How to Get the Most from Your Beta Readers

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

I highly recommend participating in a critique group. You can improve your own craft as you critique your partners’ work often as much as you can by receiving their feedback on your work. But this can’t replace the value of having several beta readers review your complete manuscript.

First, decide in advance that you’re going to be the kind of writer who appreciates even the toughest feedback because it will make you a better writer.

Then set your goal to have a variety of beta readers. Choose one who is in your target audience, perhaps a follower on your author Facebook page, a frequent commenter on your blog, or a subscriber to your newsletter. Develop friendships with other readers in your genre who might be good prospects. Look for those who contribute savvy comments on other author blogs.

Also, connect with published authors at writers conferences and on their blogs. Often they are gracious to give forward to newer writers the help they received early in their careers. They can offer valuable guidance for making your book marketable.

You might have only one chance to get their feedback, especially from published authors because they’re busy writing and promoting their own books too. Respect their time while also getting the most out of your beta reader experience by giving them a list of questions you want them to focus on.

Here is a suggested list.

Ask them broad developmental questions like these:

  • Were the main character, her main struggle, and her goal introduced effectively in the first chapter of your novel?
  • Is the issue to be addressed and the proposed solution for your nonfiction book clearly stated in the first chapter?
  • Did you get hooked on the first page?
  • Does your novel drag in the middle?
  • Was there a point where you lost interest?
  • Were you satisfied at the end of the book?

Go on to ask questions about the content:

  • Did you overlook an important piece of information?
  • Does your nonfiction book deliver what it promises? Did you resolve the main character’s inner conflict satisfactorily by the end of the book?
  • Are any of your words, descriptions, or cultural mores inappropriate for the setting of your historical novel?

Finally, ask more specific questions such as:

  • Was the main character inconsistent at any point in the story?
  • Did the dialogue sound appropriate for the setting and characters?
  • Does the book need tightening anywhere?
  • Is your voice consistent?

When you get their feedback, you might discover varied and possibly even conflicting feedback, but that’s good and needn’t be confusing. Consistent comments from them confirm areas needing improvement. Then you decide to apply the remaining tracking corrections or comments, based on whether you think they strengthen the book. You’re the author and it’s your product.

Afterward, note the types of problems each of them finds and record that information on a tracker for future reference. For example, when you work on  POV issues in your next book, you’ll know which beta reader’s review of your current book to consult to get tips.

Don’t forget to be generous in showing your appreciation for the time they spent reading your whole manuscript and giving you feedback. Send a generous gift card, a promise of an acknowledgement in the book, and a copy of the book when it is published.

How will you select beta readers in the future as a result of these tips? If you have used beta readers in the past, were they all the same type—target audience, readers in your genre, or published authors—or did you have a variety? Have you given your beta readers specific aspects to focus on in the past?

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Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

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