The Power of Beta Readers: Getting Feedback on Your Novel

Bryan talks about his recent experiences of using beta readers to give feedback on his two published novels, and the third, which is currently undergoing beta-reading!


I am in the middle of taking feedback from beta readers on my third novel, so the timing of this assignment is perfect. There’s not a whole lot to think about or a bunch of research. It’s happening in the moment. It’s exciting and nerve wracking, and not much else.

So…This whole beta reader thing? What is the point and is it worth it? Let’s find out.

The Role of Beta Readers

Think of beta readers as your test audience. Pretend you just made a movie and you want to see if it’s any good. You give away a bunch of tickets and nervously wait for their opinion. Beta readers are pretty much the same, minus the popcorn.

When you give beta readers your hard work, a few things will happen. You will accept the fact you’re not any good. You’ve been living a lie. You should have learned to play drums as a kid and joined the local rock band. Broke and living in a van is your true destiny. Or, you know you wrote something good and you’re positive they will feel the same.

As you can see, sometimes beta readers mess with your mind.  

In my recent book I wrote what I thought was a great opening. It had action and suspense and just a dash of humour to keep things interesting. What more would a beta reader want, right? Along comes Leslie, the best beta reader I have ever met.

Leslie digs deep into the core of the story. She understands what I’m trying to say. She knows what works and what falls flat, but most of all she’s not shy when it comes to telling me this.

Leslie is my ideal reader. When I gave her my latest book I nervously waited. She is a fast reader so I knew the results would come soon. Three days after I gave it to her she handed me her opinion. My grand opening fell flat. The heart of the story began on chapter 8 when it should have begun on chapter 1. In her opinion, I had work to do if I wanted to grab her attention on page 1.

Finding Trustworthy Beta Readers

Social media is the easiest place to start in your quest to find beta readers. All of the platforms are full of writers and readers. It’s kind of like fishing. You toss your pages into the lake and wait for a beta reader to reach up and snag it. 

Friends, family and coworkers and word or mouth work too. 

Be warned: If you hand over your book to people you know, they may act more like cheerleaders than an honest beta reader. 

My publisher has a message board where all of us gather. The board is full of readers and writers but most of all we have one thing in common: We belong to the same publisher so we kind of know one another. Because of this, I decided to try my hand at finding a beta reader. I found a handful, eight to be precise, and sent my book to them. One was returned when he discovered it wasn’t his genre, while another decided to attack me.

One rule: Avoid attackers. For reasons known only to them, they will attack your book and you. They will go out of their way to convince you to stop writing. Thankfully there aren’t many of them but they’re out there and the best thing to do is block them.

A good beta reader will give you a balance of all things good or bad or inbetween. They will talk to you instead of lecturing you. 

And, one more thing: never, ever pay anyone to read your book. Ever!!!!

Preparing Your Manuscript for Beta Readers

Before even thinking about sending my book out to beta readers, I make sure it’s as finished as it can be. I make sure that I feel as though I have come to a natural end in writing my novel, and that it is well and thoroughly edited.

Before I send my book to beta readers I do three things:

  1. I type up a brief summary of my book. The kind you would read on the back of a book if you were thinking of buying it.
  2. I ask them to look for plot holes or anything confusing and boring. Were there scenes that they felt needed more material or did I add to much. What part of the book did they like the most?
  3. This is the most important question of all: Were they entertained?

My goal is to create a setting where the beta reader is as comfortable as possible. I never tell them to do things in a certain way. They have full control. They are taking time out of their day for me. They deserve the right to run the show their way. It is their rule and their system. I adjust for them.

Changes And Revisions from Beta Readers

When I begin writing a novel, I am already sold on what I am trying to do. I am not one of those who jumps in and hopes for the best. The plot, the characters, pretty much everything has to be solid. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. The storyline will never change but plot improvement will happen.

This is where my favourite beta reader, Leslie, comes in. Her opinions aren’t damaging. She would never demand the storyline or characters rewritten. All she wants is better writing, and it’s my job to see that she gets it.

The job of a beta reader is to help the writer make the story better before it’s put out to market. Different opinions or conflicting feedback are fine, as long as it’s about the improvement of the storyline already in place and not a personal attack on the writer or story.

As with anything, opinions are a mix bag. Some are great while others can be  ridiculous. This pretty much applies to everything, which makes it easier to understand. But in this case, where it’s about you listening to an opinion, it is your job to remember that the opinions you are listening to are those of a reader. 

A beta reader might be your ideal reader or they might not. I know immediately and in time so will you. Once you realise this, accepting their feedback is easy. 

With all of their feedback, I make a list of things that need to be fixed right after I edit. Think of it as a grocery list where the store is the book and the aisles are the chapters. I go about revisions by taking everything the beta reader and I agreed on and begin working on the list. Afterwards, I find that one beta reader who I feel represents them all, in my case Leslie,  and see if it works.

Remember: You are editing your novel until the last second.

Building Relationships with Beta Readers

Some beta readers do not make good on their promise. They are quick to offer help, but fail to make good on their offer. Avoid those in the future. But for those who do make good, they become the best readers you’ll have. When I find a good one, I keep them close. Not only have they helped me with my work, they have become long lasting friends as well.

When your writing career grows you will need support and if you find it in a beta reader, hang on to them. They are smart, supportive and good people.

When I reached out to beta readers on my newest work I had to be upfront with them. My time at this moment is limited. For now it would be one-sided. Because of this I lost out on some excellent readers but it was the price I had to pay.

There is an unwritten rule to return the favour. We’re all in this together and down the road, when my time opens up, I will reach out to those who helped and give them my time as well.

This pretty much goes without saying, but it doesn’t hurt to add a reminder: Anytime someone goes out of their way to help anyone, a thank you is the perfect way for a response. (Excluding the one who attacked me) I thank them all. Anytime someone has taken the time and effort to make my work better they deserve all the thanks I can give.

Final Thoughts

A beta reader is a reader who will tell you if they were entertained. When you think about it, that’s all a writer wants to do. To entertain someone. 

In the end, after the beta readers arrive with their opinions, it is your decision to listen or not. That’s a lot of pressure. You might be passing up advice that will turn your book into a bestseller but this is the path we chose. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we mess up. 

My advice to you is to keep them close. Return the favour, listen, learn and enjoy the ride. 

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