So how do you find these beta readers? Perhaps through a critique group, writing class or workshop, a book club, or readers or writers you’ve met through online networking. It’s best to avoid getting your parent, sibling, best friend or significant other to do beta reading, as they’re too close to you and may be afraid of offending you and jeopardizing your relationship. Three to five trusted readers would be optimal, as more could become overwhelming, and fewer may not give you enough detailed feedback.
Be sure to choose your volunteer advance readers from people who already read and enjoy your genre. In the case of a YA novel or children’s book, look for be age-appropriate relatives, neighborhood kids, or the children of your friends. Or perhaps you know a teacher or librarian who would be willing to read some or all of it aloud and collect feedback.
To avoid generic, pat (and generally useless) responses like “I liked it,” or “It was okay,” it’s important to guide your readers with specific questions. With input from some of my novelist clients as well as ideas generated from my own reading and editing, I’ve compiled a list of possible questions for your beta readers or critique group. These questions are also useful for you to go through first, during one of your revision sessions.
Please read all the questions before starting the story, so they’ll be in the back of your mind as you’re reading.
- Were the first paragraphs and first page compelling? Did they make you want to keep reading? If not, what was the problem?
- Did you get oriented fairly quickly at the beginning as to whose story it is, what’s going on, and where and when it’s taking place? If not, what were you confused about at the beginning?
- Did the story continue to hold your interest through the first few chapters? Or is there a point where your interest started to lag?
- Could you relate to the main character? Did you feel her/his pain, joy, fears, worry, excitement?
- Which characters did you connect to and like? (or love to hate)
- Are there any characters you think could be made more interesting or more likeable?
- Could the bad guy(s) be nastier or more interesting?
- Did you get confused about who’s who in the characters? Are there too many characters to keep track of? Are any of the names or characters too similar?
- Did the dialogue sound natural to you? If not, whose dialogue did you think sounded artificial or stilted?
- Were you able to visualize where and when the story is taking place?
- Did the setting pull you in, and did the descriptions seem vivid and real to you?
E. Plot, Pacing, Scenes:
- Was the story interesting to you? Did it drag in parts?
- Which scenes/paragraphs/lines did you really like?
- Which parts were exciting and should be elaborated on, with more details?
- Which parts bored you and should be compressed or even deleted?
- Was there anything that confused, frustrated, or annoyed you?
F. Writing Style/Tone/Voice:
- Do you think the writing style fits the story and genre? If not, why not?
- Was the ending satisfying?
- Was the ending believable?
H. Grammar, spelling, punctuation:
- While you were reading, did you notice any obvious, repeating grammatical, spelling, punctuation or capitalization errors?
What about you fiction writers out there? Do you use beta readers? If so, how do you guide their reading? Do you have any useful questions to add to the list above? Readers – do you have any additional suggestions?
These questions were compiled by Jodie Renner through her reading and editing, and also from suggestions by these writer friends/clients:
- Robert Beatty
- LJ Sellers, crime fiction writer
- Michael Broadway, writing as Cornell Deville
Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor, specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, and other crime fiction, as well as YA and historical fiction. Check out Jodie’s website
Posted by Maryann Miller who seconds the motion that having beta readers is a good idea. Her critique group was an invaluable asset in the writing of her suspense novel, One Small Victory, as well as her other books.