Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Beta Crits

Good Morning. I hope everyone had an enjoyable weekend. I was at my parents, naturally, dealing with the garden and the grass. I'm halfway finished with the garden, but now it's going to be in the high 90's until October, so it will stay half finished for now. Unless of course by some miracle it goes back down to the low 80's. Ha! We only have 3 seasons here in NC -- winter, monsoon, and hell.

Thanks for all your comments on the decision for Monster Child to go to summer camp. Alas, she is adamant. "Mommy, I will miss you too much to be away from you ALL DAY." Yeah, I can't fight that. And I mentioned to my mother I found cheap flights back to Rhode Island (non-stop 2 hours out of Charlotte for less than $200- each round trip) so I guess we're going home for 10 days in July. Can I tell you how excited I am. 10 days is not nearly long enough, but her friend has a house right on the water and has extended us an invitation, so who am I to say no? Yay! Pray for me that the plans go through.

Now, onto my post. (Finally, you say.)

Katie over at Creepy Query Girl, had a post about beta readers...what they are, what they do, why we need them. And of course, I don't think I've ever covered betas or critters before so thanks for the topic Katie.

Now, for some people, they send their WiP out to their betas to read while they write and make sure the story is moving along at the right pace, following the storyline/plot, the POV is on target. I don't do that. I don't generally let anyone read my work until I'm at the final editing stage of my last draft. I want to make sure it's done without mistakes, typo's, and crappy crap crap writing. I guess you could say I'm anal like that. Also, if someone is reading what I haven't finished and they suggest an improvement to the story, it throws me off. I lose my own plot and I go off on tangents. The story isn't mine anymore.

However, I use betas to read the completed work to see if they like it, if it gels, if there is something I missed (in the story, plot, character arcs). I use them for coherency and a general rating of the idea.

Critters are different. Critique partners, for me, are used to find the grammar, punctuation, POV gaffs, and any holes I may have in my plot. They question everything. Even something as innocuous as a word choice. I've been lucky that I've had critters who are so awesomely awesome covered in chocolate sauce I wish I could bottle it up and sell it. I also don't let them read my book until I am completely done with all the drafts. What they read is generally what I like to think of as my finished product. And for the most part, I've had very little to change when I get these manuscripts back. Which is nice for me. And for them, or so I've been told. They say they like to be able to read a finished product, therefore when something is amiss, it JUMPS out at them and they can pinpoint it, whereas, if they read it while it's still dirty, they just get bogged down by all the glare.

When I've been asked to beta read, unfortunately, I have to crit. When things jump out at me, I can't let them go. I've had the honor and privelege of reading some FANTABULOUS books over the last few years, and I'm still stymied why they're not out on book shelves across America. I love critting, (when I'm not involved in my own book) it allows me to think I'm paying it forward in some small way for all the help I've received over the last years. It's not easy sometimes, I hate saying something isn't working, but I hope I do it with grace and tact. And I always assure the writer that whatever I say is always a SUGGESTION, never an absolute. (unless it's a 'that'. I despise 'that'.)

And for those of you who I have read, I want you to be assured that I delete the manuscript you send me out of my files and email 60 days after I'm done with it. I don't think it's right to hold onto something that's not mine.

Tell me -- How do you use your betas and critters? Do you have them? If not, why not? Is there a difference to you in what they do? Do you allow them to read a dirty manuscript or do you give them a finished product? Do you allow them to read while you write, or do you wait until the end?

And I'm still having issues with Blogger. Yesterday I couldn't comment at ALL and I still can't sign in. I'm doing some things to hopefully rectify the situation, but if you don't see me, or I don't respond to your comments here (and I really want to) you'll know why.


Laura Pauling said...

I have CPs for chapter to chapter but I don't like to send that out until I'm close to being done with a first draft and have revised a bit. And they usually never get to read the whole thing. I use readers for a good draft before I do editing. And then I like to find one for the very finished product. I have found them extremely helpful.

Anne Gallagher said...

Laura -- I never knew how invaluable a good reader can be. I mean I love my crit partners, but readers are awesome.

Matthew MacNish said...

I definitely go deeper with CPs than with beta readers, though depending on the beta if they do suggest something major, and it makes sense, I will obviously consider it.

But I agree that I prefer not to send my writing out to betas until it's as close to done as I can possibly get it.

Francine Howarth said...


Blogger was a pain until I downloaded Google Chrome. It's now ace, and I've realised IE is utter crap!

Re readers: that's all I use! :o


Mac said...

Have you tried Chrome yet?/How's it working for you?

Anne Gallagher said...

Matthew -- I think they are two different animals entirely, however, you don't really know until you get in a ring with each of them. Of course, it's all dependent on what you use them for.

Francine -- You were one of my BESTEST readers. Your first paragraph change made all the difference. And switching the two scenes at the 2/3 mark. Brilliant.

Mac -- I have tried it, but to be quite honest, I'm not sure it's made a difference. Unless of course, I'm using it wrong, and that's a distinct possibility. But it's good to have. thank you again for all your help. What would I do without you?

Linda G. said...

I couldn't do without my CPs and Betas. As for the difference between them...well, my CPs are the ones I crit in return. They read & shred my stuff, I read & shred theirs. *grin* My Betas read, give me overall impressions, and rarely ask anything in return. They tell me they just love to read. Crazy creatures.

Anne Gallagher said...

Linda -- Yeah, that's how I do it to. And they are quite crazy arent' they?

Em-Musing said...

I usually only had betas and crits for my first few chapters. I never asked for more because up until recently, I didn't have the time to reciprocate. And I know you'll have a GREAT time in RI.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I never send my first draft out to anyone. Never. It has to go though several rounds of revision before my CP sees it. Once I've finished editing the WIP based on her brilliant feedback, it's time for the beta readers. Then I send it out in waves. Once I'm finished editing the ms based on their feedback, I can send it out to the next round. Fortunately, I'm not in a huge rush to jump into query hell anytime soon.

I sounds like you and I, Anne, are very similar when it comes to beta reading. I tend to crit too.

Creepy Query Girl said...

I'm a lot like you. I don't send my work out until I feel I've gotten it as far as I can. I have a handful of beta readers but I usually pick and choose according to who I think might enjoy the genre and story.

Summer Frey said...

I've given my CPs chapters churned fresh out of the brain pan. One in particular got them as they came, and then another got the whole shebang later. I have very bad post-draft habits that usually include scrapping the whole thing and jumping off ledges, so I need two people to hold me back. The third is kept unsullied, for the most part, so she can read the revised draft with fresh eyes. However, I like the others to be able to compare with original ideas and see if they think the new one is working better or not.

As for betas, I have a few people that I frequently swap stuff with who read in my genre and are familiar with it enough to provide good feedback, as well as a few close friends who are love-obligated to read. :)

Ted Cross said...

I edit my chapters as I go, so they always seem mostly polished. Anyhow, I've been posting the chapters of my new book on Authonomy as they've been 'finished', and it's been really helpful. Already someone mentioned an idea that made me alter a chapter to really improve the drama. Had I waited until the whole story was done...

Liza said...

I have recently joined a writing group and for the first time ever, have people reading my work. It's daunting, but helpful!

Laurel Garver said...

I'm still trying to figure out a balanced and useful way to collect critiques. I've been a bit of a crit junkie with my first book. I think I've had about 30 sets of eyes on it at some phase. That's just too much!

With two local crit groups and some online friends, I hope to get some solid opinions on my other pieces without bringing in so many voices.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

yep i'm with you in regard to critters and betas. Critters while i'm writing, or at least, first draftish. Beta's only when i think i'm almost there

Anonymous said...

I'm the same way, when I BETA, I crit. I go through the overall general storyline, but will do line edits because I'm so anal. Lots of writers love the combination, but it's a lot of work in some cases :)

Bossy Betty said...

I usually go over my work myself until I think it is ready to go. Then I show it to a trusted friend and find it's not ready at all. Hope the summer travel plans come through.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

First, I can tell everyone you are an awesome critique partner! Between you, Jeffrey, and Rusty, I think my manuscript is really close.
I also have two test readers who like science fiction. They note typos and stuff, and make suggestions on improving a scene. One really attacks the dialogue, and I was informed this past weekend he will be making many suggestions in that area. Fun, huh?

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

I have a team of beta readers, but even though I ask for constructive criticism, they mostly serve as a cheering squad. Nice, but not terribly helpful.

notesfromnadir said...

I agree that both are important but for a second I thought that when you mentioned critters that you were referring to what I'd call backyard animals: dogs, cats, squirrels, etc. Now I have an image of a squirrel skimming through my ms. & that image won't go away! Thanks! :)

L'Aussie said...

Betas and critters. Ha Lisa! We writers love our jargon! I couldn't ask anyone to read anything until it's as good as I can get it. Then I send it off to my CPs. I've not used betas but I have poked around seeing what they do, so thanks for this Anne, and glad to hear you're one of Alex's CPs. He needs a woman to look over his work now that he's got this female lead, ha ha.

Glad my blog alllowed you to visit.


Lydia K said...

I must have been in a weird mood when I read this post because as soon as I saw your title, I immediately thought "Weetabix. Cheese grits."

I must have had gotten a rhyming virus. ;P

Anyway, I have betas who do general reads (2-4) and one CP who does chapter by chapter crits and probably ends up reading my stuff 3 times in total.

Julie Musil said...

Your comment about 3 seasons cracked me up!

My critique partners are also my beta readers, and so far it works for us. I've learned that I need to wait until my drafts are finished and clean, though. It does throw me off getting feedback on a book I haven't finished yet. Another lesson learned!

Elliot Grace said...

...betas and critters, Anne you crack me up. Such nerds us storytellers can be ;)

My beta for "South of Charm" is an admitted bookworm, averaging 100+ novels a year. When asked, she not only read the final draft for the pleasure of it, but offered her own spin on things.

My opinion? Betas have to be avid readers in order to know the "rules." Critters are close in relation to editors. Nit-picking is their thing.
Betas=woohoo! Critters=grrrr!


Eric W. Trant said...

I've done both.

I find that if the story is REALLY flowing, sending to a beta during the draft phase helps. The beta, however, CANNOT critique. You pointed this out. If you send during draft, they must only respond with the following:


Anything else, as you have learned, and as I have learned, will blow out your front driver's side and toss you into oncoming traffic, and it's just a mangled freaking mess from there on out.

I don't know that I have a "method." Maybe I'll be able to say I have one after a dozen or two books, but for now I'm only about at a half-dozen books, all unpublished, mostly unfinished, and I honestly can't say I know how to make it work.

It's sort of like sex. My mind always turns to that analogy, which really doesn't shock me anymore. I don't think about sex, I just jump in and see what works and what doesn't, and every single time is different.

Same with writing. I use a different approach every time, some work, some don't, some gel, some melt, and who knows what the right answer is.

As for betas, in my current piece, I'll be looking for them on the semi-final draft. I held off sending it out during draft because it wasn't flowing like I thought it should.

- Eric

Donna Hole said...

I've been trying to post a comment for hours. I keep coming back hoping blogger will let me in, let me in . .

Critters and betas are like peas and carrots to me.

Hey, have a good week, if this gets through . .


Anne Gallagher said...

Em -- Here's Hoping I get back to RI.

Stina -- There's something about keeping it close to the vest before it's done, isn't there? Like don't touch it yet, or you'll break it.

Katie -- I have certain readers too for my different genre's.

Summer -- I can see what you mean about letting someone read it right out of the brain pan and then comparing it. I have done it, that's why I can't do it anymore. I get overwhelmed with suggestions and I lose my original thought. I'm not as young as I used to be and things confuse me quickly these days. lol

Ted -- I edit as I go too and it's made a ton of difference. I hear what you say about waiting to alter chapters when you're done. I know what you mean. I had to do it on my last book and it wasn't toooooo bad. Of course not having any rewrites would be a plus.

Liza -- It's very helpful to have someone read your work. Just remember, if they're overly critical with nothing good to say, they're the people to stay away from. You want critters who also tell you what's good about your writing. And with the way you write on your blog, your fiction must be phenomenal.

Laurel -- 30! Yeah, too many crits spoil the soup. I usually only have 3 beta's and 1 critter.

Anne Gallagher said...

Sarah -- I think that's the easiest way to do it.

Anonymous -- Congrats! You are my first anonymous comment ever. It is a lot of work to beta and crit simultaneously but to me why do one without the other? Doesn't make sense to waste the time.

Betty -- Show it to a friend and find it's not ready at all? C'mon I know that's not true.

Alex -- Thanks Alex. It was my pleasure.

Susan -- Then you need to find you some that arent' related to you.

Lisa -- Sorry about that. I use the same image myself when I think of my crit partner. Only he's holding a machete.

Denise -- Beta's are great. They're like your own pep squad. You shhould fine one or two.

Lydia -- That is TOO funny. Weetabix. cheese grits. Must be a rhyming virus.

Anne Gallagher said...

Julie -- Ask anyone who lives here, there are only 3 seasons in NC. And that's how I found what works for me, trial and error. I think it's the only way to go as a writer.

Elliot -- Yeah, you're absolutely right. Beta's do have to love to read otherwise...

Eric -- Sex analogies are always good. And yours works here, so don't worry. I hear you on the sending out before it's ready.

Donna -- Stupid Blogger. I'm still down and out myself mostly. Carrots and peas. I can see that.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Oh, aren't you the funny one? Unfortunately, none of my beta readers are relatives, or even close friends, but they are all avid readers. (and evidently, avid readers who don't want to hurt my poor widdle feelings ...)

Anne Gallagher said...

Susan -- Sorry. Usually relatives are the ones who never give you the bad, only the good.

Ann Best said...

We do need feedback, esp. from someone who's good at critiquing. I don't want praise. I want to know what I need to fix. Good post.

I think camp will be good for your daughter--and for you. She's not old enough to know yet that we all need a break from those who are nearest and dearest.

I hope you have a wonderful time in R.I.

I have to smile at your we have 3 seasons: winter, monsoon, and hell.

That's sort of what it's like here in northern Virginia. Monsoon: well, we finally got a lot of rain, more than we've had in the 3 years I've been in Harrisonburg. The hell part is the humid heat, which like you're we're in now. Several days in the 90s and it wasn't even June yet! Gasp.
Ann Best, Memoir Author

Anne Gallagher said...

Ann -- I like that -- I don't want praise, I need to know what needs to be fixed. Exactly. Although a little praise can go a long way. As for the heat, I'm ready to go back to winter. Or at least fall. This 90 degree stuff is killing me.

Deniz Bevan said...

I'm with you Anne - I can't show anyone anything until it's near to done; I don't want their ideas messing up where I think the story might be going. A little dose of praise helps take in all the matter of fact suggestions :-)