Writers, Are You Using Your Beta Readers Wrong?

As writers, we’re always refining and adjusting our processes, trying to figure out what works best for this novel, today. Me? I finished up a round of revisions this weekend, and tossed them off to beta readers — but I might have been too hasty. Of course, no two writers work the same and the best process is what works for you. But, here are some of the mistakes I’ve made, and a few I’ve managed to avoid.

5 Biggest Mistakes Writers Make With Beta Readers

1. Not asking for the feedback you’re looking for

The easiest way to get the sort of feedback you’re looking for is — *gasp* — to ask for it. If you’re looking for feedback on your characters, or setting, or pacing, or whatever, the best way to get it is to tell your beta readers that’s what you’re looking for.

I’ve shared the 10 questions I ask my beta readers before, and while I don’t expect my beta readers to necessarily answer the questionnaire, just giving them this guidance before they start reading lets them know the sort of thing I’m looking for. I like to give everyone their own copies, so they don’t influence each other’s opinions.

On the flip side, some authors want their readers going in without directions — to keep them from picking out flaws they otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. Or, they like a group chat, so that their writing process becomes more collaborative with the group of beta readers.

The difference is in how thorough you expect the feedback to be without guidance and the type of relationship you want with your beta readers. It’s up to you.

2. Sending off your manuscript too soon

Fun fact I learned this week: the whole “let your manuscript rest” after drafting doesn’t just apply to your rough draft. Or, at least, it doesn’t have to.

Some writers prefer to get early feedback, even while they’re still rough drafting — and that’s a valid technique! However, we often want beta reader feedback on what we think is our best effort! Why waste a round of beta readers — that are sometimes a struggle to round up — on a manuscript you haven’t finished polishing?

I usually have my alpha reader/twin sister give me feedback, I integrate her suggestions with a big revision pass, and this time, I did a very heavy editing round afterward, and then immediately sent it off to beta readers!

I was so excited with how far my manuscript had come! I was riding high on finishing my edits. But? That last round had been a very heavy editing pass. It really could have benefited from letting it breathe for a few weeks (or more), and then another round of edits.

3. Forgetting the beta readers’ perspective

I’ve been on both sides of the beta reader table. From the most useful beta reader to the beta reader who clearly just didn’t get it, these are people who have given up hours, or days, or even weeks of their time to give you feedback just to help you.

Often, this is the first draft of your manuscript they’ve seen. They’re not mentally comparing it to your rough draft and seeing how far you’ve come. They’re looking into your potential and seeing how far you can take it.

It’s a common knee-jerk reaction to want to justify every choice you made to your beta reader, to explain to them why this-thing-they-think-is-useless needed to be in there, why that-obvious-thing doesn’t need to be explained.

The best thing to do is to always, always, always thank them for their time and efforts. If you’re a good fit for each other, offer to beta-read for them in exchange. If not? Just make a note and don’t ask them to beta read for you again. Then, sit on their feedback, either way, letting it percolate.

4. Taking the beta readers’ feedback as a to-do list

Beta readers are very often wrong.

Growing up, I had the same English teacher four times — she followed us up from middle school to the high school, and she was super supportive of me and my writing. But? It took until the third, or maybe even last time I had her before I realized that a lot of her red-line edits were suggestions. Yes, these were things I needed to fix, but I didn’t have to fix them the way she’d suggested — and she’d still give me good marks.

These days, I’ve developed what I call:

Morgan’s Rule of Thirds:

  • 1/3rd is the easy stuffthe line edits, the quick clarifications, the beefed-up description.
  • 1/3rd is garbagenot all readers will get all parts of your story. But… you might want to take a second look. Maybe you could set it up so the part they think is wrong fits better?
  • 1/3rd is the hard stuffthe things you thought you fixed, but really, you just painted over a rotten windowsill like a crummy landlord. The hard stuff can be tricky to fix — but that doesn’t mean it’s extensive. Sometimes, getting it right involves 2 sentences in 2 different chapters, 7 chapters apart.

5. Obsessing while you’re waiting

Anyone got a fix for this?

Yeah, I know, work on your next thing, keep busy, keep distracted, have you tried chocolate?

But, they’re reading my book baby that I was so proud of 3 days ago, and now I’m terrified. I really should have sat on it longer, if only so I could bask in its done-ness, even if I wasn’t going to do another editing pass. Now, I’m thinking of all the things I probably should have done more with. Plus? With all that feedback they’re giving me, do they actually like the story?


Have you ever been a beta reader for a writer?
Have you ever had beta readers for your writing? What did you find helped the most?
What mistakes did you make?

Header: Writing Tips & Writerly Musings
Title: Writers, are you using your beta readers wrong?
Image: Morgan, a white woman with brown hair looks anxious, and is biting her nails

7 Comments

  1. Good post!

    BTW I once sent my writer son-in-law the first 6 (!) pages of a proposed novel just to see what he thought of the idea (and my writing!) and he wrote back: “Good. Now do 300 more pages like it.” 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. I keep your previous take on employing beta readers effectively bookmarked to share with new(er) writers. Sidenote: I dropped $$$ on a development editor that came highly recommended by an agent. The notes I got back were inferrior to the feedback I got from my beta readers.

    Liked by 1 person

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