Sunday, December 11, 2011

How to Read Your Beta Readers

Yesterday, I wrote a post about when to query your manuscript.

But astute #AskAgent participant pointed out something else: It's hard to incorporate advice when all the beta readers say different things.

This is true! And agents face this all the time, too. When subbing a client's book to editors, we frequently get completely conflicting feedback from the different editors: I LOVED the worldbuilding! The worldbuilding just wasn't there...what do you believe?

The truth is it's good when everyone is saying different things. It means that there's nothing glaring that you're missing. And, if all of the feedback is generally very positive, it means the book is probably pretty ready to go.

Beware, though, that you don't try to make consistent feedback into divergent feedback. If all of the critiques coming back are character related (the voice isn't right, they feel flat, they annoy me, she doesn't feel real--all technically "different things"), it means that character is NOT working. It might mean it's up to you to put your finger on exactly why, but your Betas are telling you something useful.

Look for trends in your beta feedback in the following major areas:

  • Character
  • Worldbuilding
  • Pace
  • Plot
  • Tone


  1. Thanks for the post! It answered some questions that were going through my head at the exact moment I saw it. :)

  2. Yes, yes, yes. For that matter, when people post their query letters on forum websites and have twenty responses saying ten different things...I always try to remind them--you aren't going to please everyone.

  3. You nicely cover one type of feedback-that-must-be-heeded: When everybody is saying the same thing (more or less).

    The other type I've learned to pay attention to is when feedback, even if it comes from only one reader, echoes a nagging doubt of your own. Maybe you knew a scene wasn't working hard enough, or that you'd had a character do something he'd never do just to make the plot work. At times like this, be thankful that a reader busted you and fix the problem.

  4. Thank you! This post was just what I needed!

  5. Great advice! I've struggled with deciphering what the problem is when my betas tell me how they want something changed or what they think the solution is.