By Iola Goulton @iolagoulton
It's an awkward situation. An author friend has asked you to beta-read their book, and you agreed. But it needs work. What do you say?
Today I'm going to discuss four possible approaches to giving feedback:
- Be complimentary
- Be clueless
- Be complimentary and critical
- Be critical
Be ComplimentaryPersonally, I don't think being complimentary is a great idea. The point of a beta read is to find what needs improving in the story—and there is always something that can be improved. It doesn't serve the writer or future paying readers if the beta reader only gives positive feedback ... even if that's what the writer wants. A writer has to be teachable, and someone who only wants compliments but no criticism isn't teachable. And you're not helping the writer grow if you only share the good news.
Be CluelessI had one situation where an author approached me to review their book (I also have a book review blog. It helps me stay up-to-date with trends in Christian fiction). The story showed potential, but the editing was beyond awful—to the point where the novel was actually difficult to read.
I went back to the author and said they appeared to have sent me the unedited version, not the final version. I'd be happy to review the final version, but this version had too many errors for me to read and review fairly, because I'd have to mention the errors in my review.
I'm a freelance editor. It's going to reflect badly on my editing skills if I give a stellar review to a book with obvious plot, character, or editing issues. Anyway, I never heard back from the author. I can only guess this was the final published version (edited or not). I suppose I could have offered the author my editing services, but I don't want to give the impression I review books as a way of soliciting editing work. Because I don't (but if you want to hire me, you can contact me via my website).
Be Complimentary and CriticalOne piece of advice I often see is to use the compliment sandwich when giving feedback:
- Say something nice
- Give feedback on something that can be improved
- Say something else nice
I've found two potential issues with this approach:
- The person may hear (or read) the compliment at the beginning of the feedback and the compliment at the end, but discard the critical feedback in the middle of the sandwich. That pretty much misses the point of giving feedback.
- The compliment can come across as patronising: if I say you know how to write a grammatically correct sentence, you're likely to think that's a compliment for the sake of giving a compliment. After all, can't everyone write a grammatically correct sentence? Actually, no. At least, not based on some of the books I've read.
As a result, I don't use the compliment sandwich.
As a freelance editor, clients are paying me to help them improve their manuscripts. It's not good use of my time or my clients' money for me to spend twice as much time telling them what they're doing well as I spend telling them what needs to improve.
But that's not to say you shouldn't use the compliment sandwich in beta reading. It might be the best approach for you, depending on your relationship with the author in question.
Be CriticalYou might think this is easy for me to say. After all, I'm an editor. People are paying me to make their writing better—to criticise. And I'm a reviewer. Publishers offer me ebooks so I can provide an honest review.
But it's not that easy.
I'm told some freelance editors hesitate to criticise, hesitate to "bite the hand that feeds them." (I missed that memo.)
I also know from experience that when some authors say "honest review", they mean "complimentary review". I've seen authors ask for honest reviews, checked out the Kindle sample, and realised the last thing they want is an honest review*. Sure, they need one. But they don't want one.
*For example, the "authors" who can't write a grammatically correct sentence.
But this is where we get to the nuts and bolts of the question: how do you give critical feedback on a beta read?
We'll discuss that next week. Meanwhile, what questions or comments do you have about giving feedback to other writers—especially critical feedback?
About Iola GoultonIola Goulton is a New Zealand book reviewer, freelance editor, and author, writing contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist. She is a member of the Sisterhood of Unpronounceable Names (Iola is pronounced yo-la, not eye-ola and definitely not Lola).
Iola holds a degree in marketing, has a background in human resource consulting, works as a freelance editor, and has recently introduced an Website | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest | Twitter