Friday, July 20, 2012

Steering Beta Readers in the Right Direction

  "What do I want my beta readers to critique in my manuscript?"

 That is the first question an author should ask before enlisting the help of betas. Communication is key to a successful experience with beta readers as discussed in the previous post, 10 Tips To Enrich Your Beta Reader Experience. According to survey results obtained from both authors and beta readers in the  Beta Reading Survey, the breakdown of  author preferences included:

  • 21% want betas to focus on spelling and grammar errors only 
  •  5%  want betas to focus on characterization and plot only
  • 74% want betas to look and comment on all of the above (spelling, grammar, characters and plot)

  "What method of reader feedback do I prefer?", should be the second question an author asks.While most of the authors in the survey, preferred that their beta readers critique and comment in Microsoft Word's Track Changes, several claimed they were unfamiliar with the track changes editing feature and so were their beta readers. 

 I found this to be true in my own experience. Few of my betas were familiar with the track changes feature and I that is why I chose a different method of feedback.

Advantages to The Critique Worksheet:    After the betas had completed the full reading of the manuscript, I sent them a two-page Critique Worksheet along with a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. The betas were asked to complete these worksheets before we all met together to discuss the novel. There were several advantages to this method:
  • The worksheet contents steered my betas to the information I most wanted to know.
  • Betas were able to provide their most honest answers before entering a group dynamic. (Subtle peer pressure can change opinions and ideas and I wanted to avoid the "jumping on the band wagon" effect. )
  • Betas had time to reflect on the contents of the worksheet and mull over their answers. 
  • The chapter synopsis jogged their memories and saved them a lot of re-reading time. 
  • The worksheet served as the outline/agenda for our 3-hour discussion of the book. 
Critique Worksheet Contents:
 In my case, I did not want to bog down my betas with line-by-line edits so I asked them to focus more on plot scenes, characterization, plausibility and pacing. I knew the manuscript was too long and needed to know what scenes to cut. Here's what I asked:
  1. List your favorite scene or scenes. List any that touched you, stood out, made you laugh etc. What did you like about the scene? (Excel chart was provided)
  2. List any scenes that bothered you, seemed implausible, or didn't like. What was it about that scene that bothered you? (Excel chart was provided)
  3. Briefly list any spelling errors, repeated phrases, words that you felt  were overdone.
  4. Time to vent! List anything about the book, plot or the author's style that annoyed or bothered you.What are the author's weak points?
  5. In your opinion what are the book's strong points? What are the author's strong points? 
  6. Use the following scale to rate the manuscript’s elements:
1= Consistently worked for me
2= Worked most of the time
3= Could use some tweaking
4= Had concerns, bothered me
5= Needs help 

Pacing of the plot:

Realistic Dialogue:

Use of Christian/Inspirational elements:

Balance of action vs. introspection:

Believable Heroine:

Believable Hero:

Believable Conflict:

Believable Romantic Elements:

Believable Villain- Marcus:

Believable Villainess- Kristen:

Motivation or Goals of Characters:

Story Held Your Attention:

Rate the Introduction:

Rate the Middle of the Book:

Rate the Ending of the Book:

 I hope you have enjoyed this post. I believe it is always wise for authors to do their homework, before we ask our betas to do theirs.
Your turn: If you enlisted the help of beta readers, what would you want them to critique in your manuscript?

Coming up: Behind the scenes: Critique party ideas.


  1. Ooh, I love how organized you were with your beta readers. It'd be tempting to just hand over the book and say, "Tell me if you like it or not." :) Which in the end is not that helpful. :) I love your process. And yeah, I'd really want my betas to focus on the overall storycrafting--plot, characterization, pace. Line by lines can be done much later.

    1. Melissa,
      I agree that line edits may be beyond the scope of most beta readers, but they can certainly point out the flaws in the story. I found that out in a hurry and I'm indebted to them all.

  2. Brilliant! I'm tweeting this resource!!!

    1. So glad you liked it. I learned so much, I can't wait to pass it on.

  3. Another great post, Ava! Thank you for sharing everything you learned. I'm adding these posts to my favorite list so I can come back and check them out later when I'm ready to assemble my Beta group.

  4. Thanks, Gabrielle, your sweet comments have made my day!


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