Monday, July 28, 2014

An important tip to keep in mind while BETA READING



A few years ago, one writer I knew sent me a few chapters to beta read. I happily did. And for a number of reasons, I thought one of the scenes wasn’t there yet. Before telling her what wasn't working for me, though, I told this writer I thought her MS would be stronger if she nixed that scene. And THEN I named all the problems I saw in the scene. 

Big mistake. 

She got a little upset. And she was like, really, Mónica? Really? You think I HAVE to nix that scene? But I don’t WANT to nix that scene! Oh, no! Oh, no!
I think she may have had a panic attack.

I tried to backpedal. I said I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant the scene wasn’t working for me. And I spent like 5 emails trying to make it right and explain myself. Meanwhile, I realized why exactly I had screwed up: 
I had given a suggestion first, and then I had told her the reasons I thought her scene wasn’t working. In the end, she didn’t nix the scene. She just fixed it.

So that day, I learned this:  You ALWAYS have to give your objective thoughts first. And then, give the suggestions. But be extra careful to make it clear that they are just that: SUGGESTIONS.

So instead of saying: “I think it’d be nice to nix that chapter, because I didn’t connect with your MC there.”

Say: “I didn’t connect with your MC in this chapter [name all the reasons why. Such as: I think your MC sounded whiny in these paragraphs, OR these sentences make your MC sound too rational so the voice isn’t working for me, etc]. But I have a few suggestions that might help you fix that, like: 1) You could nix those sentences. 2) you can change them *this* and *that* way. 3) etc, etc. [You get the idea!] Or you can have your own brilliant ideas that are better than mine to fix those problems."

And (this has little to do with the post, but...) don't forget to be nice! Always start with a compliment... when you start with compliments, people are usually more receptive.  =) 

<3
Mónica

8 comments:

  1. Good advice, Monica. Every suggestion is easier to take when prefaced with a compliment. There is something to like in every work, and it is so important to point that out. Thanks for the reminder.

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  2. Monica, this is a rule of thumb I always use when grading student papers as well--start with something the paper did *well* and then talk about the issues. People are nearly always more receptive to feedback that starts with honest praise. (I learned this the hard way when I critiqued a paper for my sister. I assumed that since she knew I loved her, I didn't have to tell her what I liked before telling her what was wrong . . . she nearly refused to speak to me after that).

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    1. Ouch. I'm sorry your sister almost refused to speak to you after that! Haha! That time, I assumed that with my friend, too. :)

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  3. Great idea. I really like how specific you were in your examples. "She sounded whiny in these paragraphs." Without the specificity, it's hard to grasp why the reader reacted the way she did.

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    1. Hey, Nikki! I'm glad you thought it was helpful. :) Sometimes it's easy to forget to be super objective and specific, right? :P

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