I watched two separate twitter feeds explode last night. Both were on their own rant about manuscript critiques they had received. Normally this wouldn't bother me; I’d lurk and chuckle at the way we, as authors, tend to internalize things way to much. But as I watched them progress, I got to thinking, or rather stewing, about Beta Reading Etiquette and the unspoken rules that I always try to play by.
- When you ask someone to critique your WIP, you expect them to not only point out the parts they loved, but also the scenes, bits of dialogue, character actions that had them confused or pulled out of the story. If you are not looking for constructive feedback, then don’t ask someone to “critique” your manuscript.
- Always find something positive to say about the person’s manuscript. Whether it be a thread, or a beautifully descriptive phrase, convincing voice, or just the concept in general, always find something positive to say.
- Don’t over reach when you get feedback. Just because I say I don’t understand your character’s motivation in a specific scene does not mean that I think you character is a psychopathic, sexual deviant. It simply means that I don’t get his motivation For. That. Particular. Scene.
- If you have a question about a piece of feedback either received or given, simply ask. Twitter is not the place to air your grievances. It is unprofessional and makes authors like myself question why we beta read at all.
- Say thank you. I've been on the receiving end of critiques that just didn't resonate with me or the vision for my manuscript. That’s okay. Readers are subjective; they bring their own set of personal experiences to every scene they read. You may not agree with their opinions, but that doesn't excuse you from offering them a simple thank you. The time we put into critiquing manuscripts is time spent away from our own projects. Recognize and appreciate that.
My mom had a saying when we were growing up – Because Nice Matters. I used to cringe every time I heard it as a kid, think she was being crony and overly naive. I get it now, understand what she meant and how that simple principle can be applied to every thing we do. That simple phrase – Because Nice Matters – applies here as well.