When We Said “Critique”

The first draft of the manuscript: finished. Happy dance: awkward and accomplished. Now the author who wants to publish their work reaches the next step in the process towards a published book: critique readers. Also called beta readers or critique partners, these wonderful people devote their own time to reading over a rough draft of a book and helping to make it better. The process goes something like this . . .

The file has been attached and sent to the sweet people who volunteered their time, gently released with all of the author’s hopes trailing behind in a luminescent cloud.

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While they read and this takes as long as it takes because they have a life, so hurry up and wait and do it with grace the author goes on with their life but inside they’re thinking . . .

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Then one day, an email. They have read the first half or so and have some thoughts. Time to clench up and open that attachment!

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If the authors have found people who critique because they truly want them to become a better writer, they generally come at it with the compliment sandwich approach. Most beta readers are excellent, caring people who all do this in a kind way with lots of encouragement sprinkled in.

And you know what? It still hurts. It will burn right through a fragile ego like acid. Every author has this thin, tender shred of hope that they have somehow entered the alternate reality where a first draft has only minor, easy fixes and they won’t be stomped with mistake after plot hole after mistake but the comments come streaming in like a waterfall of rocks and . . .

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The next step is to be defensive. Each comment has been read and the author has let the pain flow through them Sith-style, the next step is to channel Dame Maggie Smith when she’s told that she hates to be wrong.

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Denial can be satisfying for a little while, but real life is still coming in and nudging. The thought that they might be right keeps popping up to poke the denial bubble as the author take a few days to let it settle.

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It’s time to open that email back up and take another look. After tentatively trying some of the fixes at first it’s like . . .

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But as the advice sinks in it makes more sense every time. This part here, it does drag. And this sentence is confusing like they said. This here is too much telling and can get cut. This subplot is totally unnecessary. And it’s making the story better! Wow! Really, the betas are a font of wisdom. All of it is seen through new eyes.

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Newly hacked apart and shiny the improved manuscript sits there steaming and the author may want to send their beta readers the edited version in the entirely mistaken belief that a good reward for their hard work would be to make them read the whole thing again. Don’t do that.

Unless they are the golden standard of beta reader who wants to stick with the manuscript all the way from the first draft until it’s published (in which case, marry them. Buy them puppies. Alcohol. David Tennant. Anything they want.)

What the author really wants to do is show their critique partners that their wise advice was heeded and a better way to do that is send them a thank-you email with a few sentences about specific fixes that were used and how much the author appreciated them. This email can leave out the whole angry-denial spiral part.

Now the author has a *finished manuscript and is ready to start the whole process over again with another critique reader or three.

Wait, what?

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4 thoughts on “When We Said “Critique”

  1. Great post, though I would suggest you shouldn’t send a first draft to beta readers. If you send your story out when you know things you want to improve, a lot of beta effort is likely to go into pointing out things you already plan to fix. Clean it up yourself first to minimise the effort for beta readers and get more useful feedback.

    I love the advice on how to thank beta readers. I’ve beta read a fair bit recently, and the best thing in the world is after all your hard work to hear back from the author “You were right that that scene/character/subplot shouldn’t have been there. I’ve taken it out and the story is so much stronger.” Plain thank yous are nice and totally adequate, but there’s so much more joy in hearing you made a difference.

    Liked by 1 person

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