Help Your Beta Reader I

The goal of writing every day is to get better. And we do, but we also become accustom to how we phrase our thoughts. In those phrases hide an assumption that what we mean is what the reader understands. A problem for the most talented and experienced writer. This is why all of us, in every skill level, need feedback.

Feedback is constructive information that the writer can choose to use, or not. Anyone that reads can offer feedback. What I mean is, your beta reader doesn’t have to be in the industry. If they know what they like, and are willing to be honest, they qualify.

You can make it easier on both of you by focusing your reader on your weaknesses. (You’ll know them better than your beta does unless they’ve read for you before.) Give them a list of specific questions. And understand that answers/opinions are very subjective. One reader will love something that another might not comment on at all. Or both will hate something that will demand a call to action.

Constructive or not, words can hurt. But before you react, let’s look at it from the beta’s point of view.

Imagine your beta reader not enjoying everything they read. They endure the rough squirrel-304021_1280patches, examine them, and eventually write their notes. Notes, not just on the questions you’ve offered, but also on things they really, really hated or loved. This will take hours of their time and all because you asked for their opinion.

Don’t like their opinion? Well, then walk it off, bite your tongue, and thank them over and over again. Because thanks to them, you can begin another round of revisions and determine if each comment needs addressing.

What, you say. Not every comment will improve your work. Some comments may take you away from the story core. You need to keep true to your message. So take each comment and consider it carefully before implementing the change. (Unless several readers repeat the comment. Then you have no choice, but to deal with it as they suggest.)

Here’s what happens if your beta cares too much about your feelings and not enough about your work.

Your reader reads until a rough patch and won’t go any further or skips it and continues later on. Not wanting to let you down, the reader goes over the questions and answers in very general terms, glazing over their honest opinions to save your feelings. They rave about the patches they liked.

What exactly can you do with that?

Nothing, so you send it off to a publisher and get a form rejection.

Which one do you prefer?

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37 responses to “Help Your Beta Reader I

  1. “Anyone that reads can offer feedback.” Amen. I was recently at a writing workshop where the instructor told us that only fellow writers should be beta readers. I almost got up and left.

  2. If you are a beta reader then I would think being brutally honest would be part of the job. I try to be honest in all my reviews but I know if an author was looking for feedback (which I have had happen before with author requests) then I do give it. As nicely as I can but as honest as well.

    • When reading over beta feedback, the writer can address issues before release. After the reviews are in, there is not much left to do but consider how avoid/repeat what they loved/hated in the next project. πŸ™‚

      Thanks for sharing, Ali.

  3. Those are great points, Anna. I had a beta shred to pieces one of my works, and while her comments hurt a lot I found a few gems that were worth going through the pain and made my book a lot better. Still, when I’m beta-ing, I try to keep my feelings off the picture. Because once the beta starts making emotional comments you know the feedback is no longer objective. So, as with all things, there needs to be a balance. πŸ™‚

  4. Good common-sense feedback. How do you find beta readers, Anna?

  5. I’d rather have the honest beta-reader. Otherwise, what’s the point?

    BTW, I ran into a lot of problems during my weekend computer upgrade. I hope to have it finished by this evening. Good luck with your computer upgrade.

  6. I’d probably be a great beta reader since I’m very honest with the people around me.

  7. Feedback is very important, and while it’s true that it can be hard to hear sometimes, honest feedback only makes a writer’s story better. Great post.

  8. I only got started with critique groups about three years ago. Now, I honestly don’t know where I’d be without them! Just today, I needed to come up with a new place name and I sent them a sample of about four names, asking for their input. That’s an invaluable resource. My teacher used to say that you learn as much by critiquing other writers as you can be being critiqued. I agree with her 100 %

  9. Great post. I love my CPs and betas because they’re honest. My #1 CP has told me she would never let me publish something that is not my best.

  10. I have a long list of amazing beta readers, and am always adding more. You never know when someone will add something insightful and startlingly unexpected. Anyone who skips the beta stage is shooting themselves in the foot.

  11. My critique group worked for me for a long time. I can take criticism pretty well. Unfortunately, I had to leave the group. 😦

    • If you are still looking for another group, go to scribophile.com and look up the sisterhood of the traveling pens group. You’ll find a fine collection of caring writers. Heck, I’m one of them.

  12. I’m a big believer in feedback–I teach college English and make students read each other’s work. Writers need feedback–and reading other work critically helps you see ways to improve your own. That said, honest doesn’t have to equal harsh. You can be frank and respectful. πŸ™‚

  13. Good advice:) Hope your weekend is amazing

  14. Great post, Anna!
    I’m reading for a writer who said: “I know it is customary for first-time authors to ask beta-readers to go gently on them, and although my sensitive side says exactly that, my sensible side recognises that it needs to hear unvarnished opinions.”
    To which I responded: I think that “sensitive-meets-the-sensible” would be the way forward… honesty and tact are key! πŸ™‚

    • So true. I warn I’m brutally honest, just to prepare the writer. I try to be kind, but nothing can prepare anyone from being confronted with a version of the truth. I also remind them that it is just one persons opinion, hoping that softens the blow. πŸ™‚

  15. I absolutely agree. If all a writer is looking for is positive feedback, there’s no reason to waste a beta reader’s time. Pat yourself on the back and be done with it. Betas always deserve our thanks. Regardless of whether we incorporate their advice or not, the beta reader gave of their time, and that’s a valuable commodity.

    VR Barkowski

  16. I love being a beta reader. I’ve help an author-friend with two books and each time has been amazing. At first I didn’t want to hurt her feelings but then I realize I wasn’t helping at all. You can critize without mean mean. And feedback is always good.
    Great topic.
    Ruty@Reading…Dreaming

  17. I like to leave notes in my manuscripts for my beta readers, asking them about certain parts as they come across them, but none of the other authors I’ve beta’d for seem to do that. :/

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