A beta reader is going through a completed, polished manuscript much like a random reader would do. While they may be fellow writers, there’s no rule that says they must be. The main criteria for a beta reader is that they are widely read in the genre of your story, they know what they like and don’t like, can make a guess as to why they have either reaction—and aren’t afraid to tell you.
A fellow writer is going to give you plenty of opinions about metaphors, punctuation, cliches, and grammar, which is why they’re more likely to fit the bill as a critique partner than beta reader. A beta reader isn’t analyzing that stuff, at least not on purpose. She’s in there for the story. If the story keeps her attention, she won’t comment on those nitty-gritties, or even notice them.
In fact, a beta reader may get to the end, hand the manuscript back, and say, “Oh, that was great!” Of course we writers like to hear those words, but giving a beta reader a list of questions to answer will help her to give you more helpful feedback.
You don’t want to overload the reader with questions. Offer something like the following as a guideline, but tell her she doesn’t need to answer every one.
The basic purpose of all the questions is to find out what interfered with her ability to sink completely into the story for the duration.
Questions about the characters:
- Any confusion on keeping characters straight?
- Did you like the ones you were supposed to like?
- What characteristics endeared them to you?
- What did you dislike about them?
- Did you dislike the ones you were supposed to dislike?
- Did the dialogue seem natural or was it stilted?
- Did any of them feel cliched?
- Were their actions and thoughts understandable?
Questions about the setting and backdrop:
- Could you clearly see the story settings?
- Which sections needed better, more detailed description?
- Which sections were bogged down with too much description?
Questions about the pacing:
- Where did things move too slowly?
- Where did events feel too rushed?
- Were there events that should have been given their own scenes but weren’t?
Questions about the reading experience:
- Was the opening compelling?
- What page/chapter were you on when you took your first break?
- Did your mind ever wander?
- What made you laugh or cry?
- Were there parts that seemed awkward?
- Is there anything you are still wondering about?
Questions about the plot:
- Was the progression of events believable?
- Where there events that seem like a digression rather than adding to the story?
- Were there holes in the story?
- Did anything happen that seemed unbelievable?
- Did you see the ending coming?
- Was the ending satisfying?
- Questions for beta readers about characters, pacing, setting, plot, & more. click to tweet
- But what does a beta reader DO? Here’s a list of questions to ask her. click to tweet
Questions such as these help the beta reader understand what, in fact, she liked about the story. They may also jog her mind about minor glitches she almost noticed while reading. By that I mean, she may say she loved the story, but when she reads the question about whether some parts felt rushed, she may remember that one scene she didn’t quite get.
As a writer, the answers to questions such as these are very valuable to you. Treat them with respect, as the opinion of one reader who likely represents a substantial percentage of all your future readers. You have a golden opportunity to adjust the story based on your beta readers’ input before you send it to an agent, editor, or Kindle Direct Publishing.
What kinds of questions do you ask your beta readers? Is there anything that should be on this list but isn’t?
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