1. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    Critiquing an entire book

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by DefinitelyMaybe, Nov 12, 2015.

    How do people go about critiquing an entire book?

    I critiqued nearly 10,000 words yesterday all in. It was a LOT to get through. But a novel might be 120,000 words. (That's an actual number for which someone was requesting a critique.) How on earth to people get other people to make that commitment?
     
  2. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    If it's an entire novel you'll be beta reading, not critiquing. I think only a paid editor would agree to critique a whole book. And beta reading is very different for several reasons.

    With a critique you're looking to pick holes in it wherever possible. With beta reader you're acting like a normal reader - i.e. somebody who's paid money for a book and wants to enjoy it. So you'll only notice the bits that jump out to you as wrong, rather than actively looking for them.

    You also tend to give general feedback like "you describe things as little/small too often" (thanks, beta reader - you know who you are :D) and then leaving the author to find and fix them, rather than highlighting each and every one like you would do if critiquing 1,000 words.

    A book sent to you for beta reading should be relatively free of SPAG issues, because it's supposed to be a fully edited and polished version. I wouldn't agree to beta read unless it was, because I'd be jerked out of the tale with every SPAG error and I wouldn't be able to do my job as a beta.

    Lastly, you would usually swap completed novels and beta read each other's rather than one person giving up their time selflessly to beta for another. I have been incredibly touched that people are doing it selflessly for me, but it's not usual. And of course, they can call in the favour at any time!

    Critiquing 1,000 words can easily take longer than beta reading 10k.
     
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  3. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm afraid I can't separate the two, because if I bought a book that was full of plot holes and inconsistencies, I'd constantly be yelling at the writer about it. It helps to be able to go into Reviewer mode on the good ol' word processing program, hit Insert Comment on the menu, and-- ahem!-- ask about it. I'm currently beta reading/critiquing an 83,000 word novel and it's taking me forever, just for that reason.

    Now, if it were a book I'd purchased or checked out from the library, I'd likely just put it down or take it back without finishing it. But since I made the commitment . . . and since the author in question is beta-reading mine . . . I march on.

    I might not have the nerve to send them my annotations, however . . . I'm not always good at pulling my punches. Heck, I'm lousy at it. So lousy, I don't think I'll do anymore beta reading until I learn to be Positive and Nice.
     
  4. ToDandy
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    ToDandy Contributing Member

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    I've done multiple full novel beta reads/ critiques for people and usually I don't change a thing between what I'd do for one chapter and what I'd do for a full novel.

    Any concerns/questions/issues I spot I'll write into the text in red. Then I do a summary and overall impressions at the end of the chapter.

    Depending on how good the novel is and how polished the book is determines how long the critique will take- more so than the word count. For example, one year I did a critique of a 200,000 word book and a 90,000 word book and the shorter novel took me WAY longer to finish because there were more things in it that I had issues with.
     
  5. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I only take on full novels with the understanding that I'll quit beta-ing at the same point that I'd quit reading if it were a "real" book. So if there are frequent typos, I note all the ones I get to, and then, when they're too much, I write something like "stopped reading here" and give what feedback I can on the larger issues.

    If the MS is reasonably clean, I still might stop reading, but I'd explain why - I liked X, Y, and Z, but I really couldn't get into A or B, and C was driving me crazy. I try to keep it all focused on me, my reactions rather than the MS itself.

    If I make it through the whole book, I'll have been mostly just reading, with only occasional side comments. Then I'd write a page or two of overall thoughts at the end.

    I thin the most important part is to clearly communicate expectations beforehand. It's also valuable to build crit-partner relationships where you find someone with a complimentary style and goals, and then work with them over and over again.
     
  6. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Correct me if this is wrong...

    If a beta reader finds they're writing a ton of notes, isn't that an indicator that the story needs at least one more draft? And maybe a polish?

    My understanding is that beta readers are supposed to get a draft that needs maybe a few minor tweaks, a small cut here, a bit of clarification there, that kind of thing.

    Also, if the beta reader falls into the page, that's a good sign. If that ain't happening, the story's not ready.
     
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  7. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I always ask for a sample chapter or two - it's usually enough to tell me if I want to try the entire novel. If I'm struggling to make it through 10 pages, there's no way I'm gonna slog through 100k words lol. And I'd stop reading as and when it stops interesting me. I tell my beta readers the same thing - stop if they want, only tell me where and why :)

    But yeah, never commit without seeing a sample first :p
     
  8. ToDandy
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    ToDandy Contributing Member

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    A beta read can be in any stage. In fact some writers even use the term BETA and ALPHA. Beta referring to a draft that is still very much a work in progress. Alpha being a version that is very near to completion.

    The bottom line is that a Beta is used by writers to try and find problems within the story either grammatically or narratively. I'm a person that likes to get a draft into someones hand as early as possible. I usually already have a long list of changes of my own that I want to make, but getting a second set of eyes can really help you see what works and what doesn't and can save a lot of pain in the revision process.

    Writing groups can be a huge help in this and getting critique as you complete chapters.
     
  9. LauraF
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    LauraF New Member

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    How do you become a beta reader anyway?
     
  10. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's a beta-readers group on Goodreads you can join. And if you search for your genre on Facebook, you can join a fanpage there and tell the other authors you're willing to beta read for them. Some members of this forum beta read for each other, too.

    People always like to hear from willing and committed beta readers.
     
  11. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    This. ^

    You want the book you are beta-reading to be ready for a beta reader. If it isn't then it needs critique and that's back to a chapter or so at a time.

    But not all writers with their semi-finished books recognize they aren't ready for prime time.
     
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  12. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    For relatively inexperienced writers, I've only successfully done this as the story was being written--I get chapter 1, send back my suggestions, and they take those suggestions into account for chapter 2. I tried it once for an author who started out inexperienced and had written 60,000 words, but I burned out making the same basic grammar suggestions over and over. I did manage a full critique of a 20,000-word story by an experienced writer, but all I really had to do was fix his English. (It wasn't his first language, so he did things like substitute "chins" for "cheeks.")
     
  13. Mike Kobernus
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    Mike Kobernus Contributing Member

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    Unless it is a book that I am thinking of publishing, I would expect to be paid to edit someone's novel. A critique is not really the same thing as editing, but when I get started I find it hard not to correct everything, or comment on things that I find problematic.

    If you want to edit the whole thing, then get some kind of remuneration or promise of work in kind. However, you can give a general critique which focuses more on style, plot and structure, avoiding the minutiae of an edit. This is more of a beta reading kinda thing.
     
  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Totally agree with you, especially your last part about communicating expectations beforehand. Tell them what your reading method is, what you will and won't do, and make sure the writer understands your limits.

    One of my limits is I will no longer agree to beta-read an unfinished story. There is no point. I can read a chapter or so, to give a comment on style if that's what the writer wants. But I can't know how effective the writing is until I know where it's going. I don't want to end up co-writing anybody's story, either.

    I hate to say it, but I also won't beta-read for somebody whose grasp of SPAG issues is poor. Instead of a critique from me, they need to perhaps take a refresher course in spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, etc. These are the basic tools of writing, and there is no point in writing novels until you are reasonably capable of writing coherently. Of course everybody makes the occasional mistake, but a MS that's bristling with errors is not ready for anybody to read. Writing is a lot more than just thinking up a story, I'm afraid. You have to be able to handle written language .

    I do like to read through the whole MS before beginning my feedback. I think if you start giving nit-picky feedback from page one, you're not fully immersed in the story and are looking for flaws that might actually turn out not to exist. One of the major mistakes you can make with that method of beta-reading is asking questions like 'why is he doing that?' If you are confused and can't follow what's going on, that's one thing. If you are merely curious, you need to allow the story to unfold before passing judgement.

    When I do give feedback, I usually do it chapter by chapter. In other words, I re-read each chapter and write my reaction to it at the end. I might also throw a few questions into the chapter text as well. I find using text colours is handy for that. Of course I already know where the story is going, because I've finished reading it, so I can say where I thought the focus might be sharpened, or where things seem to go off track a bit. Stuff like that.
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2016
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  15. Song
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    Song Active Member

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    Right now I have two people reading a Beta copy (I call it a concept check edition). I don't expect them to find my mistakes, as others have said I am looking for feedback on the story and characters. If there are too many grammar errors I want them to just say 'too many errors right now'. Here are the things that I have got back from my Beta so far:-

    1. Why does character X do Y?
    2. I really like that B does C?
    3. Character A is like this but I feel like you want him/her to be like B.
    4. Chapter X is too fast, Chapter Z is too slow

    Then you as the Author need to decide if the things you get back are as intended or if you are off the mark. I found the process really usefull, because I got back both postive feedback that let me know overal my story was a good one that kept people engaged. I also found places I needed to tweak to make sure the reader was getting the right idea about the story and characters.

    Hope this helps.
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    If it needs any significant work in the actual writing, I wouldn't go past the first several pages--issues and errors are likely to be repeated through the whole work, and you're not a paid editor.

    If it's clean enough to allow you to focus on plot, characters, etc., then it seems unnecessary to critique it in any editor sort of way.
     

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