For something a little different today, we have a guest blog post from my wonderful and talented client Jennifer Schubert whose hugely exciting thriller, BROKEN, is out on submission right now!
Jenn contacted me last week about whether we wanted to post on our thoughts on authors critiquing each other’s work. But ours is such an outsider’s perspective on this. My take is that feedback is always wonderful if you can take it in constructively. I’ve never been in the position of taking it since I don’t write, and when I offer it, it’s from a sales perspective. So I thought it made more sense for the expert herself to offer up some bon mots. And happily, Jenn provided us with the below!
Why a beta reader?
Every writer needs feedback. We crave it, for one. That’s what writing is about, the exhibition of the soul, the desire to tell a story and to be judged by it. Every piece of work should be run through a filter, preferably an impartial one, to show where we’re going wrong. Because we are going wrong somewhere. No one is perfect. Everything can stand improvement.
One of the best learning tools is to switch sides and be a beta reader. I’ve learned as much about writing by critiquing others’ works as I have by writing myself. It’s much easier to see the flaws in other people’s work than our own.
How to give a crit without breaking a heart
I’ve been privileged to do a lot of beta reading in my writing journey. I’m a believer in the “sandwich” technique: single out a good thing first, then tackle some of the problem areas, and close with another good thing. Not everyone agrees with this approach, but I’ve found people respond better if criticism is softened with praise, and there’s always something to praise. (An English teacher of mine used to tell people, a bit desperately, “You have lovely handwriting.”)
How to take a crit without throwing a fit
The reaction to a critique ranges widely, but generally falls into two categories. The first group meets a critique, no matter how gentle, with defensiveness. Their reaction is to argue. You, the beta reader, just didn’t understand what the writer was trying to say. Sure, you say, but if you have to explain it to me, it wasn’t very well-written, was it?
The second group says “thank you” and buckles down to edits. A few hours, days, or weeks later, you get the material back and it’s better. You suggest more changes, more tweaks. They go back to work. Maybe the end result isn’t perfect, but they’re willing to work hard to make it as good as it can be.
Like many of us, I started out in the first, or thin-skinned, group. I was fortunate to have a mentor who talked me out of that. Because I wanted to be a writer so badly, I toughened up. Of course hearing that your work isn’t letter-perfect is hard, but the critiquer’s job is to help. Maybe they’re paying it forward. Maybe they believe in you, believe in your work, and want to help make it better.
My question for you is: which group are you in? Are you thin-skinned, or are you tough enough to take a critique designed to help make your writing better? And are you critiquing for others? If so, what are you learning from it?