Beta Reading: It’s More Than, “Did You Like It?”

“Your mom is not a beta reader; she will not provide you with critical feedback because… well, she’s your mom!”

Picture it. It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. After days – weeks – months – maybe even years, you’re ready to type THE END on your manuscript. And while I want you to revel in that moment of accomplishment, I also want you to think about the step that follows.

Because your book is far from done.

In fact, you’re just getting started with the tedious process we call editing. And your first step is to find and secure a handful of beta readers. Beta readers are individuals who have an interest in your story, are familiar with the genre, and owe you nothing. Your mom is not a beta reader; she will not provide you with critical feedback because… well, she’s your mom! And in her eyes, whatever you wrote is likely the best book the world has ever seen. Beta readers should be people you do not know because they can share constructive feedback without feeling pressured to keep your feelings from being hurt.

So… get started! Secure at least 10-15 readers. Beta readers are everywhere. You can find willing volunteers on social media (Facebook has great groups like BetaReader Connect), or hire readers on platforms like Fiverr. Use your network – and your network’s network! Just be sure you’re inviting varying perspectives.

Once you’ve secured your list of willing readers, you are best served developing a specific list of questions (a Google form is an easy way to capture feedback!). Think critically about what you want to gain from the experience. What feedback will be most valuable to you moving forward in your second draft?

Here are some fantastic examples of what you might consider asking a beta reader. (NOTE: you will not ask your beta readers to answer every question listed below! Just choose what works best for you and what your needs are!)

For Fiction

  • Is this book targeted toward its intended audience?
  • Did you lose interest in reading the manuscript at any point?
  • Were there parts of the manuscript that were confusing to you?  
  • Comment on your overall impression/feeling of the story.
  • What did you like?
  • What do you want more of?
  • What’s missing? Was there something that lacked development?
  • Where do you get bored?
  • Comment on the characters. Are they believable? Does each have a satisfactory backstory and appropriate depth?
  • Did the opening scene capture your attention? Why or why not?
  • Can you identify any plot holes? Or loose ends I neglected to tie up?
  • Is there a part of the plot you find confusing?
  • Does this feel like the typical (insert genre) formula?
  • Was the ending satisfying and believable?
  • Did you notice any inconsistencies in setting or timeline?
  • Did you notice inconsistencies in any character?
  • Comment on the structure and organization.
  • Did you identify any superfluous scenes unimportant to the story?
  • How do you feel about the narration/point of view?
  • Did the dialogue read “true” to each character and your knowledge of them? Was anything out of place?
  • Did the dialogue keep your interest and sound natural to you?
  • Comment on the flow and pace of individual chapters and the book as a whole.
  • On a scale of 1-10, how did you feel about the overall story? (10 being best, 1 being worst)
  • On a scale of 1-10, how was the pacing? (10 being best, 1 being worst)
  • Did you have a favorite character?
  • Was there any character you wanted to see more of?
  • Was there a character you wanted to see less of?
  • Is there a particular scene that stood out that you remember the most?
  • Did you find yourself skimming at any point?
  • Did this manuscript remind you of another book?
  • Was there enough conflict, tension, and intrigue to keep your interest?
  • Were the conflicts believable?
  • Do you have any other comments you wish to share?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how “finished” did this novel feel to you? (10 being best, 1 being worst)
  • Is this a book you would recommend for others to read?
  • What were the main strengths of the manuscript?
  • What were the main weaknesses of the manuscript?

For Non-Fiction

  • Is this book targeted toward its intended audience?
  • Is this book achieving its intended purpose?
  • Did you lose interest in reading the manuscript at any point?
  • Were there parts of the manuscript that were confusing to you?
  • Is there anything that wasn’t covered in the manuscript that you felt should have been?
  • Comment on your overall impression/feeling of the story.
  • What did you like?
  • What do you want more of?
  • What’s missing? Was there something that lacked development?
  • Where do you get bored?
  • Comment on the flow and pace of individual chapters and the book as a whole.
  • Did you find yourself skimming at any point?
  • Did this manuscript remind you of another book?
  • Is this a book you would recommend for others to read?
  • What were the main strengths of the manuscript?
  • What were the main weaknesses of the manuscript?
  • How could the author better reach the book’s intended audience, clearly fulfill its purpose and address some of its weaknesses?

While this is a fantastic list to streamline your feedback, it’s important to recognize that beta reading is more than just a series of questions. Do not be afraid to give your readers guidance. Suggest that they include comments or their “train-of-thought” throughout your manuscript. Allow them to predict what will happen next and encourage them to ask “why” or type “I’m confused here because…” Their comments are helpful because they offer a new perspective – or, validate your own thoughts and choices.  

Everything in a beta read has value. Just be sure you think critically about what you want from the experience! Afterall, it’s more than just, “I liked it!”

Published by julienavickas

Julie Navickas is a nationally recognized contemporary romance novelist with Inkspell Publishing, known for her keen ability to weave heart-wrenching, second-chance love stories through relatable characters with humility, humor, and heroism. She is also an award-winning instructor and academic advisor in the School of Communication at Illinois State University, the public relations manager for Burning Soul Press, the social media strategist for Labyrinth Made Goods, and is a continuing education instructor with Heartland Community College. Julie is a mom to three children: Lily (5); Colton (4); Brady (2), and has been married to her high school sweetheart, Thomas, for ten years.

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