I’ve had the privilege of making some amazing friends in the writing community. Sarah was one of the first I connected with and has been an amazing critique partner throughout my journey ever since. She is wonderful at giving supportive, respectful, and constructive feedback, so she was the perfect person to write this particular guest post along with another talented writer, Taylor.
Sarah and Taylor are writers and critique partners for each other. They founded The Beta House Collective in 2021 through a mutual passion of providing solutions-orientated feedback in a safe and supportive environment for their fellow writers. They’re sharing their best advice for giving and receiving feedback as writers that is sure to help you with this tricky but crucial part of the writing process. — Lindsay
Other posts you may like:
- 4 Truths to Help You Handle Criticism with Grace
- Guest Post: A Complete Guide to Critique Partners for Writers
- One Thing Every Artist Must Do to Overcome Self-Doubt
How to Give and Receive Feedback
Giving and receiving feedback is an integral part of any writer’s journey, and learning to do both effectively is essential. Being open to new perspectives and identifying which feedback is helpful is an important step to realising the vision for your story and making it the best it can be. Conversely, knowing how to give feedback is just as valuable when building relationships in the community and supporting other writers in a similar position. Whether you are giving or receiving feedback, understanding both sides’ positions and vulnerabilities is a great step towards the mindset necessary to do either.
Once you have left the solitary cave of your early drafts, the outside world beckons! Cue–self-doubt and the intense vulnerability of creative pursuits. Here are our tips to make this essential step so much easier:
Be in the correct headspace
Our stories are extensions of ourselves. Letting others into our world is scary–especially if the feedback isn’t what you were expecting (and it might not be!). Our mood greatly impacts how messages are received, so give yourself an advantage by making sure you’re in the right headspace to be vulnerable with another person. If you don’t have the capacity to have a conversation like that–don’t.
Be open-minded to suggestions and changes
Most of the time a beta reader’s intention is to strengthen your story. Every person has varied life experiences, perspectives, and biases, so plan to approach any feedback they offer with an open mind. You may receive ideas that are incredibly different to anything you’ve ever expected–but that’s half the blessing of outside perspectives! While it may be tempting initially, don’t immediately dismiss their suggestions or opinions. Give yourself time to digest them before deciding how to move forward.
Understand it’s your decision and choice in what to change/keep
While you should be open-minded, this is your story. Your vision. A beta reader’s vision may not align with your own, which is completely okay! You are two different people with different tastes. At the end of the day, the deciding factors are what you choose to do. If you don’t think something will work for your story, don’t use it. If a suggestion deviates from who you envisioned your characters to be, don’t use it. You are under no obligation to use every bit of feedback you receive.
Do not argue about feedback–but seek clarity if you need it
If someone doesn’t like something about your story, it can be tempting to try and change their mind (we get it!). But if a beta reader’s opinion is something you don’t agree with, try not to argue with it. It’s their perception of your work–and it’s not your job to change their perceptions. If anything, use their different opinion as feedback in itself, because you may be missing something. If something they say confuses you, it’s important to get that clarification, but once you have it, let it rest. Having someone provide feedback isn’t an opportunity for you to debate with them. It’s not worth the risk of burning a bridge to prove a point!
It’s only one opinion
Perhaps a beta reader doesn’t like your character, the plot, or the setting. This can be disheartening of course, but remember there are seven BILLION people in the world, and this is the opinion of one. While feedback is super valuable in an author’s journey, if you don’t agree with some of it, take it with a grain of salt. Not everyone is going to love your story–but we guarantee the right readers will!
One of the best parts of the writing community is the exposure and relationships with like-minded creatives. Helping another in their writing isn’t a one-way street; often, providing feedback on the opportunities of a different story can give you ideas for how to improve your own. But offering feedback puts you in a position that needs to be handled with care. A poorly executed comment can cause lasting damage to an author’s self-esteem! Here are some ways to do it right:
Be mindful that this is someone’s baby and it’s not your job to destroy it
Not every book you read will be your cup of tea. You may be a sci-fi reader who hates the chosen one trope, yet you end up reading a fantasy novel with this exact plot construct. Does your own bias give you the right to criticise a book because you don’t like the trope in it? Absolutely not.
This leads into two points:
- You shouldn’t agree to beta read a book in a genre you dislike. Your predisposed feelings towards a certain genre could greatly alter your ability to provide clear and unbiased feedback. We each have wide tastes and genre preferences, but we don’t take on projects for genres we don’t read for this reason.
- If you are reading a genre you’re unfamiliar with or come across a trope you don’t typically love, be open-minded. Every trope, no matter how cliché you think it might be, can be made unique by an author. It’s the execution that matters.
Your feedback should only ever come from the perspective of helping an author achieve their vision, not yours.
When giving feedback it’s important to remember that this isn’t your story. It can be easy to come from the perspective of ‘I think this is better because this is how I’d write it.’ However, a beta reader or critique partner’s job is not to imagine the story as if they had written it. Their job is to understand the author’s vision and style and base their feedback on what is a) plausible and b) best suited to help strengthen the plot, characters, conflict etc.
Depending on where the author is in their journey, they may not have an appetite for major structural or character changes. It’s always best to check these things first. If they are early on in their journey, suggestions for new scenes and characters may be welcome. If they’re happy with the cadence of the story, you could provide value by evaluating the scenes they’ve already written. Can you implement your suggestions in the real estate that already exists?
Understand that people will want to seek clarity.
While we caution beta readers or critique partners not to argue opinions or point of view, we do recommend clarifying feedback through the use of examples. If you’ve identified a character is flat, or a scene is suffering from the dreaded white-room syndrome, try and provide examples of why this is the case. Sometimes authors are too close to their stories and providing concrete examples can provide a reference or learning opportunity not just in this project, but future ones.
Focus on positives as much as opportunities
We believe there is no such thing as negatives in a book, only opportunities. While it’s good practice to identify these opportunities for the writer, it is just as helpful to champion all the things they have done well. If you loved a character, tell the author! If you found the magic system addictive, tell them! You may think getting excited over a story is silly but we can tell you as beta readers and authors ourselves there is nothing better than bonding over a love of a character or story element you’ve written. Also by highlighting things the author has done right, you’re helping them for when those moments of self-doubt hits–encouragement from others can make a world of difference!
Know what you’re looking for
The best kind of feedback provides value. If it’s important to you to provide nuanced feedback or suggestions, we suggest reading widely in different genres and also in the writing craft. Understanding specific genre formulas or story structure can help you give better feedback on these areas.
We hope these tips have helped you to further your knowledge on how to give and receive feedback!
Sarah Wendt & Taylor Ferguson
Sarah and Taylor are co-owners of The Beta House Collective, a supportive, solutions-orientated beta reading and critique service. They can be found on Instagram as @thebetahousecollective or online at thebetahouse.co