Dear beta reader: How to get honest feedback on your writing from loved ones
This is a post by Novel Publicity President, Emlyn Chand
Writing is a largely personal experience. We package our souls into an 80,000-word manuscript, making the transfer keystroke by keystroke. We leave the familiar world to explore our own mental jungles. We become Tarzan or Jane of these fairylands. Much is at risk: our time, our relationships, our sanity, our healthy weights. But we bravely, sometimes selfishly, venture forth; we can’t suppress that which we were born to do.
Nothing is scarier than sharing the products of our adventures with others. For this reason, some writers never do – they don’t need or want others to validate or refute their experiences. Most of us though would love to grab the world by its reading glasses and demand our voices be heard through the pages. This desire doesn’t make the simple act of sharing any less horrifying.
To ease into the transformation of private to public, we often turn to those who are closest to ourselves. Our spouses, parents, best friends. Will you read my manuscript and tell me what you think? we ask with puppy dog eyes. Unfortunately, these people we trust so fully are also the ones who least want to hurt our feelings.
They’ve seen how hard you’ve been working and for how long. They know how important this book is to you. They may even know that a piece of you has taken up residence in the type – a benevolent form of Lord Voldemort’s horcrux. Chances are they’ll lavish on the praise and let the misplaced commas or the confusing plot points slide. Their exuberant exaltations may even vanquish any lingering insecurities you once had. You smile a big ol’ confident smile and eagerly package your manuscript for submission to agents and publishers, or perhaps you jump straight to CreateSpace and press “publish.”
Eh, eh, eh, eh – warning, warning!
Proceed with caution. Get feedback from family and friends, absolutely. But don’t leave it at that. Have other writers look your masterpiece over too. Ideally, you’ll submit to a professional editor before calling the book complete.
So you’re saying I can’t trust my family and friends to give me an honest assessment of my book? You’re saying that all of their praise was faked for my benefit?
Well, yes and no. Maybe you are one of the lucky ones – your loved ones understand exactly what you need and aren’t afraid to tell you pointblank. Your book could be phenomenal too, but know this: first drafts NEVER come out perfect. We expect our initial readers – those closest to our hearts – to intuitively understand what we need. Fact is they’re probably not writers themselves, so how could they know what’s to be expected?
They can’t. Unless you tell them.
Accordingly, I have crafted the following note dubbed “Dear Beta Reader.” I hope it will help you get the honest feedback you need to put your best manuscript forward.
Dear beta reader,
Thank you so much for agreeing to provide feedback for my recently completed manuscript. Well, I shouldn’t say “completed” exactly. What I’m giving you is a first draft. I know it’s not perfect, but I have tried my best. With your input, I’d like to make this book as close to perfect as I can get it. I then plan to submit to literary agents/ contact publishers/ self-publish.
That being said, I’d love your honest opinion as to what works and what doesn’t. Don’t worry about hurting my feelings. As a writer, I need to be open to constructive criticism, and it will be easier coming from you than it will from an uninterested agent or an unsatisfied reader.
As you read, could you please consider the following questions:
- Do my characters feel real? Do their motivations make sense?
- Does the plot move along at a good clip? Are there parts of the story that go by so quickly you’re confused or so slowly you find yourself bored?
- How is the writing style overall? Do the sentences flow seamlessly together? Are the spelling and grammar on spot? Have you noted any words that I may misuse or use too frequently?
- When my characters speak does it sound authentic? If we removed the dialogue tags (i.e. he said, she screamed), would you know which character spoke each line based on speech patterns and word usage?
- Is the story the right length? Do you wish the resolution would have occurred a little more quickly? Do you think the manuscript needs to be longer to fully resolve all of the issues?
- Did you find any loose threads? Were there plot points that weren’t explained when you believe they should have been? Were the conclusions believable? Did they make sense within the larger context of the story?
- If you had to pick one scene, one character, one passage, what would you say worked the best in this manuscript and why? And what was the biggest flaw in the manuscript; why?
I know this must be a lot to take in! I have been working on this book for ____ years/months/weeks and have truly poured my heart into it. Although I am eager to move toward publication, I don’t want to miss any opportunities by sending this manuscript out before it is ready. That is why your 100% honest feedback is so important!
Thank you again for helping me with this. I promise to take you for a truly delicious dinner when it’s all over.
About this post's author:
Emlyn Chand is the president of Novel Publicity and a YA author. She loves to hear and tell stories and emerged from the womb with a fountain pen grasped firmly in her left hand (true story). Her first novel Farsighted released in late 2011 and is of the YA genre. Learn more about Emlyn at www.emlynchand.com or by connecting with her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or GoodReads.
Good ideas. Thank you.