The Five Stages of Critique: A Guide For Beta-Readers

Posted on 04/11/2016 by


So the writer in your life asked you to read something and give them your opinion. It’s all going well until you mention something that didn’t quite work for you. There’s a faint frown. This is the writer entering the first stage of response to critique.

The first stage is always defensive: Let me explain why I am right and you are a wrong, crazy person with no judgement. And I am going to stick my hands over my ears so I can’t hear you, la la la.


For God’s sake don’t argue. This will make it worse. Just hold the line, ‘I felt this, I responded to this, I was confused by this’.

The second stage is uncertainty: Really? You thought that? You were confused? There’s a plot hole you could drive a herd of unruly elephants through? How did that happen? Are you sure? Well that can’t be right…

The third stage, after actually looking at the text and commentary (with head tilted and dubious look) is relief: Oh, I totally see what you mean with the way there’s a missing paragraph there and he’s somehow gotten himself unstabbed and then I tripped and fell on this shameful cliché. It’s not that I’m atrocious writer it’s that clearly I was having a mental vacation when I wrote this execrable piece of prose. But it’s okay. I can FIX that.

The fourth stage is the actual fixing. This goes in so many ways we will not speculate.

The fifth stage (the one everyone likes) is gratitude and admiration: You found a problem in my book and you told me about it! You saved me from the embarrassment of showing that to other people! You made my writing better! You are a wonderful, brilliant human being who pays attention and is delightful and should be rewarded somehow! Possibly with cookies. Or more books!

The important thing to remember is not to hit them during the first stage. Or yell at them about how they asked you to read it in the first place, and what the hell is wrong with you? They don’t mean to look at you like they’re wondering what happened to your brain. This is an instinctive response to the fact that you are criticising something they bled for. That, and a lot of writers have difficulty hearing the difference between there is something wrong with your book and there is something wrong with you.

Just… breathe through it. Maybe encourage them to do the same. And look forward to the fifth stage. Where there are cookies.


Posted in: Kandace