Get the Most From Beta Readers and Critique Partners

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Your manuscript is finished and you know it’s time to start editing. You’re ready to let other folks have a look at it. You want their feedback, but you’ve also heard conflicting advice about the value of beta readers and critique partners. What if you get contradictory opinions from different readers? What if their advice doesn’t resonate with your vision for your book? What if you get no constructive criticism at all?

Last week I talked about the editing process and the three types of editing. The most challenging and labor-intensive type of edits are developmental. You can read more about them, and review the entire post here: Editing: What’s All the Fuss? In a nutshell, developmental edits are the big picture edits. Sometimes they require reconstructing plot-lines, or re-working a character arc, or deleting text. They aren’t for the faint of heart, but they’re necessary!

When we’ve put the last word on the last page of our manuscript, we’re often too close to the story to see its potential shortcomings. Here’s where beta readers and critique partners can help. These readers are able to give feedback while you are still working on the story, before you are ready to polish the manuscript with copyedits and proofreading.

So, who should you ask? With my first manuscript, I invited anyone and everyone who was interested in reading it to give me feedback. I quickly learned that a few good readers were worth far more than a dozen ineffective ones, and I came up with some criteria to determine who might make a good beta reader. Remember, these are only guidelines, and no one person has to fit all the criteria, but it’ll give you a place to start.

  • They’re avid readers themselves.

    The first people I ever asked to read my manuscript, after my husband of course, were the ladies in my book club. From the years I’d spent with them dissecting stories and having lively conversations about what we did and didn’t like about various books, I knew these folks were discerning readers. We actually used my manuscript as the club choice for a month and discussed it like any other. I took copious notes!

  • They’re willing to take the time and effort to do the job.

    If you’ve ever critiqued another writer’s manuscript, you know it’s real work. Let the person know that this will be a time commitment and it’s okay if they don’t want to take it on.

  • They’re fellow writers.

    If they’re published writers, then they’ve been through the editing process themselves. Hopefully, they understand the mechanics of good writing and can give you helpful advice. Be careful though, they’re also looking from a writer’s perspective and not a reader’s, so you’ll have to consider this when analyzing their feedback.

  • They have a particular expertise.

    A good bit of my first book series involves a fictional military organization. While I’ve made up their mission, I wanted their culture and interactions to feel authentic, so I invited a friend who’s spent his career in the military to read it. If something bothered him about a particular scene, I paid attention.

  • They enjoy my book’s genre.

    I read across many genres. Lots of people do. But I definitely have a preference. I’m not likely to ask someone who prefers literary fiction to critique my science fiction manuscript. There are always exceptions, of course, but I think readers who enjoy the genre and have some experience reading it give more relevant feedback.

Once you’ve identified potentially qualified readers, I find it’s helpful to give them guidance so they understand what kind of feedback you need. Here are some questions I’ve given to my beta readers:

  • Did you orient yourself quickly to the setting and identify the main characters?

  • Were there places where the story dragged and you found yourself skipping pages.

  • Were there places where you were confused?

  • How did you relate to the characters? Were they believable, interesting?

  • Were there any major discrepancies or inconsistencies in timeline, character descriptions, or other major details?

  • What was your overall reading experience?

  • Were you satisfied by the ending?

You’ve done your best to choose qualified beta readers and they’ve sent you feedback. Now, what should you do with it? Here are the top three things I consider when I’m reviewing material from beta readers and critique partners:

  • Pay attention to things you hear more than once.

    Remember, your intention and a reader’s perception may be different. For example, a few early readers didn’t like my main male character at all, and I had to figure out what they were seeing in him that I wasn’t. To them, he felt too arrogant and immature to be the hero I needed him to be. In a major edit of his scenes, I was able to give him more depth and maturity.

  • If it’s bothering you already, and someone else points it out, fix it!

    I knew the first three chapters of my second book didn’t have any punch. My beta readers unanimously confirmed this, so I scrapped the intro, started at a different point in the action, and rewrote the first section of the book.

  • Sift through the feedback.Take what resonates. Leave what doesn’t.

    This is your story. Good beta readers will identify places where something isn’t working for them and why, but what you choose to fix and how you approach the fix is up to you. In considering their feedback, can you see their point? Will working on that particular scene or character make your story stronger? If the answer is yes, it’s probably worth the effort.

Out of the fifteen people who read my first manuscript, I now give my work to only three or four. But they’re readers I trust, who enjoy my writing, commit to the project, and aren’t afraid to give constructive feedback. They’ve become a valuable part of my editing process and my story is much, much better for their efforts.

Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Let us know about your suggestion. 


About Author

Tabitha Lord is the award-winning author of the HORIZON series. She lives in Rhode Island with her husband, four kids, two spoiled cats, and lovable black lab.

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