When an author asks you to beta read, that author is not only looking for critique on his or her manuscript, but a specific type of critique – the type that helps the author to better the work. The author may want blatant honesty, but this doesn’t give you the right to be tactless or rude – remember, authors have feelings too and most of them put heart and soul into their work. Be gentle in your honesty.
The first thing that we need to keep in mind when critiquing another person’s writing is the writer’s reason for sharing the work in the first place. Nine times out of ten, the person either wants constructive comments that will enable him or her to better his/her writing skills, or is looking for encouragement and not hardcore critique. Be mindful of any comments authors have made before you begin to read, as this will tell you what type of critique they’re looking for. Usually, the more seasoned the author, the more ‘brutal’ you can be in your critique.
Ensure that your critique is constructive. Comments such as ‘I don’t like this’ or ‘this could be better’ are really not helpful or acceptable without an explanation as to why you feel this way, along with some input on how to improve the work. Before submitting your critique, re-read it and ask yourself: what will the writer learn from this? If the answer is ‘nothing’, delete that part.
Any negative comments that are not helpful as well are extremely discouraging; for all you know, you are discouraging the next King, Koontz or Wells.
Tips for Critiquing
– Keep in mind that each person has his or her own style of writing. No style is right or wrong. When commenting, be careful not to impose your own style.
– Read the entire piece of writing before making any comments. Something that doesn’t make sense now may just make sense later on in the story (though you can make notes for yourself as you read so you don’t forget anything).
– Always tell the truth. You don’t have to use harsh words to do this. Your honesty could save the writer’s work from myriad bad reviews or being thrown into a publisher’s bin.
For more specific critiquing tips, read Critiquing Dos and Don’ts next week Monday, 9 September 2013.