Writer’s Craft #114 Getting the most out of a beta read

T.S. Bazelli
T.S. Bazelli
T. S. Bazelli is a writer from Vancouver, BC Canada. She writes software manuals by day and fantasy novels by night. She blogs about writing and folklore at www.tsbazelli.com

It can be nerve wracking to get feedback on something you’ve spent weeks, or years, working on, but getting feedback on your writing can be invaluable. Here are some tips to help make the process easier:

1. Pick the right people for the story. Only ask people whose opinions you respect and who read the genre or subject matter that you’ve written about.

2. Have at least one cheerleader. Their job is to point out all the good things about the story. You’ve worked hard, created something new, and it’s good to celebrate that!

3. Set a reasonable timeline for receiving feedback and ask if your readers can commit to the timeline before agreeing to read.

4. If you have a preference for the type of critique, ask for it. Do you want comments on every chapter or a close line by line read? Do you want readers to focus on the overall plot or point out all your grammatical sins? Setting expectations saves time for everyone involved.

5. Remember, any feedback you received is not personal. No story is ever perfect, even if it has gone through multiple rounds of feedback. Your readers are trying to help you make your stories better and graciously donating their time to do so.

A great way to thank your readers is to return the favor. Or better yet, earn good karma by volunteering to read without expecting anything in return. Someday it will come back to you in one way or another.

6 thoughts on “Writer’s Craft #114 Getting the most out of a beta read

  1. Along the lines of setting expectations, I like to tell my beta readers the things I’m most concerned about and would like them to look for. For instance, if I tend to overwrite descriptions, or fight scenes, I want to know. I also ask them to note where they found themselves skimming, or if anything didn’t make sense when they read it. The more help I can give them on what to look for, the more they can help me! Some of my betas will be writers, but I also like to have betas who are readers, not writers.

  2. I think that having the right people read is the best suggestion…if they don’t enjoy the genre they will not be good judges…I like what Marti said about the skimming…good point.

  3. Great thoughts. These things are compounded if your network of friends, associates, etc. is too small (like mine), so one useful addition is: start networking! (Incidentally, that’s the main benefit I see as a pre-published writer for blogging, at least for me, personally.)

    I’m curious how you go about obtaining or identifying your “Cheerleader”. I guess mine is my dear wife, since she reads 95% of everything I write… but otherwise I don’t know who else I’d get for that.

  4. I couldn’t agree more. Solid feedback from beta readers is indispensable. I’m lucky enough to have found a handful of men and women who are able to laugh with me and not at me when they find errors (or at least that’s the case when I’m in the room). It was, however, a learning process for all of us. It wasn’t until after they learned that I wouldn’t fall apart with their critique, that they became more inclined to provide honest feedback.

  5. Such great advice. (#5 especially.)

    I would add, “6. Always be sure to thank your readers. And the more you can make it seem like you’ve actually considered the feedback, the better.”

    As a crit partner/beta reader, I LOVE giving my time and energy to someone else’s story — SO LONG AS I know it’s being appreciated. If I feel that someone is just dismissing my comments, it makes me sad, and less likely to help again in the future.

  6. I think this is great advice, as beta readers are a valuable (and energy limited!) resource and making the best of them is key to good feedback. I also like what Marti says about skimming; knowing where a reader’s attention starts to wander is very useful information. I also try to give my readers a basic framework to start: do you have a good sense of the main character, are her goals clear, and do you care? Especially that last bit.

    One other useful piece of advice I picked up some time ago is to pay attention to what readers think is wrong, but not necessarily how they think you should fix it.

    Like Stephen, I have a relatively limited number of people I can corral into reading all of my work (I write a lot:) in a timely fashion, so I joined a critique group online. I chose Critters (there are lots out there, find one that works for you) and so far I’ve had a great experience. I have had stories critiqued but the most useful part is the critiquing I do for others. I’ve been exposed to a lot of different writing styles and levels, and having to articulate what I thought about others’ writing has been a real help when considering my own work.

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