re: How Do I Get Useful Feedback from My Beta Readers?

in Creative Process by

 Dear Editor…

I’d like to know what guided questions a writer can give to beta readers to get the best feedback from a manuscript.

Thanks,
Beth

Dear Beth…

Most beta readers aren’t writers, so ask about their impressions. Which of the characters seemed like they could be real people? Which did not? What would you change about any of them? Did any of their actions seem unbelievable? Did you feel confused at any time in the story? Did your mind wander at any point? At what point did you start to care about the main character? What scene first pulled you into the story? Did the main character’s problem seem important to you? Could you predict the ending? Did it satisfy you? Did the characters talk like real people? Which settings could use more description? Ask your readers open-ended questions or follow-up with questions like “Why?” or “When?” to encourage them to expand. And while you want to be thorough, too many questions can overwhelm a beta and shut them down. This is a good starter set. Readers, do you have favorite questions that you ask your readers?

Happy writing!
The Editor

12 Comments

  1. This is great! Sometimes I like to ask questions from left field. “Is there a character you’d like to punch in the face?”

    If it’s not the antagonist, I may be in trouble… LOL

    • What a great idea, Carrie. Wording your questions in a playful way could really get your beta reader to let his/her hair down and get into the answering in a bigger way. I love that.

  2. Guess what? I am finally, magically subscribed to your posts!! Or at least a notification for this post appeared in my email today. Yay! I hope future notifications will continue to arrive. 🙂

    My beta readers have been members of my regular critique groups, but I think these are great questions even for seasoned critiquers.

    I might add: were there any loose ends that you feel did not get resolved by the end of the story?

    • Oh, yay! Phew. I’m sorry you had that problem but thrilled to know it’s fixed. Thanks for letting me know – my web guru keeps her perfect record for fixing the wonky problems I throw her way. Like your loose ends question.

  3. I’ve never had beta readers for my projects that weren’t writers. But I deal more with “critique partners” than straight up beta readers as I’m interested in anything a reader of any type has to say about the work.

    I have “beta read” for a few author friends, and mostly what I comment on is stuff like: what drew me into the story, if the pacing was too quick or to slow, if it flowed from one scene/chapter to another (transitions and timelines), if the world was easily grasped or if I didn’t understand all the terms.

    When I read for an author, I generally ask them what they want a reader to “get” from the story. Is there an overall moral or political statement, what is the target audience, what genre specifically is the story. I don’t read JUST for entertainment; there is a task I need to keep in mind as I’m reading – but I always hope to get so lost in the story I forget I’m reading for a purpose and can state all that the author requires without prompting.

    This was a good question Beth; and thanks Editor for your “open ended questions” advise. That is useful in getting readers to open up.

    …….dhole

    • Indeed, it’s a great feeling to get a few pages into a book you’re critiquing and realize that you sank in so deeply you forgot to be a critiquer!

  4. Thanks for this great answer. Our reading club recently read a book one of the members was writing. Only two of us were also writers, and the comments were valuable to her, but I felt like we could have given her even more helpful impressions with more guidance. These really help.

    • A lot of times writers specifically choose beta readers who aren’t writers but rather are readers within the target audience. Their entire point is to get the reaction of someone who doesn’t study craft, who just reads for the pleasure of it. Many critique groups find it helpful to create a list of more in-depth questions that they work through when critiquing each other’s manuscripts.

  5. Some of my beta readers are teenagers, and, God love them, they won’t answer any questions if it requires too much work. So I like to tell them that any time they stop reading, whether it is for a second because they were confused or because they had to go eat dinner, they should put a slash or line or some kind of mark to indicate “STOP.” Then I ask them to give me a quick reason why. “Confused,” “Bored,” “BFF called,” etc. That way, I can actually track their reading habits through the story. If I notice that several of my YA readers stopped in the same place, I know I’m not keeping their attention well enough there and I have to ratchet up the tension. I might push my readers with keener perspectives on literature to write more or answer solid questions about the work, and I sit down and talk with all my readers after they’ve read it so I can judge their reaction as they talk about the book.

  6. I ask, “Where did you have an emotional reaction?” and then ask them to write in the margins wherever they laughed, cried, gasped–whatever.

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