October PANorama — Critiques and Beta-Readers

Dear Readers,

It’s the last Friday of the month, which means that it’s time for one of our chapter PAN members (PAN stands for Published Authors Network, a professional designation within RWA open to members who reach a certain level of sales) to visit the blog to share some of their wisdom and expertise. This month, Mellanie Szereto is here to give us her advice on critiques and beta readers. 

Take it away, Mellanie!

Critiques and Beta-Readers

~ By Mellanie Szereto

Being part of a critique partnership or group is a personal choice. Some writers prefer to use beta readers or a combination of betas and critters. Others may rely on self-editing before submitting or self-publishing—which I don’t recommend. Perhaps you need feedback faster than most critters can provide. As with most of the writing process, do what works best for you.

The first rule of critiquing is to point out positive aspects in the manuscript as well as problem areas. Use explanations and suggestions to help the writer make corrections. Critiquing is about giving and receiving feedback, not criticism. Keep in mind that a critique is one person’s opinion and you don’t have to follow every suggestion.

Don’t expect your critique partner to catch every mistake. Even the best editors can miss simple errors. A less-experienced writer may not spot POV glitches, passive voice, or telling instead of showing, but the vast majority of writers are avid readers and will notice plot issues and character problems. You can’t become experienced without experience. Critique partners and groups should complement each other, with each participant bringing strengths that offset another’s weaknesses. You’re building what should be a long-term relationship.

Be honest. I can’t stress this enough. You aren’t doing your critique partner any favors by letting major problems slide. Some things can be attributed to voice or the tone of the story, but writing craft weaknesses can’t be improved if the writer is unaware. If you’re wary of pointing out issues in the manuscript, this could be an indication you and your crit partner might not be a good fit. Use the first rule of critiquing for guidance.

Critique feedback can help you develop the thick skin you’ll need to succeed in the publishing world. Not every person will like your story. Whether you agree or disagree with the feedback, make a concerted effort to let the comments and suggestions you don’t like roll off your back. In most cases, your partner is trying to help you improve the story. If you suspect snark and non-constructive feedback, consider finding a new critter group.

Some partners/groups exchange crits online. Others meet in person. Some use a combination. Something to remember—we often misread meaning without face-to-face contact to read body language and hear intonation/inflection. Brainstorming usually works better with the immediate vocal response rather than thoughts put into written word.

We all have lots of responsibilities. However, repeatedly promising to return a chapter or manuscript by a deadline and missing it is a no-no. If you tend to be slower or know you have a particularly busy schedule, be up front about the amount of time you’ll need to complete the critique. By the same token, be aware that your chapter/manuscript may not be your crit partner’s first priority. Expecting to get your piece back the same day is inconsiderate—unless you’ve agreed about the response time prior to sending.

Critiquing is a great opportunity to get valuable feedback and learn more about writing craft, but finding someone you’re comfortable working with is vital.

A few words on beta-readers…

A beta-reader reads through the entire manuscript looking for logic lapses, continuity and pacing issues, typos, and other obvious errors. Many times, this person is a reader rather than a writer.

Some suggestions for working with beta-readers:

Even if you know and trust your beta-reader implicitly, consider entering into a basic contract. This may seem like overkill, but, while uncommon, authors have been plagiarized by their beta-readers. Piracy can also be an issue, so protect yourself.

Set a reasonable time frame for feedback, like you would with a critique partner.

As with a critique, suggestions from a beta-reader are one person’s opinion. The ultimate decision belongs to the author.

Your beta-reader should be an avid reader of the genre you’re writing.

* What works best for you? Why do you prefer that method? *

When her fingers aren’t attached to her keyboard, Mellanie Szereto enjoys hiking, Pilates, cooking, gardening, and researching for her stories. Many times, the research partners with her other hobbies, taking her from the Hocking Hills region in Ohio to the Colorado Rockies or the Adirondacks of New York. Sometimes, the trip is no farther than her garden for ingredients and her kitchen to test recipes for her latest steamy tale. Mellanie makes her home in rural Indiana with her husband of thirty-two years and their son. She is a 2016 recipient of the RWA Service Award, RWA Chapter Advisor, and a member of Romance Writers of America, Indiana Romance Writers of America, Contemporary Romance Writers, and Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal

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