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Critiquing – Finding the Balance


As part of the site, we have a fairly new section where authors can share their WIP’s for critiques – anything from a general “what do you think?” to a more detailed line-by-line edit.

But as I start doing more of these critiques, I’m learning (or re-learning) that not everyone agrees on how to do a good critique.

I did one critique this last week where the author pointed out after the fact that my use of LOL and “unintentionally funny” could be seen as derogatory to the author and / or their work.

While my comments were not meant that way, it did make me reconsider how I present my edits and critiques.

I do use LOL pretty rampantly in texts and emails and yes, in critiques. Typically I am using it to leaven the critique – to lighten the mood.

So when someone, for instance, writes:

“The orange sky snorfed and spiffled”

and I say “I didn’t get this LOL”

I can see how that could be taken as “what a stupid line” instead of as the intended “I didn’t get this – but hey, you know, it might just be me – let’s laugh together about this.”

Maybe I’ll use smileys in the future or go for a more serious tone. I haven’t decided yet.

What are some of the pitfalls you have encountered in critiquing? And do you have any tips to give (or get) the best possible response to a WIP?

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5 thoughts on “Critiquing – Finding the Balance”

  1. I suppose it could be considered as demeaning if LOL is used for something the beta didn’t understand. I do use LOL if I find something funny (that was meant to be funny), but I don’t use it otherwise. It depends on people how they react to critique, if they don’t care at all or if they’re (like most of us) sensitive about their work. I think it also depends on how well you know the person who’s critiquing you. If it’s people I know well and understand their humor then I’d know they mean anything bad by the LOL (like your friends can call you an idiot and you know they mean it in fondness or that they’re joking, but if a stranger did it you’d raise an eyebrow).

  2. Honestly, I don’t sugar-coat my comments. It’s too important that they be very clear and explain exactly why I’m making the comment in the first place, so a blunt “this doesn’t mean what you seem to think it means” is going to be more helpful than holding the author’s hand through a correction.

    However, I do make it a point to comment frequently on the things I like throughout the MS. Excellent foreshadowing! or The wording of this made me stop and re-read over and over, it was so beautiful.

    I think this takes away the sting of the corrections, and it also lets the author know what’s working well, what will likely resonate with readers and what might blow right by them. It also does away with the necessity of leavening the more critical commentary with the “pat on the head” of a LOL.

  3. Oh, man, if someone found that upsetting, they should never get a beta reading from me. I admit I’m brutal. Though I try to balance it by praising what I like. Still, I’m not one for being gentle in a beta read. If something struck me as not making sense, I’m likely to say, “This made no sense. Fix it.” Heh.

  4. all my authors love that I use humor in my comments. If they have a favorite word that keeps showing up I will say “you like this word…a lot!” and then “uh oh, here it is again “

  5. I’ve been betaing for a long time now – about 15 years – and have leaned that it’s essential to have some kind of relationship with the author before you start the critiquing process. This is a bit less necessary with someone who is used to getting critique, but still beneficial. For a start you need to know what kind of personality they have – this enables you to gauge whether they mean it when they say “I want you to be absolutely honest”. I tend to be quite terse in my comments because a proper beta takes a LOT of time that I could be spending sleeping or reading or doing my own writing and writers do tend to want their MSs back asap. I only have one author who gives me the MS with a 2 month deadline. He says he wants to BEST job not the quickest. Another regularly gives me a 50k word MS on a Tuesday that has to be subbed to his editor by Friday. For one I look at everything, for the other I just read for consistency of character and story arc, relying on the Press to pick up word repetition, spelling, punctuation etc. Luckily I know what both of those gentlemen expect of me. With comparative strangers it’s less easy to guess and so easy to get wrong.
    Some authors want a beta to be a cheerleader, to build up their confidence and assure them that their work is good enough to submit to a publisher. Some want a hard edit to iron out problems they may have missed before submission. Still others want to self pub and need the hardest edit of all because there is no safety net. One can afford to ignore minor grammatical/punctuation errors and word choice problems if the story is going to go through professional content, copy and proof edits. But for self pubbers I think it would be unkind to say “Oh that’s brilliant” if you’re reading bits that are confusing or have dropped into what you perceive to be a plot hole.
    Guessing wrong is mortifying, so I no longer volunteer beta services unless I’m SURE I’m a good match for the author.


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