Choices To Make With Beta-Readers

After you’ve written your manuscript and gone over it at least once, it’s usually time to ship it out to some beta-readers, to get an outside perspective. If nothing else, they can spot the things that you know about your story that you didn’t actually put down on paper.

There are tons of different techniques, and I’ve got to say, this time around, I’m kinda winging it.

How Many Beta-Readers To Ask?

It has been quite some time since I sent a new, fresh book off to beta-readers.

My first time, I just asked my friends on facebook — before I’d jumped into the writing world. I had RPG game masters, english teachers, family, and readers reading it. I tried my best to mix backgrounds, gender, and age. I sent it out to seven readers and heard back from five. I had in-depth feedback from four and high-level feedback from three (there was some overlap).

Since then, I’ve had plenty of critique partners — writers, looking at my manuscript with a similar lens to mine, that I let loose in ones-and-twos on more polished drafts.

For this beta? I asked a middle-grade writer friend, a YA writer friend, and was pleasantly surprised when a friend working on base during quarantine asked for something to do while waiting out his shift, helping make sure I didn’t *just* have writer perspectives.

Three beta-readers. Not a lot, but a nice balance if they all come through — which mine have. Just in time for me to have a block of time between chapters on that never-ending YA revision of mine.

What To Ask For

The best way to get beta-feedback you can really use is — shock-of-shocks — to ask for it. You know I’ve got my 10 Questions I Ask My Beta-Readers, such as: what works, what doesn’t, and what parts they enjoyed.

No matter what you’re worried about: characters, dialogue, world-building, pacing — now is the time to ask. Have them focus on the parts of the story that you care about.

You can even tell them to skip the line edits, if you want! Make this a developmental round of edits, not a copy edit.

They might not address all your questions directly, but by asking, you plant the ideas in their head before they begin, and it can really help direct their feedback.

Should Your Betas See What The Others Are Saying?

There are mixed feelings on this, and clearly, the answer is to do what works for you.

If you’re still world-building or playing with techiques and things, where you want to almost brainstorm what the story could look like with your betas, a shared document with open feedback might be just the ticket.

For me? I make sure they all have their own private copy, so they don’t know what anyone else is thinking. This way, I know they’re all facing it fresh, with no one else’s pre-conceived notions influencing them.

The choice is yours.

How To Compile Beta Feedback

Some people read feedback from beta-readers as it comes in, addressing stuff immediately with the excitement and energy they get from the fresh critique.

I like to sit on it.

Well, I read the draft letter they usually send with the big picture stuff and let it percolate in my brain. But the read-through and all the inline stuff? That waits.

I like to wait until I have feedback from ALL of my beta-readers. And then, I–

Wait. Let’s be honest here. This is only my second completed manuscript. I need to stop talking about this like I have a process. I sorta did this with my 2 or 3 shorts I sent out, but noo really. I just have “what I did last time” and “my vague plan that I’m stalling on by writing this blogpost.”

So, my plan and what I vaguely remember from my first round of betas, longer ago than I would like, is that I’m going to go through the feedback, chapter-by-chapter.

I’m going to have all three beta drafts and my own fresh-copy open at once. Maybe on separate quadrants of the screen? As I see line edits, I’ll see what the other betas thought, and decide if I want to incorporate them.

On a notepad, or gmail draft, I’ll be jotting down the larger stuff (although, most of that, I’d imagine, is not in-line, but instead in the draft letters they all sent me, that I already read).

I know, all the advice says to skip the line edits until you know if you’re even keeping that chapter, but I find getting the line edits out of the way makes the big choices easier, because I’m not overwhelmed with all the ‘clutter’ of the small stuff.

Last time, I printed the whole thing out, going chapter by chapter, making notes, writing new scenes on the back of the pages of the last draft. I’m debating now, and if I should do that before or after I do the quick line-edits. I almost called them ‘easy’ line edits, but they can be quite challenging. They’re just often smaller changes in scope, not difficulty.

To me? I consider changing wording and adding descriptions, etc, as ‘editing’. While changing pacing, characterization, and other big picture stuff are ‘revising’.

So, after I use their feedback to edit my manuscript, it’ll be time to look at the big picture and decide where to go from there.


How do you like to work with your beta-readers?

Are there any things you’d suggest I do differently? Does something else work for you?

Let me know in the comments below and I’ll be back again, next week, with more writing tips and writerly musings.

Top 11 Ways NOT To Respond When Getting Feedback

There are writers who take feedback well, but there are plenty who don’t. Try not to make these mistakes.

1. Take it personally

When you look at the rest of this list? Most of these clearly come from the same place: the real reason a writer will lash out — is when we take critiques personally.

They say “this chapter needs some work” and we hear “you’re a bad writer.” We know intellectually they don’t usually mean that, but in our hearts-of-hearts, it feels like that.

This is why you should sit on feedback. Let it percolate in your brain. Don’t kneejerk react and lash out.

2. Argue with them

Don’t send them a detailed letter countering and justifying why every last suggestion they gave you was wrong, and why you were right in the first place.

Honestly? Don’t argue in their DMs, via Text, on the phone, or in person either. Don’t harass them. Let them be/

3. Tell them they gave you the wrong feedback!

If you don’t tell your critiquer what you’re looking for (pacing, characterization, world building, line edits, what-have-you), and all of their feedback in concentrated in areas you don’t care about right now? It can be frustrating.

The REAL fix is to tell them what you’re looking for when you give them the draft!

4. Skim-read the feedback

Make sure you’re responding to what they actually said!

Always reread to be sure you understood what they were saying and the context. Sometimes, you can read too fast or while fixated on something, and misconstrue the whole thing.

5. Question their grasp on the [English] language

Don’t ask them if [English] is their first language, if they’re dyslexic, or if they grew up speaking the ‘wrong’ dialect.

6. Ignore their feedback

I know I’ve said this before, even if you think a beta is going in the wrong direction, they often are pointing out things that need to be changed, or at least clarified or better justified in the text.

Now, this isn’t saying that you have to agree with them. Especially the critiquers who think they should be rewriting your piece the way they would have written it. This is why getting a single chapter critique before commiting to a full manuscript review can be crucial.

But, if someone has taken the time to read your work and critique it, and you’ve publicly thanked them? While leaving in all the typos and plot holes and things that they pointed out to you?

It can make them look bad, unprofessional, and if they’re paid editors? Lose business.

7. Don’t repay them

Sure, there are awesome people out there who are critiquing your work out of the goodness of their hearts, or a desire to give back, but that’s not usually the case.

Even if you don’t like the advice, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay them, or critique THEIR work in return, whatever you agreed to. You should be a writer of your word.

8. Slam their work

It hurts when someone tells you your writing needs work — especially when they say that your writing needs a LOT of work. But, that doesn’t mean you should trash their writing — be it while critiquing their drafts, bad mouthing them, or 1-starring their published works. don’t do it.

9. Expect the critiquer to know how to fix everything

On the flip side, some writers expect the critiquer to fix everything, and that their novel will be done as soon as they get the feedback. They don’t understand why they would need to edit after clicking ‘accept all the changes’…

Edits are often clunky. Even after I incorporate feedback, I always do a final ‘polishing’ pass over the chapter, just to verify the flow, check the line edits, and make sure that my voice is consistent.

Also, they don’t know your character, your world, and your story as well as you do. Remember their suggestions are merely that. Suggestions. You might want to fix everything they point out — but you don’t have to fix it the way they suggested. Make sure your story stays true to itself.

10. Assume the Edits Guarantee A Contract

Contracts and sales are 10% hard work and 90% timing and luck. No matter how good of a writer you are, nor how good your editor is, there is no way to guarantee a sale — whether you’re going traditional publishing or indie.

11. Don’t Thank Them

Reading someone else’s work, thinking of ways to improve it, and being brave enough to share your thoughts with someone is time consuming, and sometimes emotionally draining.

This person has done work for you. Always thank them. Make sure you’re a writer people want to work with again.


Have you ever had a writer respond poorly to your critiques?
Share your horror stories!
Or? Share stories of writers who did it *right*!