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Chuck Hossenlopp

Can good Beta Readers be found online?

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I've had a lot of hassle getting people in my real life to function as beta readers. If I can get anyone to read it at all, very few finish it. And the comments I get are; "I liked it." "It was good." "It's fine." "There was one part that needed a comma, but I don't remember where."

Frustrating.

I found critters.org on the SFWA site. It looks like exactly what I need. So why am I so terrified? Because I'm about to hand my full manuscript (several years of work) to faceless strangers on the internet.

No biggie.

Here's what I want to know from all of you guys:

Have any of you tried Critters.org?

Are there hidden pitfalls that I should be aware of?

Or am I just being paranoid? 

 

Reader feedback is the only thing stopping me from finishing off the editing phase and shopping it around to Agents. 

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Hey Chuck,

 

Did you know there's a vibrant and thriving reading group on this very forum which has 'critters' of various ages and levels of experience, some of whom would no doubt be very pleased to read your work?

 

Head over to Reading Excuses and see what you think of the level of comment. I for one would be pleased to read your novel.

 

There's an Alpha Readers thread on Reading Excuses (don't be put off by the 'alpha' bit) which directs you to a Dropbox account, if you're that way inclined.

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That should have been obvious now that I think of it. I assumed that it was just a book club, but that's not the kind of community this place would foster. These are hungry writers like me. I'm going to skulk around the periphery and dip my toe in the water before I jump in. Look for my post in that Forum if you still want to workshop me

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...just a book club...

 

<splutter> ...a book club?!             :)

 

For sure - I'm not fast, but I'm dedicated. Even if you want to PM me and I'll send you my email. We critique up to 5 submissions of up to 5,000 words each week, so it's all shorts and chapters. Personally, I would enjoy having the long form to critique.

 

We do handle novels. I've just finished submitting 62,000 words over ~15 weeks and Mandamon recently completed submitting 23 chapters starting in October last year. It's possible but personally I'd rather have the whole thing sitting in front of me.

 

As you like. Ready and willing.

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I think some of the problem with readers is just not knowing how to be a good reader for critique. Brandon talks about this some in 'Writing Excuses,' and in his online lecture series with Brigham Young. It's within the first three lectures.

 

One of the best books I ever read on this topic is Orson Scott Card's book 'How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy.' There's a chapter dedicated on good readers for manuscripts and what to request from them. Sometimes just telling people what kind of feedback you're looking for really helps. 

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Very true. MRK's short treatise on critiquing centres on readers telling how a story makes them feel, but not going as far as trying to suggest why. I'm not very good at it - yet.

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Yeah, I'm getting better. I had been part of a local writer's group for a little bit, and I started to get the hang of it more. I remember at one point making a statement about how I just really had a difficult time with liking the heroine of this guy's story, and his response was, "That's good! She's not supposed to be easily likable!" Things like that really helped me to see the value in focusing responses on your reactions vs. how you think they should change the story. The only time I'll make a statement somewhat along the lines of 'this needs to be changed' is when I find a passage extremely confusing. I'll point out what I find confusing, and then leave it at that. 

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Yeah - my problem is I'm an engineer and we're all about fixing things, of course, and 'nuts and bolts'! I usually have an overpowering need to line edit. I think some new writers can benefit from that (at the risk of blowing my own trumpet, I have over 40 years experience of technical (professional) and SFF (amateur) writing), but it definitely blunts my focus on how I feel about the piece. It's something I need to learn to curb.

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There were two grammar Nazis in my writing group. Their editing was pretty epic. I never realized how esoteric a topic grammar can become. They got into some insane debates over areas of grammar that I had no idea could be such a hot topic. I did invest in the Chicago Manual of Style because of them, but have yet to really crack it open.

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Yeah, the first part of the cure is recognising you have a problem - which I have! I am getting better - not having enough time helps with that!

 

I think it's reasonable to comment on something grammatical that throws you (as a reader) out of the story. It's much easier to do online, I reckon. I can't imagine line editing in an actual living, breathing writing group. I can see how that would be..., uncomfortable.

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Yeah, the first part of the cure is recognising you have a problem - which I have! I am getting better - not having enough time helps with that!

 

I think it's reasonable to comment on something grammatical that throws you (as a reader) out of the story. It's much easier to do online, I reckon. I can't imagine line editing in an actual living, breathing writing group. I can see how that would be..., uncomfortable.

 

I've been part of a couple of in-person writing groups. Grammar and spelling would be important, as you say, because trying to figure out what a sentence is saying throws you completely out of a story, but we didn't spend much time talking about them.

 

Generally I would print out a copy of the story for review purposes and go over it two or thee times. I would spend time in-group talking about the pacing, the characters, the dialogue, continuity errors, the things that were unclear. The last thing I'd do was hand over the paper with all the corrected spelling and grammar mistakes back to the writer. I never felt those needed talking about, but it's important to point them out so that they don't survive to the next draft. The only exception was when a misspelled word had multiple alternatives that completely changed the tone of a sentence and I wanted to know which direction the author was going.

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That sounds like a very balance approach. I suppose I'm trying to do that in my critiques here by putting details below the line in my posts - which I guess few other people read but the submitter (I hope!). I'm more concerned that I'm missing wider things by stopping for detail. I should really read things twice, as you suggest, even for online critiquing. I like your regime.

 

One of the guys on my online group reckoned that a couple of use were reading as writers, not as readers. I think that's probably inevitable. It's a reasonable point, but I'm not sure how you toggle reader/writer, or really if we should at all. I'm sure almost everyone has another source of reader reviews - I think both perspectives are valuable, indeed essential.

Edited by Robinski
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That sounds like a very balance approach. I suppose I'm trying to do that in my critiques here by putting details below the line in my posts - which I guess few other people read but the submitter (I hope!). I'm more concerned that I'm missing wider things by stopping for detail. I should really read things twice, as you suggest, even for online critiquing. I like your regime.

 

One of the guys on my online group reckoned that a couple of use were reading as writers, not as readers. I think that's probably inevitable. It's a reasonable point, but I'm not sure how you toggle reader/writer, or really if we should at all. I'm sure almost everyone has another source of reader reviews - I think both perspectives are valuable, indeed essential.

 

I definitely do less line critiquing here than I do in a face-to-face group, especially since some pieces seem to need a lot of work. How many passes I do depends on how much time I have, and often on how much time I feel the writer put into the work. If it reads like a lazy first draft, I'll give a lazy first draft critique. If I feel they put effort into it, I'll put more effort into my feedback.

 

I think once you become "writer" it's hard to toggle, the same way I doubt anyone well-versed on movie criticism can have an easy time watching a movie just for fun without noticing the scaffolding underneath. If someone asks for something specific when I'm critiquing ("I just want to know if the tech seems plausible or if it reads like I'm puling it out of my butt"), then I find I'm more able to not look for other errors, but it's rare that you get such a direct request from a writer.

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If it reads like a lazy first draft, I'll give a lazy first draft critique.

 

lol

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