On Talking to a Beta Reader: How and When to Ask A Question

I’ve been posting about many different aspects about the beta reading process. My aim with creating this blog was to give people my views and hopes concerning this process.

There is a certain way to talk to a beta reader to get the most out of their services. Most writers just send off those pages and wait for feedback.

Something I’ve learned though, most writers need to be poked to get them to talk to you about the process. It’s strange. Most of the time, in the beginning, I just get “thanks” and “here are the next chapters”.

Most writers have a lot of questions about their book. They even intuitively know the areas that aren’t quite working. They know which characters need more development. Or that action scene that doesn’t have UMPHH….

Don’t be afraid to ask about those things nagging you. I haven’t met a beta that doesn’t want to talk about the books they read! That’s a big reason they do what they do… they want to help you.

 

On Asking Questions

 

I’ve never ran into a problem where an author is asking me too many questions. I’ve even enjoyed long conversations about what I’m working on… maybe this isn’t normal but I’ve heard the same opinion voiced by other betas.

If a beta reader sees something that bothers them, they will tell you. You don’t need to worry you’re taking up too much of their time, they’ll tell you if they can’t talk at the moment. I also don’t like all of the apologizing. I want to talk about it 🙂

 

On When to Ask Questions

 

I think it’s great to get questions after I’ve sent the feedback. Sometimes I get a document of author questions along with the manuscript. I still prefer the former. It allows me to focus on my impressions through my lens and then receiving questions later helps me give you any feedback you may not have gotten initially.

When I receive questions before, I don’t look at them until after I’ve given my feedback. If I didn’t, I would only focus on answering the writer questions.

Unless the writer only wants their questions answered, if that’s the case, let the beta reader know.

 

On How to Ask A Question

 

  • There are some questions I don’t personally like when I beta read. The ones I like are specific. “What do you think about the chapter overall?” or “What do you think about the pacing of the book?” These questions aren’t helpful. They may seem like they are but really, it’s hard to answer them… too many factors. Here are some examples of better ways to ask…

Broad: What do you think about the chapter overall?

Specific: Were you ever bored during the chapter? or Did you skim anything?

Using words like “bored” or “skim” make the beta reader try and identify the parts that weren’t working for them. They may have liked the overall chapter but you may never learn about those parts that aren’t working because the question wasn’t framed in a way to make them think about it. It isn’t a flattering question but it can help your pacing and keep your chapter more solid in the long run.

In my feedback, I usually mention my overall reactions but that’s from answering that question so many times. LOL

Broad: What did you think about the dialogue?

Specific: Was the dialogue wordy? Did the conversation seem too long? Did you like the interaction between…?

Each of these more specific questions target areas you may be concerned about. As I said before a beta reader will mention things that stick out to them but that doesn’t mean having more targeted questions can’t help you get more information out of them.

Always refer to a part/character/world building element/scene in your story. Using that as a reference as opposed to questions phrased with story mechanic jargon will also be more informative.

Broad: What did you think about the subplot?

Specific: What did you think about this part where the character does this? or How do you feel about this story in this part?

This will get your reader thinking about your story and not your mechanics.

Also, try not to let your insecurities shine through until after the question is answered. Saying something like “I’m not very good at writing monsters but what…” It may effect the feedback they give you. They may look for how you’re bad at it and give you feedback on that or they may not want to hurt your feelings and hold back on feedback you really need.

 

On How to Receive Feedback

 

Gratitude is definitely a hallmark of the beta/writer relationship. It is a two way street and very important to make these exchanges. It makes for a great working relationship. I don’t feel like I need to cover this right now.

If you have more than one beta reader and two of them see the same issue in your book, investigate. Ask more questions from both of them and consider the answers. If you get to the bottom of it, you can form an opinion of what you should do about it.

At the end of the day, this is your work. You know the reasons behind what you do and why you are writing a certain way. Feedback is not meant to be obeyed all the time. Sometimes, the advice isn’t right for your book. (Especially with betas like me that only read a few chapters at a time)

It’s important to remember your own voice in the process. And that little voice in the back of your head that made you ask all those questions to begin with.


 

I hope this helps you on your beta reading journey. I would love to hear your opinions on the matter!

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