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Beta Readers: Tips for Eliciting Useful Feedback on Your Manuscript

Receiving feedback from beta readers is an important step in the manuscript development process. Beta readers are unpaid readers (e.g., family members, friends, or fellow writers) that you enlist to read your draft manuscript and provide feedback. Most writers use beta readers when they feel like their manuscript is finished. The benefit of a beta reader is that they act as the first reader and can offer feedback you can use to improve your manuscript.

Because beta readers aren’t typically writers or developmental editors, it’s helpful to provide them with prompts to respond to rather than just asking them for general feedback. By providing the same prompts to several beta readers, themes will emerge that can help you determine what is working, what isn’t working, why, and how you might fix it.

Below is a list of prompts I’ve used to evaluate manuscripts in workshop and submission settings. These prompts originate from one of my former writing instructors, and I’ve found them useful when providing generative feedback to fellow writers—keeping them on the path to finalizing and publishing their manuscript.

Consider giving your beta readers these prompts and ask them to respond in a couple of sentences (this will alleviate any anxiety they have around responding at length, but truth is, they’ll probably respond with more than two sentences).

What were your embodied responses to the story? In other words, what moved you and how were you moved? For example, did you laugh? tear up? sigh? gasp? clutch your chest? Specifically, where in the piece did you feel these things?

What are the strengths of the story? Put another way, what did you admire or whatkept your interest?

What is the central question or conflict of the story? Namely, what does the narrator need or desire?

Where did the story become slow or confusing?

Is there one line, image, or scene from the story that lingered in your thoughts?

Do the first few pages grab your attention? If not, how might they?

Does the story omit something that is important for the reader to know? If so, what?

Are the stakes in the story high enough? That is to say, did you feel like the narrator had something to lose? If not, make suggestions.

Did you trust the narrator? If so, what inspired that trust?

What universal experiences or feelings are shown or described?

Remember, feedback from beta readers is important because they act as your first reader. If your beta reader has a question, is confused by something, finds the narrator untrustworthy, feels like something is missing, etc., there is a good chance that future readers may have similar feelings and thoughts.

Bonus tips:

  • Diversify your beta readers. Your mother is going to provide different feedback than your fellow writer.
  • Kindly ask people to be a beta reader in writing (i.e., via email). In the request include a synopsis of the piece, the page count, and how long they will have to read and provide feedback on it. Conclude by giving them a date to agree or decline the request.
  • Provide the prompts in writing and receive feedback responses in writing—it’s just the easiest way to keep track of all the feedback you’ll have coming in.
  • Thank your beta readers and keep them updated on your project. They are invested and want to see you succeed!

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