1. Ask the author what kind of feedback they want.
- Stick to their guidelines
- If you are beta reading for structure or plot, you’ll need to skip over typos and grammar
- On the other hand—If you notice a writer making a consistent grammar or word mistake you could make one note to point this out (don’t highlight every time they make that mistake). This was very helpful with the first beta read of my first MS as I didn’t realize I was breaking a punctuation rule with each bit of spoken dialogue.
- Giving the author more than they asked for is a waste of your time and not helpful for them
2. Be Honest.
- w/o hurting feelings
- Let the writer know the good and bad of the story
- Assume any writer asking for your opinion will be big enough to handle a negative response.
- Along with this, if your personal bias, reading style, comfort level, general taste makes it impossible to give constructive criticism, give it back to the author. It’s okay to say NO.
3. It’s Not Personal.
- Check your personal agenda at the door. If you don’t like rainy scenes, or a particular word, or redheads, keep it to yourself.
- There is a difference between pet peeves based on technical mistakes and pet peeves specific only to us and our personalities
4. Be Specific.
- Point out exactly what parts you like and, if you can, why
- “this sentence moved me to tears”
- “this description is so real it made me feel like I was flying”
- Sometimes I just put a smiley face in the comments bubble or margin when I like a particular passage
- Also, when there are problems, give the writer something concrete on which to build revisions:
- Example from Paris Lights: a friend pointed out a passage was telling and that I knew something was wrong with it because I rushed through it as I read it out loud. I looked over the sentences and wondered how to fix it. This info is essential for the reader to know. Then my friend pointed to another paragraph and said “This. I need to see more like this,” and I knew how I could fix the problem spot. Pointing out something she liked gave me a clue of how I could rework the problem.
- It is important to point out the good bits.
While you are being specific . . .
5. Avoid YOU statements and WHY questions.
- “You” statements and “why” questions put people on the defensive
- Instead of: “You didn’t put enough character development into chapter 4, ” try: “I need to see more character development in chapter 4”
- Instead of: “Why did you . . .,” try: “I don’t understand . . .”
Some other critique phrases you could use:
- I don’t understand . . . (whatever it is).
- The detail seems . . . (to slow the pace, insufficient, disjointed . . .).
- The . . . (character, setting, etc.) is coming across . . . (feisty, depressing, important, etc.). Is that the intent?
- This scene gives the feeling of (irritation, happiness, frustration . . .) Is that the intent?
- How did . . . (Sally get to the store, John saw down the tree, etc.)? (Use to point out missing information.)
- Wouldn’t a character . . . (who has such and such a trait) do or not do . . . (such and such)? (Use to point out inconsistent behavior.)
- Wasn’t . . . (John a blue-eyed man, Sally submissive, etc.) in Chapter (xxx)? (Use to point out inconsistent information.)
- Carol’s (goal) seems to be . . . Is that correct?
- I’m confused about John’s motivation.
- And most important . . . I really liked . . . (end on a strength)
A few guidelines for authors:
- Be clear in what type of feedback you want
- Show your beta reader gratitude
- Don’t argue or take offence
- Give the edit some time to sink in, especially if it’s harsher than expected
- Use the “two people have to agree rule” before making any changes
- One of those two people can be you, but if you can’t agree with the suggestion put it on the back burner. If another reader points out the same thing you may need to reevaluate
- Respect the reader’s time
- If you have a tight deadline be up front with that and be gracious if a reader can’t meet your timeline and must decline.
- Return the favor
The main overarching rule for both writers and readers is to treat each other with