Beta Etiquette 101

There comes a time in (hopefully) every writer’s life where, at least once, you send your story out to a Beta Reader for feedback. You love your story and you so badly want everyone else to love it, too. Alas, that is not always the case. Here are some helpful DOs and DON’Ts when dealing with the not so positive feedback:

Thank your Beta. After all, they took time out of their busy life to help you with yer crap.

Stay calm and look at their notes objectively. It’s one thing if they’re saying that you suck and they hate your story. It’s another thing if they’re pointing out places that they lost interest or stopped reading. Maybe you did something icky. Wouldn’t you rather know?

Offer to return the favor. We all need each other here. Plus you get karma points for being a good sport.

Disregard everything they say because you’re mad. This is not good for you as a writer, and this is not good for your story.

Pitch a fit and throw kool-aid in their face. This is what babies do.

Send an angry email in return. Hello, um, no. It’s called balls. Grow some.

Unfollow them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, We Heart It, Tumblr, or anywhere else you may be following them unless you just want to look super petty like that.

Return the favor because you want to blow off steam by blasting them. Again, you look like an ass.

Getting tough feedback is not easy to swallow. We ALWAYS want people to fall in love with our stories. I have been writing for a LONG time, and I knew I needed feedback to get better, so I asked my friends, I asked people I wasn’t friends with who I knew read a lot in the genre I write in, I asked siblings. And I have NEVER been an ass to someone who was trying to help me, and I haven’t retaliated by writing them angry emails, ignoring them, or tearing up their stories in return.

This is saying a lot because I am admittedly not very mature for my age (whatever that means), and I am emotional to the extreme. I was in freaking high school and had someone give me tough feedback to my face, and I while I fumed about it in my head (because that is SO allowed), I thanked her to her face and continued to talk to her on a regular basis because she was just being honest, and we need that in a beta reader.

We are writers, and we have to understand that sometimes people take a shiz on our manuscript. If that hurts your feelings to the point where you don’t like your beta anymore, I hate to break it to you, but writer-fries, you don’t need to be a writer. That is nothing compared to what the public will do when they get their hands on your book.

I see books I love getting ripped to pieces on Amazon and Goodreads ALL the freaking time. It’s tough out there. If you get bitchy because your beta said you could do better, then you’re going to have a hard time in life. Keep in mind, if they say you can do better, that’s because they think you have enough talent to do better. That means they believe in you. That means they don’t think you suck. This means there is no reason for you to turn into an asshole.

Unfortunately, I have been on the receiving end of silent and not-so-silent hate from writers I have beta’d for. I’ve also been on the receiving end of an uncomfortable amount of praise (some of it has even come for the same person who spewed hate just a month before!) I’m not a sugary coat kind of beta. I’m also not a rip-you-a-new-butt-hole kind of beta either. I try really, REALLY hard to phase the less positive things as gently as I can and mush it together with genuinely positive things. Because I want the writers I beta for to thrive. I’m really good at betaing, and I know it. I know how to keep my personal opinions about their writing style to myself (unless it’s genuinely distracting). So I bring my best to them so they can do their best with the feedback that I’ve given them.

Betaing takes a lot of time, especially when there are a lot of problems to point out, so to be spit on when I’ve have taken such care to help someone is disappointing to say the least. I’m a writer too, and I have a full-time job. If I’m betaing for someone, that means I am not writing because I am using my writing time to help them.

I had someone tell me once that they thought my main character was unlikeable and a bitch and they wouldn’t want to follow them around for an entire story. My jaw dropped. Then I picked it back up and read the rest of their feedback. Then I followed them on Twitter. And I LOVE this person. So I think if I can take that being the crazy emotional person that I am, the writers I beta for ought to be able to take what I dish out, because I’m a lot nicer than I want to be. Where I want to say, “Ugh, this sucks!” I say, “I zoned out here. Do you think you can rewrite this with less superfluous details?” See. Totally nice. Also, that took even more of my time to phase it in a way that was more helpful and less harsh. Respect.

So, please don’t spit on your beta reader. Don’t hate them. Don’t be disrespectful. They will remember it.

13 Responses to Beta Etiquette 101

  1. Word.

    Also: friends may not be the best betas. At least, friends who aren’t writers. Unless you don’t want to have friends. 🙂 I realized at some point that my friends couldn’t really help me in the way I needed in writing world. Hence, beta readers.

    • Right! It seems like it’s so much easier for people to disappear on ya than for them to just say they don’t wanna do it. But I definitely got better feedback from non-friends who were heavy readers or who wrote a little themselves. My friends were all either too encouraging or thought I was crazy and never asked to read anything I wrote again. Lol!

  2. I think I may have lost someone I was betaing for with my feedback as well. I enjoyed their writing and the voice, but for moments their 17 year old male MC sounded like an old lady. The writer was male and mid-20’s, so those slips into overly odd words felt strange even though the character was a nerd. It was so hard coming up with the most diplomatic way to note this, and still they disappeared after I made note of that and the name dropping that occured periodically as well. The wording? “I’m not sure this character would use this word, it seems out of place to me.”

    Nothing eviseration levels harsh, just the word seems out of place to me and I ended up scaring them off.

    • I can’t find anything wrong with what you said. If we’re doing something out of character we have to know! That’s why we’re asking for feedback. I have to remind myself sometimes that people can be so incredibly sensitive, and it’s not my fault if they flip out on me or stop talking to me. We’re just doing the best we can to be both helpful and honest.

  3. Solid advice!
    I’m wondering about the writers who can’t take the heat, and are disrespectful to their betas…
    How on earth does a person expect to grow as a writer, if that person can’t accept constructive crit? Maybe some writers prefer to remain delusional…

    • Exactly! Right? I know I cried the first time I received some real constructive feedback, but I really paid attention to it because I wanted to get better. Publishing is tough. Getting feedback helps prepare us for it.

  4. My personal policy is never to respond to a critique the same day I read through it. I usually re-read it a day or two later, after I’ve had some time to think about it.

    Having someone tell you that your main character is an unlikeable bitch doesn’t necessarily mean you did anything wrong as a writer. If you specifically wrote the character to be headstrong and impulsive, and your readers hate her because she’s headstrong and impulsive, that’s totally okay. But if your critique partners think she’s an idiot when you intended for her to be smart, or that she’s selfish when you intended for her to be compassionate, then it probably means you need to reevaluate your character.

    • That’s a really good policy actually. I’ve noticed that sometimes when people respond right away they’re defensive and dejected like I popped the only balloon they’ve ever gotten in life.

      I know the character in that story is super weird. Not everyone is going to like her, but I did double check and make sure the actions in question were still consistent and in line with her personality because the person who said that only read one chapter.

  5. I agree with Michelle above–it’s probably a good general rule to avoid having your friends beta read (except for in the rare exception that your friendship actually started as a result of sharing your writing with each other). I’ve had some awkward experiences sharing my work with non-writerly friends. I’ve had some really great experiences too, but the awkward ones are the ones you remember.

    Great advice on respecting our beta readers! I’ve read several articles on how beta readers should behave, but none on how WE should behave in regards to our beta readers.

    • There comes in point in most writer’s lives I think where we start ignoring the people who say, “When can I read your story?” Never. That’s when. Ha, ha!

      Yep, writers start acting up real fast when you say something negative about their babies. I’ve had people trying to explain to me why they did something wrong, and it’s just like, I don’t care. Fix it! You don’t get to explain to the reader why so why are they trying to explain it to me?! >.<

      • “When can I read your story?”
        “When it’s published!” End of discussion. 😉
        I will say that Miss Ifeoma was the bestest beta reader ever, so I scored in that area. Hopefully I can be THAT kind of beta reader for someone else someday.

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