I strongly believe in the value of crit partners and beta readers. I also believe in gaining alignment and setting expectations upfront. Especially when those of us in the writerly world occasionally exchange reads, what’s needed in a critique varies from author to author.
Here’s a few insights into what I’m looking for in a beta read or critique. YMMV.
Descriptive vs. Prescriptive
In my day job, I’m often gathering user requirements and communicating the use case to our product team and software developers. I’m very careful to present what a user is trying to do and what their experience is using the software and how the software isn’t meeting the user’s needs. What I don’t do is tell the product team or software developers how to fix the issue. They write the code, not me, and I would break a whole lot of things in the software if I tried to tell them how to fix a thing.
When I look at my writing, I find Mary Robinette Kowal‘s take on critique very handy. She describes three types of feedback:
Symptoms – This made me feel this way.
Diagnosis – This made me feel this way and I think this is why.
Prescriptions – This made me feel this way, I think this is why, and this is how I think you should fix it.
When I have beta readers looking at my story, I am specifically looking for Symptoms. In particular, I’m looking for Symptoms that can be expressed as:
I didn’t believe this. It just wasn’t plausible to me.
I didn’t care about this or I skimmed this section.
I didn’t understand this.
I highly recommend checking out Mary Robinette’s post and video on both providing and receiving critique. She goes into even more detail on giving critiques and also receiving them.
The compliment sandwich
When I first started providing crits, I was told to always give a compliment sandwich, in which I start with something positive then follow with constructive critical feedback and finally end on a positive note again.
This is a useful tool for those learning to critique. It’s potentially useful forever. Receiving constructive feedback is not just hard, it’s brutal, and balancing the critical commentary with positive or encouraging comments can be incredibly helpful. A danger here is the recipient who focuses only on the compliments in the compliment sandwich and mentally dodges the critical feedback which is essentially the meat of the sandwich. Another challenge is when the complimentary and critical elements conflict, leaving the recipient confused.
Me? I do best with a sort of open-faced sandwich, if that’s not taking the metaphor too far. If you’re ever beta reading for me, please lead with the critical feedback. Don’t hold back calling it out as it happens throughout the text. Go ahead and tell me when something pisses you off or when something confused you. I am happy to hear when you think something is not plausible or if something seems out of character. I definitely want to know and be able to address when I might have written something problematic.
At the same time, I do want to know when something in my book makes you smile or laugh out loud. Bonus points to us both if a foodie moment makes you hungry enough to go get a snack. I need to know about those reactions. I need to know if my emotional elements worked or if they fell flat or were too subtle.
And so, dear crit partners and beta readers…
When it comes to what I’m looking for from crit partners and beta readers, that’s about it. Trust me, that’s already a lot. There might be more I’d be looking for from a subject matter expert or sensitivity reader, yes, and that’s probably an entirely different topic for another day.
I truly appreciate those who take the time to work with me to beta read my work. I hope this was helpful to you too.
It’s time to play Find the Piper at #BLC19! I love New Orleans and it’s one of my favorite places to meet readers and hang out. I’m really looking forward to returning to NOLA for the first Book Lovers Con.
Book Lovers Con has a different set up from many conventions, with reader events open to the general attendees and lottery events designed to make sure readers who signed up in advance have great focused interaction with authors. I did my best to be a part of both kinds of events.
To make playing Find the Piper at #BLC19 easier for those attending, here’s my schedule. I love meeting readers both familiar and new, so please do say Hello!
Thanks to Grand Central Publishing’s Forever imprint, readers will receive ULTIMATE COURAGE in various reader events. I’ll have EXTREME HONOR, the first in my True Heroes series, at the Saturday Book Bash. I’ll also be signing TOTAL BRAVERY, the first in the True Heroes series taking our heroes and heroines to Hawaii, and my latest release, FIERCE JUSTICE.
For those who might follow me on Twitter and Facebook, or in my newsletter, you may be aware I’ve been facing new medical challenges this year. My physical therapy has progressed but nerves in my left arm are still making signing (or using my left hand at all) very painful for me. So at Book Lovers Con, I will be signing one book per reader and using a stamp made of my signature for any additional books. I very much hope you all will be understanding.
http://piperjdrake.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/PiperJDrake-at-BLC19.jpg978978piperjdrakehttp://piperjdrake.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Piper-Drake-Logo_FullColor.pngpiperjdrake2019-05-06 08:55:242019-05-05 22:20:32Play Find the Piper at #BLC19
This year has been complicated. In fact, right now, I’m waking up to the dawn of a new year in one time zone while it is still the previous year in the time zone where I actually live. I’m in between 2018 and 2019 and it’s an interesting time to look back and also to look forward, I think.
Matthew has been talking to me about what drives me. His perspective is valuable to me, not just because of who he is to me as a partner but also because he can observe objectively and provide shrewd insight.
We both agree that I am driven to continually accomplish and achieve, so much so that I run myself ragged. With every story, every deadline, I think if I can just finish this or hit that deadline, I’ll be happy. But then I immediately dive toward the next goal, writing the next story and hitting the next deadline. Where was the happy?
I agree with Matthew that I need to celebrate more. Savor. Be happy about what I’ve accomplished.
What did I do in 2018?
Moved from Phoenix to Seattle
released Total Bravery
turned in Fierce Justice
turned in Forever Strong
released Siren’s Calling
signed a 4 book deal with Sourcebooks
recorded 20 Minute Delay with Gail Carriger
featured author at Coastal Magic Convention
survived pneumonia, again
panelist at RWA national conference
survived medical challenges
instructor and staff on the Writing Excuses workshop and retreat cruise
panelist at Emerald City Writers Conference
featured author at Fresh Fiction Readers ‘n Rita’s
There’s more, though those are the highlights. Every book has an entire cycle of draft/edit/revision involved. Every convention or conference has preparation.
I also did all of this in parallel to my day job. I did this while Matthew was away on orders. I managed to keep Corbin and myself fed and in reasonably good health. I even improved both our physical fitness levels. I faced depression and anxiety, learned to recognize what they were doing to me, and am taking steps to navigate through.
That’s awesome. Looking back on 2018, it was a lot of accomplishments in the face of a number of challenges behind the scenes and I did some great things.
I have hopes and dreams. I have ambition.
I want my writing career list to be more focused on actual writing.
I am exploring new genres.
I am trying to remember to celebrate with each accomplishment and enjoy each burst of happiness as I go.
http://piperjdrake.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/20181226_111152-2.jpg18363264piperjdrakehttp://piperjdrake.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Piper-Drake-Logo_FullColor.pngpiperjdrake2018-12-31 21:08:052019-01-04 22:27:33The Space Between 2018 and 2019
Play Find the Piper at the RWA National Conference in Denver, CO on July 18-21! I’m delighted to be attending the Romance Writers of America annual conference this year and looking forward to such a fantastic gathering of great minds. We all share a love of romance, a passion for the written word, and drive to achieve in this very tough industry.
This specific conference is always a huge learning opportunity for me, both for writing craft and for the business of writing. There are panels and workshops on both topics presented by fellow authors I respect. There are round table discussions on current issues. And there are ad hoc discussions in every corner, every seating area, most definitely at every bar in and surrounding the conference hotel.
We’re together and sharing experiences, thoughts, and ideas. We’re sharing perspectives.
I get so much out of this conference and I love meeting the readers, bloggers, librarians, and other book lovers who attend and share their perspectives too.
Here’s where you can find me:
10AM Carina Press Open House and Author Signing
11AM Grand Central Book Signing
3:50PM Writing When Your Routine Is Disrupted
9:50AM Powering Up Productivity: Project Planning for Writers
3-5PM “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing ** Free & Open to Public
http://piperjdrake.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Play-Find-the-Piper-at-RWA18.jpg10801080piperjdrakehttp://piperjdrake.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Piper-Drake-Logo_FullColor.pngpiperjdrake2018-07-18 08:45:142018-07-18 01:15:17Play Find the Piper at #RWA18
I am happy to announce a new series, The Missing, from Sourcebooks coming in 2019!
Here’s the announcement posted in Publisher’s Marketplace:
Piper Drake’s THE MISSING series, about a diverse group determined to find the lost men, women, and children who slipped through society’s cracks, to Mary Altman at Sourcebooks Casablanca, in a nice deal, in a four-book deal, for publication in fall 2019, by Courtney Miller-Callihan at Handspun Literary (world).
I’m very excited to write this series and also incredibly happy to be coordinating with my editor at Sourcebooks. Ever since I met her, I’ve been hoping timing and the right project would coincide for us to work together. And here we are!
This series will kick off with a novella to introduce readers to my premise, a couple of my main characters, and the main themes of The Missing. Then there will be at least three full length, single title novels.
For those who’ve loved my other books for the heart-warming canine characters, stick with me. While The Missing does not feature working dogs, I will definitely have some distinctive canine personalities to herd the humans in the right direction. 😉
What about the True Heroes?
There are two more books still coming in the True Heroes series, both currently scheduled for release in 2019. Trust me, I’d love to write even more. We’ll see what the future brings, but the best way to let my publisher know you want more (of my books or any author’s books) is to buy the books as they release. Don’t wait for the series to complete.
That’s a long time to wait!
It is, but I will do my best it make it worth it. In the meantime, the best way to get the latest news on any of my books, get sneak peeks or draft snippets, and the most up to date intel before I mention it anywhere else online is through my newsletter. If you enjoy quotes and snippets, also consider liking/joining my FB page and reader group.