by Beth Burgmeyer
Beta readers are invaluable to any author, whether you’re self-publishing or going the traditional route. You owe it to yourself and your book to make sure your novel is in the best shape possible before querying agents or publishing it yourself. Good beta readers are a key part of that.
One of the perks of being part of a writing group like the Des Moines Writers’ Workshop is having access to great beta readers. If you don’t belong to a writing group, there are online forums where you can find beta readers. You should also enlist the help of people who are avid readers, but not writers. You’ll want to try to find at least two beta readers, but usually not more than four. Feedback from too many beta readers can be overwhelming and hard to sort through.
To get the most helpful feedback, it’s a good idea to give your beta readers a list of questions you want them to keep in mind while they’re reading. This also makes things easier for your beta readers. If you just hand them your manuscript and ask them to read it, they won’t know what kind of feedback you’re looking for. I borrowed the following list from author and editor, Jodie Renner, who put together a great list of questions for beta readers. You can modify this list, but it’s a nice starting point. You can read Jodie’s entire blog post about beta readers here.
- Did the story hold your interest from the very beginning? If not, why not?
- Did you get oriented fairly quickly at the beginning as to whose story it is, and where and when it’s taking place? If not, why not?
- Could you relate to the main character? Did you feel her/his pain or excitement?
- Did the setting interest you, and did the descriptions seem vivid and real to you?
- Was there a point at which you felt the story started to lag or you became less than excited about finding out what was going to happen next? Where, exactly?
- Were there any parts that confused you? Or even frustrated or annoyed you? Which parts, and why?
- Did you notice any discrepancies or inconsistencies in time sequences, places, character details, or other details?
- Were the characters believable? Are there any characters you think could be made more interesting or more likable?
- Did you get confused about who’s who in the characters? Were there too many characters to keep track of? Too few? Are any of the names or characters too similar?
- Did the dialogue keep your interest and sound natural to you? If not, whose dialogue did you think sounded artificial or not like that person would speak?
- Did you feel there was too much description or exposition? Not enough? Maybe too much dialogue in parts?
- Was there enough conflict, tension, and intrigue to keep your interest?
- Was the ending satisfying? Believable?
- Did you notice any obvious, repeating grammatical, spelling, punctuation or capitalization errors? Examples?
- Do you think the writing style suits the genre? If not, why not?
And if you have eager readers or other writers in your genre who are willing to go the extra mile for you, you could add some of the more specific questions below. These are also good for critiquing a short story.
- Which scenes/paragraphs/lines did you really like?
- Which parts did you dislike or not like as much, and why?
- Are there parts where you wanted to skip ahead or put the book down?
- Which parts resonated with you and/or moved you emotionally?
- Which parts should be condensed or even deleted?
- Which parts should be elaborated on or brought more to life?
- Are there any confusing parts? What confused you?
- Which characters did you really connect to?
- Which characters need more development or focus?
Once you’ve received feedback from all your beta readers, it’s time to consider their comments carefully. Ignore any you really don’t agree with, but if two or more people say the same thing, be sure to seriously consider that comment or suggestion. Now go through and revise your story, based on the comments you felt were insightful and helpful.