer's responsibility to decide what to do with the feedback-- and that includes deciding some of the suggestions are crap.

I think this is why people should generally have several beta readers. If 4-5 readers are all confused by the same thing, it probably really is confusing. If one reader hates something and the others all love it, that also tells you something.

cornflake
05-29-2015, 07:36 AM
So you're saying you just assume all published books are things you should learn from but unpublished manuscripts you should fix?

jaus tail
05-29-2015, 07:42 AM
i've learnt from beta reading as well. the nuance acts were clearly written in one book that i beta read.

what i'm saying is, in terms of quality of writing, i tend to place a published book above a yet to be published one.

Roxxsmom
05-29-2015, 07:45 AM
It can be hard, because we get very rules focused as critting partners, and it can be hard to remember that we should try beta reading a book the same way we'd read one we purchased, with the assumption that it's going to be great, but if we get thrown out at some point, or if we have a hard time staying interested, we have to knuckle down and think about possible reasons why this is. And we have to decide if this is because the book simply isn't to our taste (sorry, but the omniscient pov is a tough sell for me), or if this is because of something the writer could change without changing whatever it is they're trying to do with the book.

It's perfectly all right to notice and mention a place where a writer does something a bit unconventional, but it works for us too.

For example: You use a lot of hyperbolic dialog tags, sometimes called said bookisms (he gushed, or she barked), which many writing gurus say is a no no. This usually drives me bonkers, but yours work for me. I think this is because your style reminds me a bit of Adams or Pratchett. It's clear you're having fun and don't take your own prose too seriously, so I give it a thumbs up.

Bufkus
05-29-2015, 06:49 PM
Unless the writer specifically wants you to point out grammatical or style issues, I would just stick to providing feedback on the story and general prose as opposed to isolating individual instances where you think the writing should be fixed.

lbender
05-29-2015, 10:53 PM
It's not a beta reader's job to fix the book; it's their job to give their honest reactions as a reader. It's the writer's responsibility to decide what to do with the feedback-- and that includes deciding some of the suggestions are crap.

I think this is why people should generally have several beta readers. If 4-5 readers are all confused by the same thing, it probably really is confusing. If one reader hates something and the others all love it, that also tells you something.


This.

I must admit, though, some published books drive me nuts. I don't assume what I would refer to as 'errors' in published books are isolated. I've read some books by certain authors that are very popular that I have to fight to get through. I don't assume I'm wrong. I just figure those books aren't written for me.

Just because a book is published doesn't make it a classic and not to be criticized.

beckethm
05-29-2015, 11:40 PM
A couple of thoughts:

First, published doesn't mean perfect. There are plenty of published books out there, including books from large trade publishers, that are riddled with weak prose, faulty plots, and even spelling and grammar errors a competent editor should have caught. Just because one author got away with it doesn't mean you should try to do the same.

Second, when I beta read, I point out everything I see that could be improved, whether that's SPAG errors, unclear or awkward prose, historical inaccuracies, plot issues, or weak characterization. I'm probably pickier than some, but I want people to do the same for me. At the same time, though, before I suggest a change, I always ask myself whether it's really necessary. If it's just a case where I would have written something a little differently, and there's nothing technically wrong with what the author did, I leave it alone. If I'm suggesting some kind of structural change, I try to explain my reasons as well as I can, but then it's up to the author to decide whether the change makes sense.

It's always important as a beta reader, I think, to ask yourself what the author is trying to accomplish and how you can help him or her achieve their goals as you understand them, rather than trying to turn a book into what you would have written if it were your story.

Usher
05-29-2015, 11:53 PM
I point out everything from recurring punctuation errors, to plot issues, to areas where a character can be improved or brought out, where the flow of a piece can be improved etc

Most people I read for appreciate it.

In my experience, beta readers might subjective about why they are pulled out of a story but the fact they are almost always indicates there is a problem of some description where they have said there is.

Tazlima
05-30-2015, 12:36 AM
Ultimately, yes it's absolutely subjective. As they say, one man's trash is another man's treasure. If it were possible to say "this is objectively entertaining" with the rational thought we apply to say, math problems, writing stories would be much more straightforward and the rules would be absolute.

There are three ways to add weight to that subjective feedback.

1) Consider the source.

I had two professors in college who were polar opposites. One was a moronic blowhard with an ego the size of Texas. I could slap any BS onto the page and get an A from this guy. The other one was a soft-spoken little man with a mind like a steel trap. He tolerated no fudging of facts, no padding of content. We all studied ten times as hard for his classes and an A from him was a genuine accomplishment. When he said something was good, you knew you'd written something flawless. Ideally a beta reader should be like the second teacher: someone whose opinion you respect and who you know will be honest, if not ruthless, when pointing out flaws.

2) Consensus.

In a forum setting like AW you get feedback from all kinds of people with all different skill levels. You don't always know whose opinion is worth heeding. That's when the power of numbers comes into play. If twenty people say something is awesome and one person says its terrible, you're probably in decent shape (although you'll still want to take a long hard look at what the dissenter has to say). After all, there's not a classic or best-seller in the world that doesn't have its haters. If, on the other hand, there's one lone cheerleader in a sea of "This really didn't work for me." there's a higher chance that something needs to be revised. By each of us giving our own subjective feedback, we contribute to this consensus, making it that much easier for the author to figure out what's working and what isn't.

3) Your own instincts (see my signature)

Sometimes you might not have enough feedback to judge by consensus OR enough knowledge of the critters to know if they're good or not. When that happens, you can only read their comments and ponder them one by one to see if you feel they're valid. Often this determination is obvious ("That's brilliant! Why didn't I think of that?" or "I don't think this person actually read the story. They're ranting about a little girl and my story's about a pet fish"). Sometimes it's more subtle or questionable, at which point it becomes a pure judgement call.

.....
No matter what method you use, the most important thing about getting feedback is that you're getting out of your own head. I think every author has been in the situation where they breeze past a typo or missing word in their manuscript because they know what's supposed to be there and their brain unconsciously fills in the gap.

There are similar gaps in the broader elements of writing: an unclear description, a poorly-expressed idea, continuity errors and plot holes, cliches that the author doesn't realize are cliches. Beta readers and critters shine a spotlight on all of these and more, and by doing so they help the author to see them too.

***All this, of course, is my own subjective opinion. It's up to you to decide if my words resonate with your own inner truth or if I'm talking out my backside.

CathleenT
05-30-2015, 03:18 AM
Wow, Tazlima - awesome post.

I'm one who crits everything, commas and all. As far as I'm concerned, if I don't LBL, it's time poorly spent. I feel it's a lot more useful to point out that someone used three adverbs in this graf than to tell them at the end that they need to look at cutting down adverbs. I want to know where it drags, not just be told to tighten up my pacing.

But that's subjective, too. I think the important thing up front is communication. In my case, if we beta swap, I have an expectation that we're swapping LBLs. And really, that's not a problem if you discuss it in advance. If someone doesn't want to LBL, then we can determine that we're not a good fit from the get-go, and there are no hard feelings.

To answer the OP's question, I think everything that we do here is somewhat subjective. It's just not something that fits on a standardized test. It's maddening, but that's really the way everything in the arts seems to be. Every Olympics you'll hear people complaining about the judging for gymnastics or ice skating. I figure we just roll with it.

Roxxsmom
05-30-2015, 03:32 AM
Unless the writer specifically wants you to point out grammatical or style issues, I would just stick to providing feedback on the story and general prose as opposed to isolating individual instances where you think the writing should be fixed.

Depends on where the author is with basic craft.

If they're repeatedly making the same grammatical, spelling, or punctuation errors (for example: abuse of semicolons, loose when they mean lose, it's for the possessive of it, or tagging dialog incorrectly, or using apostrophes for plural's :whip: (like I did on purpose there) I'll assume they're doing it because they don't know any better. I'll mention that there's an issue and maybe point out one or two places and refer them to a site like the purdue owl, but I'm sure as heck not going to line edit for them. Likewise, if they're confusing the heck out of me, and I think it's because they're head hopping like a drunk frog, I'll mention that. Because it doesn't really matter how cool the idea or story might be if the writing is making it impossible to follow.

It's awesome when someone posts a story where the only issues are related to plot, scene building, characterization or whatever, but alas, craft issues can be a huge impediment early on.

sussu
06-04-2015, 06:10 PM
Of course, it's suggestive.
Think of many books you have to go through in the library before you find one you really like.
Why would you want millions of people to have the same tastes?
Same applies to beta. Also think that when these beta novels get in the hands of an agent, they are rewritten and polished. Agents are editors too and they rarely accept a novel they do not plan on changing. Agents will ask you to remove chapters, add new characters, remove characters, rewrite passages, etc, etc.

What I would say is in order to appreciate any novel, you have to develop a taste. When I started writing, I disliked most of the stories I read from aspiring writers, now I can appreciate most of them. I see the strengths more than the weaknesses. And that's important. People forget that a critique must focus equally on strengths and on weaknesses. When you see the strengths, then you can appreciate more of anything.
Hope that helps :)