Five Tips for Working with Beta Readers

The first draft of my Work in Progress is now in the hands of my beta readers! I feel incredibly blessed to have a wonderful group of readers whom I trust to give me honest, objective feedback on my work. Because I’m so close to my own story, gathering outside opinions is absolutely invaluable. Here are some tips for working with beta readers, based on my own experience:

1. Choose your readers wisely.

At the beginning stages, it’s essential to show your work only to readers you trust, readers who will give you both constructive critical feedback and encouragement. While you definitely don’t want your baby in the hands of someone who is going to criticize it harshly just for the sake of being negative, you also want to make sure that your readers aren’t inclined to handle your writer’s ego with kid gloves. You need readers who will be able to see the shining spots in your manuscript and point them out to you, as well as letting you know the sections that need to be strengthened in order for your story to live up to its full potential.

2. Let them know what kind of feedback you want.

If your beta readers are seeing a first draft, you want them to look at the big picture, not nit-pick over grammar or word choices. The more specific you are about the kind of feedback you’re looking for, the more targeted their comments will be. In a previous post, I shared some of the questions that I ask my readers to answer when critiquing a first draft. The most important thing I want them to tell me is what they see as the “heart” of my story. Once I’m clear on my novel’s heart, I can carve away any elements that don’t support it.

3. Give them a deadline.

I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines. The pressure of them can cause anxiety, but they also operate as a kick in the pants to ensure I get my work done. I think readers need deadlines, too. I know everyone is busy with multiple projects, so I usually give them a month to read my draft and give me feedback.

4. Take in their feedback.

This seems obvious, but sometimes it’s hard to actually take in the feedback you’ve asked for, especially when you know that acting on a particular comment will necessitate major work for you. We all like to hear that our stories our great, but learn to see critical feedback as a gift. Your readers truly want to help you make your work better!

5. Listen to your gut.

In the end, it’s your book. You have to sort through the comments from your beta readers and decide which truly resonate with you. If more than one reader makes the same comment, definitely pay attention. But remember, you’re still the one with the final say. I once added some characters to a novel, even though my instincts told me not to, because every one of my beta readers thought my main character needed more friends. I ended up taking the characters out again because they just didn’t feel right.

Do you have any other tips for working with beta readers? I’d love to hear them!

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