We’re continuing with our beta reader series and today we’re focusing on beta reader feedback. I’ll break down the general process and I’ll also talk to you about my personal process because I’ve been doing this for quite a while now and have a pretty good system going.
First things first:
How should you send your work to beta readers?
My personal preference is Google docs with commenting power. You can give your manuscript to someone in any form – Word doc, PDF, etc. but I would ask your betas if they’re comfortable with your preferred option and be sure that they understand how to use it.
I will share a folder to each beta reader and make copies of my divided sections complete with my questions, and then as each beta reader finishes a section I make a copy of the next chunk and drop it in the folder for them.
I personally think that it’s better for each beta reader to have their own individual copy rather than a shared document that is available to all of the beta readers. My logic for this is that people tend to be more likely to leave feedback if they don’t see other feedback already there, and they also cannot be influenced by other readers’ opinions.
For example, if they can all see everyone’s comments and someone says they’re confused about a section, everyone else is less likely to say anything because it’s been pointed out already. But, it’s important to know how many betas share an opinion because if everyone is telling you the same thing is an issue, that means you should do something about it.
Should you send your entire story to beta readers at once?
If you have a shorter piece then it’s easy to send the entire thing to betas at once. If you have a full length novel then it can be a more comfortable and digestible experience for betas to break it into chunks. Whether those chunks are separate chapters, sets of 5, divided by word count or acts, etc. they can help your readers pause and provide feedback more consistently and you’re also not handing over your entire novel to someone who might ghost.
As a writer, I think a really good option to see if a beta reader is going to fit is to do a test with the first chapter. So what I mean by this is that rather than sending them a large chunk, you’re only going to be sending them a single chapter with questions so you can get a feel for both the type of feedback they offer, how quickly they’re able to complete the task, and whether they’re enjoying the story enough to continue. This first chapter can be a really good indication for what the beta reader is going to be like for the rest of the process so if there are issues popping up here you’re going to want to address them right away.
For example, if a beta reader takes an entire week to read a single chapter it’s very unlikely that they’re going to be able to keep up with the deadlines. And if they skip over the feedback questions then you know that they’re unlikely to provide you with the feedback that you need. If someone is not going to be able to provide feedback and they’re not going to be able to keep up with the deadline then now is a good time to discuss expectations, find out if the beta reader is willing to provide additional feedback, and have a chat about whether they think it’s reasonable for them to continue. If this beta reader is a person who really wants to just genuinely support you they can do so in other ways. You could offer them a position on an ARC team, or a street team, or just ask them to share the book on release day.
With the first chapter I ask the following questions:
If you picked up this book at random would this first chapter prompt you to keep reading? Why or why not?
Do you have a clear picture of what anyone looks like?
What can you tell me about the main character so far? What do you think of them?
With these questions you get to find out if your first chapter is engaging enough for a reader to continue. It also makes sure that you are laying the foundation for your characters. For me, I personally tend to forget to include descriptions so I always make sure to ask if I’ve included enough for beta readers to know what my characters look like.
Once you’ve determined which beta readers will be continuing on you can decide how you’re breaking up the rest of the piece or if you want to send the entire story at once. For novels, I personally recommend sending chunks of about 10,000 words at a time. Obviously don’t cut chapters in half to make this word count, but try to be somewhat consistent about the size. I like to let my beta readers know the word count of each chapter at the beginning so that they are more likely to be able to read it in a single sitting versus beginning a chapter and then having to go to bed and potentially forgetting details that would be important to feedback
How do you get good beta reader feedback?
You have to ask for it. Beta readers are not mind readers so you need to get specific about what you’re looking for. If you give no guidance you’re not likely to get a ton of information back. Questions can prompt betas to think about different aspects of the story.
A lot of beta readers are quite new to the process so it’s important for authors to be able to guide them through it with clear instructions so they know they’re meeting expectations and you know you’re getting useful feedback.
You can ask for feedback as often as you’d like—at the end, after each chapter, after sets of chapters—but the longer the piece the more likely people are to forget details if you wait until the end. For short stories and novellas I usually ask questions at the end of the story, but for novels I usually ask at the end of each chapter to make sure I’m keeping things on track.
What questions should you be asking?
These are the questions that I usually ask my beta readers, but I tailor them to the individual stories.
What are your initial thoughts?
Find out what impact this chapter had on your readers.
What are your thoughts about the main character and why?
Is your MC coming across the way you intended? This is important to note because readers aren’t going to have the same context as you.
What are your thoughts about each character that appeared in this chapter?
I always list the characters I’m interested in receiving feedback for. These could be the love interest, the antagonist, or just secondary characters you want to carry a certain vibe.
What do you think of the following scenes?
You don’t have to ask this every time, but if there are specific scenes you want to impart certain things, you should absolutely ask about them after they occur. The last thing you want is something you intended to be heartbreaking making your readers laugh instead. This will help you keep on top of how everything is coming across.
What was your favourite part(s) and why? And vice versa for least favourite?
This question can help safeguard pieces when you’re editing, or give you a heads up where there are sections your readers are just not jiving with.
What do you think the following terms mean based on context?
If you’re making words up for a fantasy, are using words you plucked out of the depths of a thesaurus, or are using words from another language, you might be interested in knowing if your readers know what you’re trying to say.
Were any parts confusing or unclear?
Ask this directly, because not everyone is comfortable saying that they didn’t understand something. Pay attention to this portion and watch for trends. If only one beta is confused by something you’re probably okay, but if three or more express confusion then you’d better get in there and clarify.
On a scale from 1-10 how much did you enjoy each chapter? Same scale for eagerness to read the next chapter?
This can help you figure out if your chapters are slacking. If people aren’t interested in turning the page then you might have some work to do. Now, not every single chapter should end in a little cliffhanger that has readers screaming and turning the page, but you do want to ensure that at no point do they want to put the book down and have no interest in picking it back up.
Do you have any predictions or theories?
This is especially good if you’re planning plot twists BUT they also might alert you to little breadcrumbs you’ve been laying down you didn’t realize. Sometimes those are like ‘oh fuck didn’t mean that’, and sometimes they’re like ‘omg that’s brilliant! I’m going to tweak to make that prediction true!’
Other things you should consider asking about:
Is the relationship/friendship/rivalry/etc. between various characters believable?
You don’t want your romance falling flat or betas wondering why the heck characters are even friends.
Do the world building elements make sense?
It doesn’t matter if you’re writing fantasy or contemporary because if you’re setting your book somewhere the beta reader isn’t personally familiar with then you’re going to have potential world building issues and confusion.
The end of a piece is a really important place to gather feedback on the story as a whole. Some things that you should consider asking about at the end of the story are:
Are they satisfied with the ending?
How did their first impressions of the characters evolve over the story? How do they feel about the various character arcs?
Are the sex scenes sexy?
If you’re writing anything with a relationship make sure you ask if they still want the leads to be together by the end of the story?
Is there any part of the story that made them want to stop reading?
Is there anything that is still unclear?
Is there any specific part of the book that you feel needs improvement? For example – characterization, dialogue, narrative description, world description, plot, pacing, etc.
Are there any storylines or plot threads that you feel were not resolved?
I know it seems like a lot, but you can use as many or as few as you’d like, and you can tailor them specifically for the story you’re writing.
That’s all for now. You can find all of my books and platforms below. If you have questions or suggestions for future episodes, please do let me know. Thank you so much for reading and I’ll see you soon for another episode!
First Heat Series – m/f, 3rd person POV
First Heat: https://books2read.com/FirstHeat
First Heat: Second Chances: https://books2read.com/FHSC
First Heat: Tying The Knot: https://books2read.com/FirstHeatTTK
Heat Play Love – m/m/m, 3rd person POV https://books2read.com/HeatPlayLove
Conference Confidential – m/f, 3rd person POV https://books2read.com/ConferenceConfidential
2021 Omegaverse Collection – contains First Heat, First Heat: Second Chances, Heat Play Love, Conference Confidential, and 2 bonus shorts https://books2read.com/OV2021
Nicky and the Night Owls: Part One – polyamorous (m/f/nb/f/nb/m), multi 1st person POV https://books2read.com/NickyNightOwls
Nicky and the Night Owls: Part Two – polyamorous (m/f/nb/f/nb/m), multi 1st person POV – currently on preorder https://books2read.com/NickyNightOwls2
Knotty or Nice Christmas Anthology – (my story is based on Nicky and the Pack) – currently on preorder https://books2read.com/knotty-or-nice
Salacious Salvation – m/f, 3rd person POV https://books2read.com/SalaciousSalvation
Playtime with Professor – m/f, 3rd person POV https://books2read.com/PlaytimeWithProfessor
PARANORMAL Into The Depths – f/nb, 3rd person POV https://books2read.com/intothedepths
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