Thursday, June 28, 2018

Questions for Your Beta Readers

Your novel has been edited within an inch of its life, gone through to your critique partners and developmental editor, been edited some more and you're ready for the final feedback loop. You're ready to send your book to your beta readers.

It's tempting to send your manuscript along with a "what do you think?" and leave it at that, which totally works for some people, especially those with whom you have a long history of sharing your writing. But with others, you're going to want to provide more direction about the type of feedback you're looking for.

I always send the below list of questions to my beta readers with the caveat - I know you're not a professional editor so I've provided the below questions as guidance to frame your reading. Do not feel compelled to give detailed replies to each! You're my last reader before my book hits the virtual shelves and I'd rather know what's not working before piling up bad live reviews!

A.    Opening:
  • Were the first paragraphs and first page compelling? Did they make you want to keep reading? If not, where did you stop reading?
  • 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 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/developed more?
  • 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 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?
Do you use beta readers? What kind of guidance do you give them, if any? Are there additional questions you'd add to this list?


Cheryl Oreglia said...

Thank you Brenda ~ these are great questions to ask myself when working on a piece. Excellent post, inspires me to read with a more speculative eye.

Siouxshi said...

This is so timely--I have my book in my beta's hands right now. The only other question I would add would be under the "dialogue" section. I would also ask if any of the voices sounded to similar. You should always be able to tell who's talking, even without dialogue tags. One of my biggest pet peeves is characters that sound all alike! Great article!

Brenda St John Brown said...

I've had some beta readers who've gone through and actually answered the questions with examples and they are GOLDEN!

Brenda St John Brown said...

Oh yay! I'm glad it's helpful. And yes, I agree - characters should have a unique voice for sure.

Carrie Beckort said...

Great questions, Brenda! I might steal a few (or all) as I hope to be in the beta phase soon! I love my beta readers. I haven't yet given out formal questions such as these, but I have been thinking about it. I've learned which readers are great to give it to first - the ones that are the most vocal about their opinions. Then I'll make the changes I want and send to the next round of readers. Then I'll ask about some of the issues I tried to correct in that edit. I'll do that for as many rounds as needed. However, the main character in my current WIP is a 15 year old boy, so I've thought about trying to get a few younger readers as betas. I think they might need a bit more structure in their feedback (based on my experience of having one beta the first have for voice).

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