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August 19, 2010

The Beta Battle

Kate Hart
How do you beta? Everyone has a different style, and everyone has a different preference. Writer Sarah Enni bravely volunteered her first page so that you can jump from blog to blog and see how varied the feedback can be.

My method:
  • I compulsively line edit, with a stream of consciousness commentary in the margins. 
  • After a day to think over the piece, I add an overview of larger issues that struck me, both good and bad. 
  • In an ideal world, I'd read every piece twice, but time restraints usually mean one thorough round.
  • Sometimes I reword sentences. I try to be very clear that my rephrasing isn't "right"-- it's just faster to use an example than to figure out how to make the suggestion in a roundabout way.
  • Some people tell their betas what to look for, and I'm always fine with helping address particular issues. But after awhile you figure out which betas excel in which areas, and know who to ask for line edits versus plot holes.  
  • Deb suggests that if a writer doesn't want line edits, the reader shouldn't touch the prose. I'm not that reader--once I got busted for marking typos in the staff handbook during a training-- and I try to make that clear up front.
  • When I personally get feedback, I like to merge it all into one document, and the comment feature in Word makes that the easiest. But I can use something else if the writer prefers. I just need to hear it on the front end.

So. With that said... (click to enlarge)


My overall comments:
Lots of evocative imagery in there but we need more of a hook to keep reading. (If this were an actual partial, I'd be able to offer more advice on the latter.)

Now: Go check out what Kathleen, Cory, Windy, Meredith and Alicia have to say-- and go tell Sarah to keep up the good work!

ETA: I forgot to thank Kathleen for the adorable fierce banner!


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  2. I tend to be a 'big picture' beta. I'll tackle things like pacing, character, plot, etc. and offer a specific example or two of each thing I address. If adverbs are an issue, I'll mention it, but I won't circle every one of them.

    Truthfully, I don't do line edits, for a couple of reasons:

    1) I'm no English teacher, so if I think there should be a comma instead of semicolon, it would be like the cat telling the dog she should have a shorter leash. There's no authority there ...

    2) Phrasing, sentence structure, etc. are such subjective/style related things that it can be really easy for personal preferences as a reader to dominate thoughts about a particular work. The only way I'll mention those things is if it becomes a distraction, if it's inconsistent, or if I think it's genuinely a mistake on the part of the writer (meaning they didn't mean to do it). I guess I try to focus on the story as opposed to the style in which it's told, if that makes sense.

    I'm not going to re-work a sentence to flow better unless I've literally stopped reading. By that point, however, there are usually bigger fish to fry than simply shortening a sentence, etc.

    You're very thorough, Kate! Let me know when I can send my pages over! :0)

  3. Dude, Awesome catch on the tense change! I read the piece twice and both times my brain substituted "hadn't" for "hasn't". Can't believe I missed that.

  4. We pointed out a lot of the same things. Great minds. *snickers*

  5. My brain automatically switched 'hasn't' to 'hadn't' too! I didn't even pick up on the number of times 'was' was used. (That might just say something about how often I use it.)

  6. Tense change. I seem to recall something on that and I totally forgot! Good call out!

    And LUCKY YOU! you know how to, yanno, use the computer and techno stuff and got the screen shot to work. I tried. And tried. And tried. And finally decided I needed to sleep so I had to stop.

  7. Loving the comments. For some reason I have a hard time catching tense change -- I think I mentally change it when I read, too. So thanks for catching that!!

    And I definitely like - and agree with - the overall comments.

  8. Oh wow, you're a great beta! Very thorough. I love your comments! I completely missed the tense change too, even though I read the piece no less than 5 times. It's so funny how the mind works. :)

  9. Hehe.

    That banner is adorable. :D

    Also, I'm a fan of rewording sentences. I always put them in the notes as an example and why I think they would work.

    I LOVE how your critique is set up. Looks so organized.

  10. Oh and I repped you back on AW. :D

  11. seconding Kathleen on catching the tense change :D!

    your critique format is awesomely neat- i actually used word's comment system to edit my friends' english essays all of last year, and totally respect you on how you can keep them looking so orderly.

  12. *snickers* I know of a few people who despise line edits, hence that particular bit of advice, but many are okay with it. But yeah, always good to discuss beforehand so you don't ruin a friendship over it, lol!

    Also--I used to be a line editor, but once I started doing all my beta reading on my ereader, I switched to general and man, is it FAST!

    :D (my crit group crits look almost exactly like your crits, though!)


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