Monday, February 12, 2007

Mir Agrees with Miss Snark on "Beta Reads"

Here's Miss Snark's recent response to a person thinking of giving friends copies of a manuscript for feedback, emphasis mine:

Friends are useful for many things but beta reads isn't one of them. For starters, your friends are hardly ever going to say "you suck" and if they do, you need new friends.

You need what is called a critique group, or a writing group, or writing colleagues. These are people who have no vested interest in your Christmas card list, being cold shouldered by your mom, or uninvited to your wedding.

You also don't want to just say "what do you think of this". You need a list of questions starting with "when did you first lose interest in the plot" and "which character made you want to hurl".

Not that they will of course, but what you're looking for here are PROBLEMS not praise. Stuff the "you're the best thing since Jack Kerouac" crapraise, and focus on what's wrong. If they say nothing, they didn't read it.

I really, really, really start growling when I hear the oft-repeated advice that, "Say something positive. Give the criticism. Finish with something positive. You need to sandwich criticism between praise. "

No, I don't.

Since a comprehensive crit of ,say, 25 pages is going to take me 2-3 hours as is, longer, even, if I have to sit and think a lot about what has gone wrong at a fundamental level and how I might suggest it be fixed, I'd rather not have to sit and strain my brain to find a suitable bit of praise on some inanity, just so I fit the classic adage.

Earn your praise. Do something really good that makes me go, "Ooh," and I'll praise you. But I won't do it just to fit some pre-packaged idea of how to crit.

I assume we're grown-ups and we don't need ego massages all the time. If you give me something to crit, I read it and, generally, the only thing that STOPS ME is when I come across a problem. I may stop for something utterly brilliant--and note that with exclamation points and gushing sidenotes--but, mostly, I don't run into a whole lot of brilliant. And that includes my own work, you know. I do run into a fair amount of okay and a liberal feast of quite, quite bad.

What I will point out is what I think is not working, what I find is awkward or cluttered or imprecise or ungrammatical or just plain dorky.

It won't help you if I put smiley faces all over the page. It will help you if I can nail down why your character is unsympathetic or your structure is keeping your tale from rising to the skies.

Right now, for example, there are two works under consideration at DKA that I think could be superior. They have what is often lacking in the Christian SF I've seen--a bit of magic. A sort of otherworldliness that is evoked by the prose and metaphors. A dash of wonder. A certain spice. The prose is good in both. Each has a different problem that keeps the story from its potential. It's not always easy to fix things, but, editorially speaking, I'm highly motivated to work on it, because the stories have LIFE in them. And I can't ignore something that has breath and blood, even if it's not up and walking or dancing yet.

Something in those stories made me go "wow," in spots, if not in whole. That's what every reader looks for--and editors are readers.

My job is to find what is wrong, to note the symptoms and nail the diagnosis so that the right remedy can be sought and applied. And if the writer can apply the herbs and salves, that story could emerge wowsome.

My job is not to jot down happy notes to the author, although if they make me happy, then I will scribble phrases that sum up my ecstasy.

Look, all the praise in the world won't help me a tittle in figuring out how to make my stories better. They will make me feel GOOD, sure, I'm human and needy, but they won't make me a good writer. And I want to be a good writer. I know that the person who is my real writing pal is the person with a keen eye who can--and will--say to me, "See this here? That's crap. And here's why it's crap, and this is how you can decrap it." That person is doing a good literary deed. They are a Crit Samaritan, even if they snarl and snap and forget smiley faces and gold stars.

So, yeah, color me in Miss Snarkian tones today.

Oops, did I just growl?

Note Proving The Mir is a Procrastinating Twit: I forgot, yet again, that I owe Tina Kulesa a crit. Really, she should shoot me. In any case, I owe three folks crits this week, in addition to whatever I do at DKA and writing up a post for Spec Faith Friday, and getting on my own fiction--which I've neglected HORRIBLY and SHAMEFULLY this month. I need to get on it. As well as figure out what I wanna do for Valentine's Day (or so hubby keeps asking me) and my birthday (which is next week). So, if my blogging is light this week, you'll know why. I will have officially gone catatonic with stress.

Note Proving The Mir Is Paranoid about Beta Blogger: Look, I've been getting a lot of hits. Like 70 a day. So where are my comments? Are you all having a hard time enetering comments, as I know one or two folks mentioned late last year? Are you all so dazzled by me that you are speechless? Or...Do you not like me anymore? Sniff. Well, if the comments ever stymie you, just email me at Mirathon over at AOL dot you-know-what.


Anonymous said...

I still love you Mir. you are such a prodigous blogger that by the time I digest one, two more are up. Plus, yes, it's a pain in the ass entering comments in this way. Sometimes it takes enetering the letters two... three times. Also, that's why I don't support commenting on my blog. I like to pretend people would if they could. (But I only take like 60 unique hits a week).

Funny what Ms. Snark said. My poor family. I think that's why I like the short story now. I actually dumped my massage therapist of ten years because she wouldn't read my ms. Now I'm embarrassed to go back. Novel writing is a tragic exercise.

Is her crapometer thing still percolating?


Mirtika said...

I thought she finished with the crapometer thing. That was a huge undertaking. I'm guessing she needs an extended rest from metering crap. ; )

BTW, any luck placing the Islamic story?


Selena said...

Hi, Mir,

I visit everyday. Sometimes more than once.

But I rarely comment because mostly you leave me speechless. ;)

Plus I don't usually have anything to add to what you said.

Just wanted you to know you were being read even if the comments numbers were low.

Tina said...

I visit via a feed reader so I don't really get the option to leave comments unless I click over to your blog. I still luv ya! I'm just terrible at comments. Funny, I was reading this post and thinking, man, I can't wait until she crits my thing! And look, there I am in your blog entry.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mir,

Can you tell me where the results to the crapometer are? I must be following the wron link.

I snail-mailed that "Islamic" thing to Asimov's. No reply yet. Thanks for asking.

SolShine7 said...

Oh, how I like some good snarky comments every now and then. They make me all warm and fuzzy inside. Tina gets two chocolate covered thumbs up for saying that. And Mir, you get one for sharing it with us.

Mirtika said...

Chris, she posted them on the blog for weeks while she did them. You have to go scroll back. She put the number of the hook she critted and no names. So, you have to know your number.


Anonymous said...

I had to google to find mine. Boy did I get spanked. But I learned something about subbing to an agent, if I ever do try to go that route. Very informative. Of course I've posted belated thanks for her (and 18 others') feedback.

Thanks for pointing that crap thing out mir. If she ever does another I'll be a LOT more prepared.