So as many of you know, I recently finished a book. It’s a book that can be accurately described as, “X-Men, but in a basement.” And because I wanted to know if it was good enough to publish, I started looking for beta readers. Since then, I’ve swapped manuscripts with two people and received three in-depth critiques so far, of which I am grateful for.
(Side note: I also sent out a manuscript to three other people, who have yet to even make a comment on the document. Which makes me wonder: did they not like the book? Or have they just not gotten around to finishing it? Either way, if you’re one of these people, and you still plan on critiquing said manuscript, please know that the document you’ve got is now out-of-date. I’ve already received three critiques, after all, and I’m already returning to the revision stage. If you’d like to read the updated version, let me know, but I should warn you, it may take a few weeks before you get it.)
So, yeah, I’m basically a professional beta reader now. Not a big deal.
And as someone who’s critiqued many people’s work in the past and has been critiqued several times myself, I’ve got some advice to share. This advice goes for people sharing entire manuscripts, or for those posting smaller bits of writing at places like Destructive Readers. Really, if you want anyone at all to read any piece of your writing, this advice is for you.)
1) For the love of God, proofread your work first.
Let me tell you about the first person I swapped critiques with. She sent me the document, and after reading the few paragraphs I thought to myself. “Oh dear. What have I got myself into?”
It wasn’t just that the story itself sucked. That would be understandable. The problem was the typos. So many typos. At least one in every paragraph, and she wrote short paragraphs. Now, I am no saint with typos, as my readers can attest, but had this person clicked the “spelling & grammar” option, at least half of these errors could’ve been fixed.
And the thing is, this writer did a great job critiquing my manuscript, so it wasn’t like she didn’t have have a proper grasp of the English language. Instead it seems like she busted out a first draft and sent it to me without a second glance.
Don’t do this. Don’t make your reader spend so much time fixing something you could easily fix yourself. Because now instead of focusing on the story, the characters, the world-building, etc., the reader’s going to get bogged down on the little details. Plus, it’s kind of rude. It’s like if you ordered something at a restaurant, and the chef came out and just threw all the individual ingredients at you.
(No, it’s not like that? Alright, I’ll work on my metaphors.)
2) Don’t get defensive.
This hasn’t happened to me personally, but I’ve seen other people on places like “Destructive Readers,” (or even worse: on actual Amazon reviews of a self-published book), where the author got defensive and lashed out at the negative reviewer. Don’t do this. No matter how misguided or mean-spirited you think the critique is, say thank-you and move on. Because critiquing is not a debate. You’re not going to change the readers’ mind by telling them they “just didn’t get it.”
I get that writing is a personal experience for most, and it’s easy to take things personally. But I’ve critiqued a lot of really terrible, embarrassingly bad stories over the last year or so, and not once did I find myself judging the person who wrote it. Most people are able to separate the story from its author, and are not going to think less of you for writing a shitty book. (Unless the book is like, aggressively racist or whatever.) They will, however, think less of you for not being able to handle criticism.
3) Remember, you don’t actually have to follow anyone’s advice.
You should still follow point #2, of course, but that doesn’t mean you should listen to every little thing they have to say. Sure, if more than one person points something out, it’s almost definitely worth addressing, but there’s been times where I looked at a beta reader’s advice and thought, “nope!”
Because sometimes, beta readers are wrong. Sometimes they simply have different tastes or opinions that don’t match the audience you’re aiming for or the vision you have. And that’s okay. It doesn’t take any validity away from their other points, and it doesn’t make you an egotistical jerk for not listening to that one part of their critique.
And because I only wrote this post to rant about points one and two, here are a couple of minor bits of advice that I will elaborate very little on:
- If you’re asking someone to critique your story, make sure to actually tell them what it’s about, and how long it is.
- One person sent me a copy of her manuscript where it ended mid-sentence. And I emailed her and said, basically, “Is this a mistake, or are you trying to pull off a Sopranos, here?” Because if it were the latter, that would be a pretty ballsy move. Not even The Sopranos was able to pull off a Sopranos ending. She responded with, essentially, “oops, my bad. Here’s the real document,” and sent me a version of the manuscript that was slightly more polished, and came with an actual ending. And I was pissed because I just spent two weeks pushing myself through a typo-ridden manuscript only to find out I’d been given the rough draft by accident.
- So, don’t do that last bullet-point.
- (And yes. That person was the same writer from advice #1.)
- Okay, enough giving you guys advice, I’m just gonna rant some more. How the hell do you accidentally send someone the older copy of your manuscript, and not realize it at all during the weeks he spent critiquing it? There’s carelessness, and then there’s that.
- I wasted two weeks of my life, dammit.
- Okay, more like around fifteen hours or so of total work put in, but still.
- Excuse me while I go chop down a tree.
Wow, so this post quickly veered off track. I’d like to end this post by saying good luck to all you writers out there, and I’d like to say thank you to those who critiqued my manuscript. You’re the best.