The words are a giant blur. You’ve read them so many times that they have burned themselves into the grooves on of your brain. You know the story by heart. Every detail. Every phrase. And therein lies the problem.
We become so close to our stories that it’s hard to see the flaws. It doesn’t have to be on the page. We know the backstory, the nuances. It makes it nearly impossible for us to spot issues because we know it so well. That’s where beta readers come in. A beta reader is someone who reads an unfinished manuscript and provides feedback on the overall story, characters, and so on.
Beta reader feedback is as wide and varied as the individuals giving it. Each reader will each have their own preferences and styles. They will all find different things in your story, and the more betas you have, the more feedback you have to sort through. It can easily be overwhelming. Here are a few quick tips to help make sorting through the muck and mire a bit more bearable.
Give your betas specific questions.
If you ask someone to tell you what they think about the story. They are likely to give you vague answers. “I liked it.” “This character was cool.” While that can be fun to hear, it’s not going to make your story better. Limit the risk of unhelpful feedback by asking about specific characters, settings, scenes… whatever you’d like. Just make sure you provide them with a question that requires more than a one- or two-word response.
Look for common themes.
Somebody once told me that every book is somebody’s favorite. There is also a flip side to that. That same book will be someone’s least favorite. That’s why you can’t take a single comment too seriously. If Sally is the only one that doesn’t like the allegator chasing the protagonist out of the moat, maybe it’s okay to leave it there. But if the vast majority of your beta readers tell you John is hateful in a scene where you want him to be funny, you should probably look at rewriting it. Read through all the feedback. If something is mentioned more than twice, give it a closer look.
Take everything with a grain of salt.
The whole purpose behind this madness is to find the flaws in your writing. Yes, we all want everyone to love our work and tell us how amazing we are, but that’s not what we are doing here. If that’s all you want out of your betas, give your story to a relative you adore and let them give you feedback. They’ll tell you your great, but your story won’t get any better. Understand that you are asking for readers to point out the issues. They will find things they like too, but if that’s all they tell you about, then you are wasting your time.
Beta feedback is hard to manage. That’s all there is too it, but if you take a careful, well-constructed approach, you’ll come through it just fine.
What tips and techniques have you used to sort through the feedback you’ve received? Let us know in the comments below.