25 February 2018

I have a select few people who have volunteered to be my beta readers, people I've trusted with my work for over a decade. I can generally rely on them to be honest in their appraisals, to offer feedback that goes beyond, "Hey, no typos!" or "Sweet font choice, dude."

I've also had a couple of beta readers who were a one and done kind of thing. I appreciated their want of helping me out, but their feedback was either useless--oh, you know what you're doing, this is wonderful, you walk on literary water!--or they overstepped the bounds of what a beta reader should do and tried to rewrite the story.

I've got some good people; they'll read more than one draft, and they tend to read each draft multiple times. They find things I miss, chase down lost story threads, point out incongruities, and let me know where things fall short.

Not everyone is so lucky in the readers they're trusting with their work. I sat on the periphery of a discussion online this week, something that was pretty much a whine-fest about the quality of beta readers, how to get them to do what they're supposed to without hurting their feelings, and really, what should we expect of them?

The main thing is this: if you're a beta reader, tell your writer how their story doesn't work for you. Don't tell them what's wrong and how to fix it. it worked or didn't work.  Answer some basic questions, give the writer an idea of how well the story moved along, if there were confusing points, if something was too obvious or not obvious enough.

And do it gently. Because straight up truth, most writers are sensitive. They're already baring their souls, allowing the world to peek inside their head, and when someone takes a jab at that? By the time you get the manuscript, they've hit the point where they hate the book, it's the worst thing ever written in the history of everything, and it's time to chuck the computer off the closest super-tall bridge.*

It's a particularly cruel kind of pain, even when that wasn't the intention (hence, I do not read reviews if I can help it. I sometimes peek at the star rating, but the actual review is better left alone...though I have read a couple of bad reviews that made me laugh because they were so horrific.)

Don't make it personal; be professional, even if it's a friendly kind of exchange.

Now, if you're functioning as editor...totally different ball game. but I would hope that if you're offering editor services, you already know how to handle a writer and won't plunge your pencil of doom into their little writery hearts...not if you want to get paid and rehired later, anyway.

*I am at this point with the latest book. I am 100% sure it's trash. Waiting on beta readers is really kind of grating on my nerves.

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