This is the second blog post in a row I’ve written on etiquette and the irony hasn’t escaped me: yes, I am a potty-mouthed, socially inappropriate reprobate who struggles not to tell parents their babies look like elderly wizards.
It’s also ironic that I’m advising people how to be graceful. I’m roughly the size and shape of a submarine and I would sulk for three years if I ever lost at Monopoly. Not that it’ll ever happen.
But I do know about critiquery (totally a real word). And, on that note, critiquery artists are called critiquers (also a real word) because critics sounds negative.
I critique on several writers’ sites as well as privately, and I’ve completed around 50 beta reads of novels. I’ve also had close to 50 betas for my novels and short stories. I know what it’s like on both sides.
There’s a right way to do critiquery, and a wrong way to do critiquery. In fact, quite a lot of wrong ways. I know, because I did most of them when I was a n00b.
You never, ever, want to be that poor, abused cake.
Read on to be the beautifully arranged peppers.
The Author’s Quick Guide to Critique / Feedback
Inappropriate Responses to Critique / Feedback
- Silence. “Thank you” is not optional.
- “lol thanks” Not all thanks are made equal. And yes, this happened.
- A lengthy rebuttal of each of the critiquer’s comments.
- “Yeah, well, your FACE needs more editing.”
- Listing all the pieces of feedback you’re going to be ignoring. Optional extra: explaining why you don’t think they’re worthy. To clarify, it’s absolutely fine to discard feedback. Not fine to tell the person who’s just spent several hours trying to help you–unless, of course, they asked for feedback on their feedback. Don’t ask for feedback on your feedback of their feedback. That’s just silly.
- “I will find you and I will kill you.”
- Trolling the critiquer’s website.
- “What gives you the right to judge my work? Are you J.K. Rowling?”
- Quitting writing.
- “Thank you for your suggestions. Unfortunately, my colleagues at NASA do not agree that the moon should be renamed Mr Cheesy Shiny Face.”
I hope I don’t have to explain why any of those are wrong. Especially the last one. NASA idiots.
Appropriate Responses to Critique / Feedback
- “Thank you.” Never optional. Ever. Even if the feedback is amateur, plain wrong, not useful, or so bizarre you’re actually scared [I’ve been there, friend]. Say thank you, and mean it.
- Request for clarification on feedback. The critiquer might not respond–some people think once feedback has been sent the exchange should be over–but it’s not wrong to ask. Personally, I love a back-and-forth to discuss things.
- Asking the critiquer’s opinion on something they didn’t mention. Same caveat as #2.
- “I will name my firstborn elderly wizard after you.” Optional extra: specify the sex. Personally, I think it shows more gratitude if you’re willing to take a chance.
The Critiquer’s Quick Guide to Critique / Feedback
Inappropriate Critique / Feedback
- Silence. If you agree to critique something, it’s not okay to just never respond. It is okay to back out–life happens, we have other priorities–but tell the author. To my shame, I took this cowardly way out of a few reads when I was greener and didn’t know how to say, “This isn’t ready for beta reading,” or “This isn’t my thing and I don’t think I can help you.” To those authors, I’m very sorry.
- “Dude, do you even dictionary?”
- Rewriting another author’s work. You might rewrite a short passage occasionally to illustrate a point you’re making (e.g. “This might be a better way to punctuate this exchange to illustrate the interruptions.”) but avoid rewriting for style.
- “This is bad and you should feel bad.”
- Printing off the manuscript to use as toilet paper.
- “I think this would be better if you rewrote it in an entirely different genre with a new plot and characters.”
- Anything suggesting they should give up writing, will never be a good writer, or can’t improve. Ridiculous AND untrue.
- “I will find you and I will kill you.”
- Desperately nitpicking to find flaws. If you think the piece was perfect, say it. Doesn’t happen often, but when it does there’s no shame in it.
- “There were only nine constructive things I have to say, but I like lists of 10 so I’ve made something up.”
Appropriate Critique / Feedback
- Tell the author what you loved. Positive feedback is just as useful as negative (despite what some think) and you never know how badly they need that encouragement.
- “Do you think it could work if…” rather than “You need to do…”
- Tell the author what you didn’t love. You aren’t helping if you don’t highlight the elements that could be improved, or could’ve made you love the manuscript more.
- “My cat is really looking forward to sitting on your book when it’s published.”
Who wants to share their critiquery stories?