Beta Reader Feedback

Blog35 ImageLast week, I blogged about using, finding and preparing beta readers. In this post, following my experience with The Case for Killing and False Guilt, I’m sharing my thoughts on what to do with their feedback.

As I mentioned last blog, I give beta readers a decent draft of my manuscript and a list of questions to address. I ask if they were entertained by the book; what they found worked and didn’t work about the plot, characters and settings; and where they encountered weak writing. I also ask them to circle typos and grammatical problems.

The form of the feedback varies a lot among readers. Two report verbally. A third enlarges on hand-written comments over coffee. From the last, I get a lengthy email. I don’t find the form matters much. All comments are useful and all readers make time for follow-up questions.

I consider comments from beta readers as carefully as those from my editor. However, the processes of handling the comments are different. The editor is a single voice speaking from a broad experience with manuscripts. Beta readers provide more diverse comments and have varying backgrounds. Their comments can differ and conflict. That can make for some tough decisions.

How do I approach this? Obviously I fix the typos and factual errors that readers find. I also assess grammatical problems, not only where the readers identify them but for similar instances across the manuscript. And I work hard on upgrading writing that readers say is weak, though it seems I re-write the manuscript I give beta readers at least three times anyway.

More challenging is feedback on whether the readers found the manuscript entertaining and on points about plot, characters and settings. The basic truth is that no writer pleases all readers. However, this can also be a dangerous rationalization for not improving a manuscript. So I try hard to refine my manuscript to handle all comments. If, however, beta reader comments conflict, I judge what to use according to my instinct and the consensus I see among the readers.

For example, pace in thrillers is very important. So, if one reader says a portion of my manuscript’s plot unfolds too slowly, I’ll try to improve it even though the other readers don’t complain. I’m pretty sure the book will be better as a result. However, I may end up keeping a plot point that one reader dislikes if the other three really like it.

Beta reader comments about characters’ makeups, motives and reactions can be especially challenging. Since my goal is that readers suspend their reality when reading my book, I can end up agonizing over these comments. Sometimes, though, after a lot of considering and tinkering, I’ll stop pounding the laptop keys and say to myself, “That’s who the character wants to be and not everyone will like or understand her.”

It’s true that no writer pleases all readers, but a writer who uses the feedback of beta readers wisely will definitely please more.

Copyright ©2014 Peter Fritze

Buy The Case for Killing here (Canada) or here (U.S.).

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