Thursday, March 15, 2012

Questions For Your Beta Readers - Guest Post by Jodie Renner

Many thanks to Jodie  for sharing these tips with us today.

Have you finished the first draft of your novel, and maybe gone through the whole thing again once or twice, revising as you go? At this stage, it’s a good idea to ask some trusted volunteer readers to read through your manuscript and offer suggestions. Then you can incorporate any ideas you like into your final draft, and then, ideally, hire a freelance editor to give it a final polish before you self-publish or send it off to literary agents.

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.

Title:
Author:
Reader:

Please read all the questions before starting the story, so they’ll be in the back of your mind as you’re reading.

A.    Opening:
-    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?

B.    Characters:
-    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?

C.    Dialogue:
-    Did the dialogue sound natural to you? If not, whose dialogue did you think sounded artificial or stilted?

D.    Setting
-    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?

G.    Ending:
-    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.
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15 comments :

  1. Those are really great questions Jodie. Thank you for sharing your beta reader questionnaire.

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  2. You're welcome, Elle. Glad my questions are helpful.

    Maryann, thanks for posting my list of questions today!

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  3. You're welcome, Jodie. I hope others come by and find them helpful.

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  4. Thanks for a great post, Jodie! I've learned recently though, from being both an author and a beta reader, that the more detail required, the lower the participation. Because like everyone, I'm very busy and protective of my time. So it's a balancing act. Get as much feedback as you can, but don't be surprised or disappointed if your beta readers only give you a few general comments and/or few specific concerns.

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  5. Ah - a reality check. Thanks, LJ - good points. Or maybe try to find beta readers who aren't as busy? Maybe people who just enjoy reading fiction, as opposed to those who are authors or editors, too?

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    1. As with all good advice, we will likely each find some piece or other that resonates, and we can run with that, Jodie. My most trusted Beta readers - who are straight with me and offer the most practical advice - also tend to be the busiest. But they also tend to be pros who know a lot of this info instinctively. I use a light touch with them. By the time they see it, chunks of the material have already been workshopped with juried fellow writers who are expected to give more details as part of our class. With this blended approach, I feel I get good feedback without the risk of writing by committee. :)

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  6. Lots of great advice.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://facebook.com/morgan.mandel

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  7. Even if you only get one or two questions answered, it's still more valuable than "It was great. I enjoyed it."

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  8. Loved the list of questions for beta readers. Those would be most helpful.

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  9. Even if your great questions garner only a few responses, you will benefit from those responses. LJ has a good point about beta readers being busy, so take what you can get and analyze how it, by extension, might apply to other areas of your story. You may find more than a simple response beneath the surface of the comments.

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  10. Thanks, Morgan, Elle, Helen, and Linda. And thanks for your great advice, Linda! (I was away for several hours helping my son buy a car - then took him out to dinner to celebrate!) Thanks, BRP, for letting me put my two cents worth in every month!

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  11. Thanks for this great list of beta reader questions. I'll definitely be using it in a few weeks when I send out my first round of manuscripts to my betas.

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  12. Great questions. Others I find useful are questions that ask the reader to echo back what they perceived about the story, so I can assess its success as concerns my intent:

    • How would you describe my main character as concerns her personality, motivation and goal?

    • How would you summarize this story in one paragraph?

    • What kind of story do you think this is (story of redemption, forgiveness, justice, etc.)

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  13. I am about to send my work out to beta readers. This information is invaluable!

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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