Questions to ask beta readers

editing_for_authors
Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

Status
Not open for further replies.

katee

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Mar 20, 2005
Messages
118
Reaction score
16
Location
Sydney, Australia
I've lined up a couple of beta readers, and was wondering - do I just give them my first chapter, and ask for their opinion? Or is it better to ask specific questions about my work? (Such as, did you like the protagonist? when did you lose interest in reading it? would you read the next chapter?) If questions are the better way to go, what sort of things are good to ask?

I'm only going to be giving them the first chapter (about 5000 words) to begin with, because I don't want to overwhelm them. One's a writer herself, and the other's a big fan of the genre.
 

ChaosTitan

Around
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Dec 8, 2005
Messages
15,463
Reaction score
2,886
Location
The not-so-distant future
Website
kellymeding.com
I suppose the first question I'd want to know is why are you sending the first chapter to a beta reader? Is this a WIP? Is the manuscript complete?

What is the purpose of giving it to a beta reader? Do you need someone to correct your grammar? To give you ideas on where to take the plot? To check for POV lapses? To tear it apart so you can rebuild it? To squeeze your hand and say it's great, where's the rest?

The questions you ask your betas are determined by the purpose in having them read it in the first place.
 

EllenG

Registered
Joined
Jun 16, 2005
Messages
34
Reaction score
1
Location
northern NJ
questions for beta readers

KAtee,
When I sent my book to a beta reader who was also a good friend, I asked her to not focus on the technical stuff such as punctuation since it was a first draft. This I can always correct. I wanted feedback on how she reacted to the book, honest commentary about what worked for her and what did not. It may be hard for a friend to be objective, but I think another writer knows that you don't just want blind praise, that won't help us at all. I asked her what she thought of the main characters and how the plot progressed. Then I just listened to what she said, to see if she liked the pacing etc. Hope this helps.
 

scribbler1382

Write For You, Edit For The Reader
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Mar 10, 2005
Messages
1,429
Reaction score
161
Location
Toronto
Website
www.soderstrom.ca
I think the most important thing you can do is "train" your beta readers to read with a pencil in hand. Have them mark any section, phrase or word that pops them out of the story, even if they have no idea why it did. Sometimes that's all you need to see a problem.

I'll warn you about using technical writers as beta readers. Even when you tell them to ignore punctuation, format, typos, etc., that's usually ALL they mark and comment on.
 

Saanen

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Dec 12, 2018
Messages
1,093
Reaction score
115
I ask my beta readers to look for the overall pacing of the story--to mark where they thought it started to drag or was rushed. I ask them to give me feedback on plot points and sometimes feedback on a particular character (if I think that character's not coming across the way I intended).

I try to tell my beta readers as little as possible about the book before I give it to them. I don't want them to be biased either way, and I want them to react the way a reader would who picked the book off the shelf without knowing anything about it.
 

Marcusthefish

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 22, 2005
Messages
128
Reaction score
9
I'm almost at the same point for my book, and I plan to give my readers the whole manuscript and ask for general comments and impressions on story, plot, pacing, and characters. Specifically, I'm going to ask them to note if they find any parts unclear, confusing, unbelievable, or boring. I'll ask if they think anything is missing, or if there are parts that go too quickly (I tend to underwrite). I want comments on the whole thing, but I'll let them stop reading if they can't stands no more.

I think the MS is good enough to begin looking for an agent to represent it (i.e. as good as I can make it). I'm giving it to readers to find story problems that I might have missed from being too close to it for so long. And for affirmation, of course.

MTF
 

blacbird

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Mar 21, 2005
Messages
36,988
Reaction score
6,152
Location
The right earlobe of North America
Beta readers should be used to critique story effectiveness. They shouldn't be used to correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. All of that should be shipshape before a beta reader ever sees it.

caw.
 

Tirjasdyn

Outline Maven
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jun 21, 2005
Messages
2,182
Reaction score
183
Location
Mountain of my own Making
Website
michellejnorton.com
I'm giving the first 5 chapters of my novel to one of my beta's tonight. I have multiple POV's separated by chapters all in first person (4 total).

Now before you start screaming (heck, part of me is screaming), I did this because I realized that I needed information to be apparent to the reader that the main character doesn't get. So I was all prepared to rewrite the thing in 3rd person limited for those four characters. My then current set of beta readers read what I had so far (7 chapters at that point) and raved over the POV choice. They told me it made the novel.

Now let me be biased and say I like my novel, but I really I don't believe them. So I've been revising and fleshing out the first set of chapters before continuing on. The first 5 chapters represents all the POVS. I have notes on switching to 3rd person but have yet to do so. So, to this new beta I've made the what I need clear:

Do you like the story?
Could you handle the POV change in first person?
Could you differentiate the characters from voice?
Would you feel the same if the story was written in third person?
Don't worry about grammar unless it really bothers you.

The difference between this and my other beta readers is education. She's been through the same workshop hell college I've been to, so I know she'll be frank. Where the others could only really tell me what they liked and didn't based on what they usually read.

My point (I knew I had one) is that a beta reader should be chosen for what you want to get. I give the story to different people based on what I know their ability for feedback is. It seems to have worked out so far for me. Another example is a vampire short I wrote. I mangaged to impress a literary crowd & some vampire lovers (separately). However, I havent' been able to find a market for it. (Still waiting on that one). So I know betas aren't sure bets either.

I guess I'm just skeptical.

:)
 

katee

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Mar 20, 2005
Messages
118
Reaction score
16
Location
Sydney, Australia
Guys, this is great, thank you so much.

I've already reviewed my first chapter for grammar, punctuation, typos - a couple of times. Ditto for plot, POV and general suckitude. It's definitely at the point where it's viewable by Not Just Me - and I'm dying to get some feedback on it.

I've been pretty cautious in selected beta readers exactly because I didn't want to just get a pat on the back - and I don't want to waste my betas' time.
 

pepperlandgirl

American Aquarium Drinker
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 12, 2005
Messages
811
Reaction score
192
everybody does it differently. I send my first draft to betas because their comments/corrections/suggetions become my second draft. I might send the second draft to a different beta to get fresh eyes. And I ask them specifically to look for grammar! The horror! The horror!

But the two I use primarily have been friends and writing buddies for over 3 years now, so I don't even tell them what I expect/need. They know my work.
 

Perks

delicate #!&@*#! flower
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 12, 2005
Messages
18,965
Reaction score
6,890
Location
At some altitude
Website
www.jamie-mason.com
Just my opinion of course, but I'd advise giving betas the material with no qualifiers whatsoever.

If you send them in with any sort of agenda, you could very well be putting blinders or undo pressure on them to 'arrive' at a conclusion. Even if you made that a condition of what not to do, merely the suggestion will alter the outcome. And I have to disagree in discouraging technical (spelling, grammar, etc.) critique. If it's not up to that sort of scruitiny, then it's not ready for reading outside the writer's mind. You can have specific questions for them after they've read it.

Probably best to get a feel for your betas specialties. Some will give overall impressions, some will nit-pick you to death and the most efficient ones will do both - ply that sort with gifts.
 

veinglory

volitare nequeo
Staff member
Moderator
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 12, 2005
Messages
28,726
Reaction score
2,902
Location
right here
Website
www.veinglory.com
I suggets making it clear what 'type' of book it is meant to be and using beta-readers who know the genre.
 

Tirjasdyn

Outline Maven
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jun 21, 2005
Messages
2,182
Reaction score
183
Location
Mountain of my own Making
Website
michellejnorton.com
Perks said:
Just my opinion of course, but I'd advise giving betas the material with no qualifiers whatsoever.

If you send them in with any sort of agenda, you could very well be putting blinders or undo pressure on them to 'arrive' at a conclusion. Even if you made that a condition of what not to do, merely the suggestion will alter the outcome. And I have to disagree in discouraging technical (spelling, grammar, etc.) critique. If it's not up to that sort of scruitiny, then it's not ready for reading outside the writer's mind. You can have specific questions for them after they've read it.

Probably best to get a feel for your betas specialties. Some will give overall impressions, some will nit-pick you to death and the most efficient ones will do both - ply that sort with gifts.

Some readers can function like this, but most I've delt with can't. Workshops at the college I graduated from were structured like this. You always got two who gave efficient critiques, about 10 good jobs for writing at all, 6 who couldn't say why they didn't like it, 2 who want you to take out all the "genre" elements and the one guy in the corner who rewrites your story for you between the double spaces. Then you can't ask questions render most of the advise impossible to decipher.

Having said that, you can do this if your beta readers are readers of the genre you are writing in, they can flow with conventions. But give a lit critter a space opera and you're wasting both yours and your beta's time in most cases.

I don't generally discourage grammar help, but I ask them to limit it on earlier drafts unless they can't help themselves. I just realized I have no idea why I do this. :Shrug:
 

roach

annoyed and annoying
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 12, 2005
Messages
701
Reaction score
130
Location
Bolingbrook, IL
Website
www.idiorhythmic.net
I never heard the term beta reader until about a year or so ago, so I'm curious as to what the difference is between a beta reader and a critique group. Do they both serve the same purpose, beta readers being used when one doesn't have a critique group? Or are they different beasts all together?
 

Tirjasdyn

Outline Maven
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jun 21, 2005
Messages
2,182
Reaction score
183
Location
Mountain of my own Making
Website
michellejnorton.com
roach said:
I never heard the term beta reader until about a year or so ago, so I'm curious as to what the difference is between a beta reader and a critique group. Do they both serve the same purpose, beta readers being used when one doesn't have a critique group? Or are they different beasts all together?

They can be part of the same group or people. My first beta reader I had came from a college crit group we belonged to, I read her stuff in turn. Generally betas work alone whereas a crit group will crit your piece all at once within the group's guidlines.

You can use betas to get information that the crit group may not allow you to. For instance if it is a crit group's policy not to let the author talk or ask questions ever of the piece being read, then you can take the same piece that went through that group give it to your beta and ask them to focus on things you had questions on from the crit group.

Say the someone in the crit group said, "I hate this character," then the group moved on without clarification. It can be frustrating in a crit group that does not let the author talk.

Then you gave the piece to a friend and ask them tell me what you thing of this X character. Then you can see if they had the same reaction. You ask them why. You might find out that others read the character as a nasty person whereas you were trying for just a little ecentric.

This is my experience, milage may vary.
 

pepperlandgirl

American Aquarium Drinker
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 12, 2005
Messages
811
Reaction score
192
I was thinking about this thread (and other threads about beta-readers) on my drive home today (because my drive is long and boring) and I realize the whole thing really gets under my skin. Every single time the issues comes up, everybody jumps in and says, "Never ask this" or "Never show it to a reader until..." even people who have claimed in the past that they don't use Betas!

Look, if you have found somebody who is willing to read your work, and it's somebody you trust, ask them whatever you want. Nobody here can tell you what your beta should read for. My number 1 gal reads for content and for conjunction abuse because she knows I abuse conjunctions! There's another person who I call on who ONLY reads for grammar because he's a technical sort of guy. There's a third person I talk to when I need somebody who literally has a completely different worldview than me in every way (I'm female, he's male. I'm an atheist, he's a Jew. I'm liberal, he's conservative. I'm not into Sci-Fi or Fantasy, he's a HUGE geek. I'm married, he's never had a long term relationship.)

Find a person you can work with. Narrow in on your issues. Do what feels comfortable. You know where you're weak and strong, you don't need strangers on a MB telling you how to deal with your readers/critics.
 

katee

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Mar 20, 2005
Messages
118
Reaction score
16
Location
Sydney, Australia
pepperlandgirl said:
Find a person you can work with. Narrow in on your issues. Do what feels comfortable. You know where you're weak and strong, you don't need strangers on a MB telling you how to deal with your readers/critics.
Hmmm, interesting thoughts there pepperlandgirl.

I know where I'm strong, in that I can (usually) spell correctly and I have zero worries about grammar. But unfortunately spelling and grammar do not a novel maketh.

My main issue is that I don't know where I'm weak. I have no idea whether what I've written is any good. More than that - whether what I've written reads like something in a published novel.

This is, of course, why I'm showing my work to other people.

So possibly, all I have to do is ask, "is this the sort of thing you'd expect to read in a published novel" to my beta reader who knows the genre, and "what do you think" to my beta reader who doesn't.
 

Jana

Registered
Joined
Feb 15, 2006
Messages
25
Reaction score
2
katee said:
My main issue is that I don't know where I'm weak. I have no idea whether what I've written is any good. More than that - whether what I've written reads like something in a published novel.

I can really identify! The most useful question I have asked of my writing workshop instructors has been: what is the single biggest weakness in this piece of writing? Both times I got an answer I would not have figured out for myself, that was a weakness in ALL my writing, not just that piece. None of the fellow workshoppers came anywhere close.

For beta readers, I put a list of questions at the end of every section/chapter/whatever. I avoid questions that could be answered yes or no, and go for open-ended ones like 'what do you think of the relationship between Character A & Character B so far?' or 'what do you think the main story question is?' or 'which character do you identify with the most?'

The answers tell me if I'm setting up the tension/affection/whatever sufficiently to carry the next phase of the story.

I didn't ask my beta readers specific questions on the first draft of one novel, and it was the third draft before I found out none of them had ever found the motive for the first murder convincing. What a waste of time, for them and for me!
 

Linda Adams

Soldier, Storyteller
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 2, 2005
Messages
4,422
Reaction score
633
Location
Metropolitan District of Washington
Website
www.linda-adams.com
On the first go round, co-writer and I tried to give the beta readers specific questions--and everyone pretty much ignored them during their reading. They gave their opinion, made some comments, and most said they enjoyed reading it.

It wasn't until the book landed in a critique group that we figured out that all the comments from the beta readers had also addressed a specific problem in a very non-specific way--sort of like chipping away at stone for a sculpture. We saw pieces of it, but until we did some critiques (not received, by the way), we couldn't see the whole picture of the problem.

The problem is that beta readers are simply readers--not trained as writers. They can tell something is not working, but they may not be able to verbalize it in a way that is helpful to you. We even had a professionally published writer in the group, and she had the same problem.

For example:

What the beta readers said (all of them, by the way): Too many characters.

What it actually meant: 1) No primary hero/heroine, which in turn caused a lack of focus; 2) Set up issues that required so many characters early on; 3) Story structural problems that required so many characters.

Questions probably won't be as helpful as you might hope, but this is the one that should be asked of the beta readers (tell them to be honest and that you won't get hurt feelings over it): Would you spend money to buy this book in the bookstore? Why not?
 

cwfgal

On the rocks
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 12, 2005
Messages
1,173
Reaction score
156
Location
In a state of psychosis
Website
www.bethamos.com
Linda Adams said:
The problem is that beta readers are simply readers--not trained as writers. They can tell something is not working, but they may not be able to verbalize it in a way that is helpful to you. We even had a professionally published writer in the group, and she had the same problem.

All the beta readers I've ever used have been writers as well as readers...not hard to do since most writers are readers. I didn't ask them to be betas until I had a chance to get to know them a bit and gauge their knowledge, their tastes, etc. I also read samples of their writing. I chose people I knew wouldn't hesitate to say it like it is because I wanted honest feedback, not whitewashing. They've all done an excellent job for me and they always bring a fresh eye and a fresh perspective to my work that inevitably makes it better.

Beth
 

Linda Adams

Soldier, Storyteller
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 2, 2005
Messages
4,422
Reaction score
633
Location
Metropolitan District of Washington
Website
www.linda-adams.com
cwfgal said:
All the beta readers I've ever used have been writers as well as readers...not hard to do since most writers are readers. I didn't ask them to be betas until I had a chance to get to know them a bit and gauge their knowledge, their tastes, etc. I also read samples of their writing. I chose people I knew wouldn't hesitate to say it like it is because I wanted honest feedback, not whitewashing. They've all done an excellent job for me and they always bring a fresh eye and a fresh perspective to my work that inevitably makes it better.

Beth

You're lucky to find so many who are writers. All our initial beta readers, except for one, were not writers.
 

cwfgal

On the rocks
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 12, 2005
Messages
1,173
Reaction score
156
Location
In a state of psychosis
Website
www.bethamos.com
I found most of them online, in writer forums like this one. I had two several years back that I hooked up with through a writing class but I no longer use them. All of my betas now are online acquaintances, though I have met several of them in real life, too.

Beth
 
Status
Not open for further replies.

Happy Thanksgiving

Autumn image for Thanksgiving