If you ask someone to beta read for you without direction, you might not get back the most focused, constructive feedback. Beta readers need to know exactly what to look for. With mine, I circulated a list of specific questions that they could refer to for guidance. Those questions should prompt beta readers to dig deeper and go beyond saying what they liked or didn’t like or what confused them.
Whether you’re a fellow writer, or you’ve been asked to beta read, here’s the list of questions I used: 15 Questions to Send Beta/First Readers – Writing Cooperative.
However, asking the right questions isn’t the only thing you should consider. Depending on a beta reader’s personal circumstances, how they’re asked to deliver feedback can effect its quality and timeliness.
What I mean is not all beta readers give the best written feedback, or written feedback takes them a lot longer to turnaround.
If written feedback is taking too long to turnaround, or hard to articulate, talk it out. Some people are better at expressing their thoughts verbally. Or it just takes them less time to do so.
I read my manuscript out loud to one of my betas. Without the text in front of them, it made it very easy to pick out all the awkward parts and more acutely feel where scenes dragged, got cringey, or confusing.
For another beta, who was writing very thoughtful, in-depth feedback, sustaining that long-term became impossible when their personal circumstances changed. So partway through, we switched from written to verbal feedback. Since they’d already read the entire piece, it only took a couple hours of video chatting (a phone call works, too) to get a full set of critiques back instead of what could have been months.
Another consideration. If time isn’t on your side or theirs, beta readers don’t have to read the story cover to cover.
You can just have them read the opening pages, or first couple chapters, to critique your ability to pull them in. Or if they can read the whole thing, but not comment on every chapter, cherry pick ones you think you need their feedback on the most.
That is to say, don’t constrain yourself. Or them. Be flexible.
What are some of the outside-the-box ways you’ve given or received beta reader feedback?
For more on working with beta readers see: Guest Perspective Series: Forging the Best Possible Working Relationships With Editors, Beta Readers & Writers.
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