Lately, I've been doing a bit of reciprocal critiquing for some twitter friends while I polish Hellfire to a magnificent shine. I say 'critiquing' (or 'critting', if you wanna be down with the kids, yo) rather than 'beta reading', because I'm a pedant and they're slightly different things.
'Beta reading' - in my brainspace, at least - is where a person checks through an edited manuscript to check for any pesky mistakes: typos, continuity problems, incorrect wording and so on. These are the Red Pen Bandits, and generally a writer's last call before that final spit'n'polish prior to querying agents.
A critter, on the other hand, is a reader who analyses a manuscript more thoroughly, looking at the themes, characterisation, overall plot, whether it's audience-appropriate etc. These are the writers of copious notes and the friends you wait to hear from whilst biting your nails down to nubs.
Having said that they're different things, that doesn't mean one person can't be both... and that's what I try to do when critting a friend's manuscript. I was asked recently not to make those tiny corrections it's so easy to miss as you scan your own writing (like the extra 'the' in a sentence, missing commas, 'thought' where you meant to type 'though', etc.) and I have to say, it's like being locked in a box full of spiders and told not to move. I do not like it.
But at the same time, it frees me to read the manuscript more quickly, and avoid missing my gut reaction to what I'm reading. It still feels weird not to mark up the odd typos I spot as I'm reading. Yes, I'm a Red Pen Tyrant. Still, I'm going with it.
I think the most important thing about critting, though - whether you're giving or receiving the criticism - is to be clear beforehand about what's expected. If it's not a critique style you or your critter are comfortable with, this allows for backing out gracefully and avoiding gnarled tempers and hurt feelings. (Yes, I am aware that I sound like I'm setting the ground rules for a swingers' party. Get your mind out of the gutter.)
But it's actually one of the most necessary processes of writing for publication. If you're reluctant to have a friend or critique partner check and analyse your writing, how are you going to cope with thousands of eagle-eyed readers doing it?
So, them's my thoughts on critting and critters in general. As always, comments are welcome.
Kat out x