As someone who used to work as a proofreader, and who does a lot of proofreading still, I can't help but notice when commas are misplaced, or there are spelling errors. So I tend to point out those things when I'm going through the MS.
At the same time, I leave comments where I think things are unclear, out of character or not in keeping with the rest of the story. I ask questions when things don't add up and point out inconsistencies in description, timeline or sequence of events.
Only when I get to the end do I do an overview of what I've thought of the book, its strengths and weaknesses. I like to offer suggestions of what could be done to fix any problems I've identified.
Some books have bigger problems than others (my own has some pretty major flaws that were pointed out by my beta readers), and some can be more easily solved than others. But my question is, how much detail do you want when someone is reading for you? Do you really want to know the last third of the novel really doesn't work?
Personally, I want to know as much as possible. If the last third doesn't work at all, I want to hear it. Without this kind of feedback, how do I know what needs fixing? So I tend to go into every beta read wanting to give the same kind of critique I want to get back.
But I get the impression maybe other writers aren't prepared for that level, that maybe my notes are too harsh, or too extensive. I don't want to hurt anyones' feelings, but I don't feel that I'm doing anyone a favor if I don't point out what I perceive as being problems. Just saying 'this is awesome' means nothing if it isn't followed up by reasons why it's awesome. Or reasons why it isn't.
Does anyone have any thoughts or opinions on this matter? How detailed are your notes when you beta read?
I usually ask if the writer wants me to be a beta reader or a critique partner. If I am going to critique, I do everything you mentioned above. If they just want me to be a beta, I tend to just read and give overall comments at the end about plot, pacing, characters, etc. Those are just my definitions, but that's what I go with.ReplyDelete
I agree with Laura. To me they're two different things. For a critique, I want in-depth and even the opportunity to ask for a re-read. For a beta read, I really only expect an overall kind of perspective. Things like where the plot and pacing and characters were unclear, but not so much grammar and spelling and little details.ReplyDelete
I meant to add (after I posted this I thought some more), I definitely think it's critical in either case to be honest about the story. But not just on the brutal side. If the story isn't working, I do want to know. I'd rather hear it from readers than find out later down the line.ReplyDelete
But I also think it's key to say what does work about the story. If it's all bad and none of it is working, that's important, but if it has good points and all the writer hears are that it has bad parts, I think that's just as counter-productive as saying "this is awesome, I love it all".
(Now I'm done, really. Maybe ;-)
Definitely! Just focusing on the bad parts is not helpful at all and might make a writer decide to ditch her book all together. I always try to start with the things I like before moving on to the parts that don't.Delete
In my opinion, even if you are a beta reader, you should point out everything you find that is an error. If an author feels their story is ready for beta reads, then (an this is my opinion again) I would assume the story should be free of comma errors and major plot issues. So if you find them, I feel you should tell the author. I would want to know.ReplyDelete
That said, certainly be constructive, use the oreo-cookie approach (i.e. what you like followed by what needs work followed by some more positive stuff).
That's what I think too. It actually amazes me that someone would hand over a MS to a reader before making sure all the spelling errors, typos and funky grammar have been fixed up.Delete
But I guess for some people, making sure the story flows and makes sense is more important than the mechanics. Unfortunately, I find it difficult to focus on bigger picture issues when the mechanics are sloppy...
I try to point out everything - the good and the bad, what works and what doesn't. Some writers can't handle the truth but I think it's best to give the truth. If they can't handle hearing it from another writer who is trying to help them, they won't be able to hear it from an editor or an agent.ReplyDelete
I honestly haven't ever met anyone who didn't want to know everything. I don't hold back when I critique and I expect my betas to do the same :)ReplyDelete
I'd want to know everything--good and bad. You have to be able to take the hard critique. It's the only way to make the story better. I'd rather have a friend point the issues out to me before I start querying, instead of having an agent point them out in a rejection letter. It sounds like you're a great beta reader!ReplyDelete