I’ve been very lucky to have wonderful beta readers. Some were other writers, and we exchanged feedback on each other’s work. Some were not writers and their feedback as discerning, thoughtful, and articulate readers—can only be repaid by the special place I hope they get in heaven.
But there are some pitfalls I have learned, from my own experience and hearing about others’, which I hope to share here. Rather than couch such in the negative, I decided to phrase the points in the affirmative. You can deduce what not to do from it. Goodness, the very act of a thoughtful exchange is as generous and as positive as can be. Let’s keep it that way.
· When agreeing to exchange manuscript critiques it’s best to keep the number of helpers who come forward small, so that on your end you can give thorough feedback, the kind you would like to get.
· Do point every typo, misused word, and spelling mistake. These little escapees from proofreading are often caught by other readers. Although this requires nitty-gritty kind of reading, you should treat the manuscript as your own. You wouldn’t want yours to go out on submission that way.
· It’s fine to state something reads so perfectly to you that you have no suggestions. This happens rarely, but it does happen. Being a critic will sometimes mean only enthusiastic praise. It's better than coming up with “something” to negate for the sake of it.
· Apropos the point above^, it’s nice to begin and end with genuine positive comments. It’s even more helpful to be unsparing at the meat of the feedback. The rare times works-in-progress come your way flawless are exactly that, rare. Best help is real help.
· Yes, that--
Above all, helpful feedback is specific. This old post got more hits than most of my blog posts, and so I point to it, again.
If you are offering feedback not as an exchange, your generosity is legend with me. Books, also, take a small village.