Beta Reader Questions: Secrets to getting useful feedback

When I hear the words ‘I do’ at a wedding, I get goosebumps. 

At that moment, two people merrily commit to eternal love and it is a beautiful thing. But that is not the reason I get emotional.

I get emotional at that moment because it signals the end of the formalities and the start of the party! I am more of a reception person than a ceremony person. Everybody is always so festive and why wouldn’t they be? Free food, free booze, splendid music, and lots of laughter set in a mesmerizing atmosphere.

A long time ago, I was asked to do a speech at a wedding and I was ecstatic! The idea of me sharing the spotlight during my favorite part of the wedding was a dream come true. I started writing my speech right away.

I had nailed it! I wrote the wittiest speech, and I thought that the laughter would blow the roof off. I kept it as a surprise and didn’t tell anybody else what I intended to say. And that was a huge mistake.

I would rather not disclose the cringing details of what occurred that night while I was holding the microphone. My forehead still carries the lesions of the infinite facepalms that followed whenever I thought of that disastrous evening.

I bombed badly. Instead of cheers, I heard crickets. Instead of applause, I heard nervous coughing and whispers. This could all have been avoided if only I had shared my speech with someone before the wedding.

I should’ve gotten a beta reader.


What do beta readers do? 

Whatever app you are using on your phone, went through vigorous testing before you downloaded it. These tech companies that develop the apps go through various stages of testing. Professionals in the field and amateurs get to test, point out bugs and provide opinions about the apps.

These suggestions are then incorporated throughout the design and building process until the final product is launched.

Similarly, your book needs to be ‘tested’ or beta read by readers to provide additional input that you could use to improve your novel.

What is expected of a beta reader? 

The first thing that you need to acknowledge is that you are not perfect. You are also blind to your own work. You could go over your work a thousand times and still miss some minor errors.

Beta readers are not editors. They only provide opinions on your work. Occasionally, you might get some technical feedback too that you might get from an editor but beta readers are there to provide opinions of your work so that you can detect certain trends in reader opinions and use them to polish your novel.

Finding Beta Readers

Who should be your beta reader? 

The key is to find someone with an objective opinion that could provide honest feedback. If I had asked my closest friend to be a beta reader for my wedding speech, he would have praised me and encouraged me to go ahead, in order to spare my feelings.

Actually, I think he would’ve insisted I continue just to see me fail. Why are we friends again? But I digress…

An unbiased opinion is what you are looking for in a good beta reader so try to stay out of your immediate circle of acquaintances. Try to find someone that is in your target audience, is reliable and who’s not afraid to be honest with you.

Whether you are an aspiring writer or an established author it is critical that your potential beta readers comply with these requirements so that you could obtain constructive criticism that would turn your book from so-so into so-awesome!

Do beta readers get paid? 

In general, beta readers do it voluntarily. Most people enjoy sharing their opinions, especially when it is perceived as valuable. Unfortunately, not many people are in the position to sacrifice their valuable time for no reward.

As the writer, It may help you to motivate your beta readers by offering some kind of incentive. For instance, acknowledgment on social media, or giving them a free copy of your book once it is published.

You would be able to find beta readers within your group of followers or the group of their followers if you ask them to share your request. Additionally, there are hordes of Facebook groups that you can join to source such readers.

If you had no luck finding enough beta readers on social media, then you might want to try the community of Goodreads.com. Many authors recommend finding reliable beta readers here.

If you are struggling to find free beta readers, you always have the option to source and pay for a professional beta reader. There are thousands of freelancers online or on freelancer platforms.

The benefit of going onto a freelancer platform is that you can instantly see the pricing structure and view the ratings and specific feedback from other indie authors that give you a clear indication of the type of work you could expect.

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How many beta readers do you need? 

This is a highly debated question, and it also depends on resources. Some would suggest that you should not have less than 20 beta readers, while others might suggest that you could get away with as little as five beta readers.

Unlike the crude and insensitive jokes in my wedding speech, more is better. It would be easier to identify outlier opinions and trends if you have more beta readers. The statistical golden rule applies here; the more reliable data you have, the better.

Beta Reader Questions: What should I ask them? 

There are many variables that contribute to the type of questions that you should ask and they also depend on where you currently find yourself in your process flow, how many chapters did you ask them to review, and so on.

You could go as brought as asking questions like:

  • What do you like?
  • What do you want more of?
  • What don’t you like?
  • Did you like the characters?

You need to remember that if you ask broad questions, you would get broad answers in return. And the answers would be ‘scattered’ which means that you won’t be able to determine trends that easily.

Let’s look at an example.

What didn’t you like about the book?

  • Beta reader 1: I didn’t like that it had a sad ending.
  • Beta reader 2: I didn’t like the John character, but I am glad that he also died in the end.
  • Beta reader 3: I felt that the main character’s sister didn’t have enough talk time. She was very entertaining.

As you can see, the answers were very scattered and it is difficult to determine what you should amend or what should stay.

Now, let’s make the question a little more focused and directed at a specific aspect of the book.

Did you like how the book ended/concluded?

  • Beta reader 1: No, killing everyone off was unnecessary.
  • Beta reader 2: No, I felt empty and sad.
  • Beta reader 3: Yes. It was amazing. It reminded me that reality is not perfect.

This guy is clearly shocked at the ending! We want to know his thoughts by asking him specific questions.

Now you detected a very negative sentiment from the majority of your readers and maybe this is not what you were going for.

It is widely suggested that you rather have a focused approach. One strategy to follow is to create a ‘need-to-fix’ list during your last self-edit session. When you go over your manuscript again, you might see some things that just do not sit right with you.

Use these as a guideline for your questions so that you could get feedback on how to ‘fix’’ these predetermined problem areas better. For instance:

  • Was the beginning of the story captivating or not?
  • Were you satisfied with the character introductions in the first chapter? What was missing?
  • Was the world-building clear? Were there any confusing parts?
  • Were you happy with John's character development?

If your questions are more specific, it would guide the beta reader to think about certain smaller aspects that could have dissolved in the broader view of a question like: Did you like the novel?

The more diligent you are regarding beta reader questions, the better the odds are to receive food feedback from them. Incorporating constructive feedback would lead to a more refined product in the end.

The type of questions that you ask, and the answers you receive from them would determine if the entire exercise of beta reading was successful or a waste of time.

Make sure you do your research properly so that you can draw up a structured plan that could deliver the best results. Also, consulting a professional would guarantee that you get it right the first time.

How do I communicate with beta readers? 

The most popular form of communication is via email. Many authors simply send them a word document and ask them to leave comments and answer the questions at the end. There are also online survey tools that you could use to get a more holistic view instead of a pinpoint detailed view.

Communicate without beta readers through their channel of choice. They are doing all this work for you for free! The least you could do is give them some slack and chat with them through their preferred medium. That is just good beta reader etiquette.

When do I get beta readers? 

Another tricky question. In the case of my wedding speech, I should probably have asked a priest to assist me throughout the process to save me from conjuring that demonic script. But alas, I didn’t.

In this analogy, the priest wouldn’t have been a beta reader but more of a critique partner. A critique partner is someone that you can bounce ideas of and request critique every step of the way. Beta readers are summoned when approaching certain stage gates of your writing process. They can beta read a chapter, a few chapters, or the entire manuscript.

When you should get beta readers is also a very open question with many possible answers. Some authors would only stick with a critique partner throughout the entire process and then get beta readers in right at the end.

The other process is more iterative. There is a very good explanation as to why the word iterative so closely resembles the word irritative. It is because an iterative process leads to irritation. But it also leads to more refined work.

An iterative process consists of going back and forth the whole time. You send out your work, get feedback, edit and continue. Send, request, incorporate, continue until the very end.

There are pros and cons to both of these approaches but this and the mechanics behind the process is a complete article by itself.

You could always just take the easy way out and ask a publishing consultant to help you out.

Let’s wrap this up 

Hail to all the fast scrolling readers that landed here without reading it all!

No worries, we got you. Here is a quick recap about beta reader questions that you could read out loud in one breath.

Ready?

Let’s go.

  • Beta readers are the sweethearts that would read your book, or parts thereof, for free and provide valuable input that you could incorporate to make your book more awesome.
  • Beta readers should be reliable and provide objective opinions so don’t ask your mom or your best friend.
  • Beta readers are usually volunteers but you could also use professional beta readers that would charge a fee for their professional unbiased input.
  • You should guide the beta reader by asking them relevant and focused input. Asking them only if they liked it might be a little too broad.
  • Beta readers could join the party right that the end once you have finished your book or join you at certain stages of your project.

Could you read all of that in one breath or did you pass out halfway like the bride’s mom did during my wedding speech?

Let’s pretend that you are a beta reader of this article. Do you have any suggestions? Did we miss anything or is there anything that you would like us to elaborate on?

Please let us know via email or social media, if you feel like it.

(Nailed the rule of allowing your beta readers to contact you via the channel of choice there!)

About the author

Denis Caron

I help you build a loyal fanbase who enjoy and appreciate your books through 1-on-1 and group coaching. Learn more.

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