First, a disclaimer: This post is NOT intended to slam anyone. Every beta reader or critique partner who has read portions of my story has taken the time out of their busy lives to help with this endeavor for no personal gain, and that in itself is worthy of appreciation. Also, every single person has provided at least SOME helpful feedback, even if it was just a few line edits, rewording suggestions, or just providing food for thought regarding my story/series. Every little bit counts!
Critique partnering is a tricky thing. It’s difficult to be the one critiquing, hoping that the advice and observations you make are actually helpful, and it’s difficult to be on the receiving end, as who likes to see their darling MS’s flaws pointed out? But, it’s a necessary part of getting one’s work ready for querying.
My MS has undergone two different rounds of critiquing, and both times I ended up with mixed results. The first time, as we were filing out of a meeting at work, I literally just said “Hey, so I’m writing this story. Who wants to read it and give me feedback?” We’re all librarians, so no surprise that several of my coworkers eagerly volunteered. The next day, one even volunteered her roommate, who had some kind of writing/editing job and expressed interest in helping. So, I did some research, typed up a list of questions I wanted them to respond to, and sent off the 60ish page chunk to each person.
Two people never responded. One of them was the roommate, and the other was someone who may be THE busiest librarian here, who I think honestly just forgot/did not have the time while prepping for the fall semester. The third person admitted off the bat that they preferred SciFi/Fantasy to Realist Fic, but overall enjoyed it and raised some really good questions about things I’d never even considered (ie. one of my MCs is named Whisky and it never dawned on me that her gender wasn’t evident from the beginning, seeing as she’s been a character in my head since 3rd grade). The fourth person. . .they read the whole thing and took the time to make line by line comments and recommendations, which, again, is always appreciated. But they also recommended I ditch all of the ballet related scenes, claiming that they weren’t very interesting (also noting that they’re just not interested in ballet period) and they wanted me to get on with the rest of the story.
So, that was round one.
Round two of critiquing was more recent, and done via people I met on Twitter with the Pitch Wars hashtag. One day was designated as a day to find CPs, so I threw my hat into the ring, simply stating that my story would be good for people interested in mental illness and the performing arts. Got a few responses and soon traded pages with a handful of other people.
My results were as mixed as before. There were a couple of raves, but also a couple of mixed reactions based more on people having problems with the style of my story more than the writing itself. One person even admitted they didn’t read the whole thing, as they didn’t feel they could give me adequate feedback due to this.
I’ll admit I felt torn, frustrated at not getting the type of useful feedback I was hoping for from everyone, especially since I’d like to think I’m very diligent and thorough with the critiques I provide.
But ultimately, whose fault was this?
In both cases, I failed to be clear with my CPs about what my story is. It’s not a typical novel, it teeters between YA and A, and it’s not genre fiction. It’s meant to be a “slow burn” as part of a much larger series. I need reviewers who are down with that– who want to be with my characters for the long haul, who want to see how their lives will unfold over time. If you don’t think real life can be interesting, this probably isn’t the series for you. It’s VERY important for my readers to be interested in the performing arts (at least a little) because, obviously, that’s a huge part of my series. Skipping those scenes doesn’t work – they are there for a reason, I promise.
So while I HAVE found some great CPs (and I am so thankful!), next time I’m on the lookout, I’m going to make sure these things are known from the beginning. I want the process to be rewarding for both of us, and my previous vagueness didn’t boost the likelihood of that happening– so no more!
What has your experience with beta readers/CPs been like? Any suggestions for establishing useful relationships? Wanna be MY next CP? Comments always welcome!