Seeking Feedback From Beta Readers (And Why It’s Not As Scary As You Think)

Unless the book you’ve written is so bad that allowing others to read it will somehow bring about the end of the world (in which case you should probably kill that MS with fire), seeking feedback is a helpful step for any writer.

It’s a step I’ve taken numerous times in the last few years, and here is what I’ve learned about the thrill and fear that comes from willingly seeking the judgement of others—or in other words—handing your book over to beta readers.

Initial Feedback – AKA The Family And Friend Beta Readers

In my experience, if you want to know if the story is working, enlist the help of willing family and friends.

Seeking such feedback should be free or done in return for an equal-value favor (unless that favor is helping someone move, which is more trouble than it’s worth). If you don’t have family or friends willing or able, find a critique group where you can team up with other writers and swap manuscripts.

F&F Betas are great for general feedback, but to get more than just “I liked it!”, consider including a small, non-overwhelming list of questions with your MS, such as…

  • What they thought of the overall story
  • Which characters they liked/didn’t like and why
  • Which parts they thought were confusing
  • Which parts were boring
  • If they saw a plot twist coming
  • Typos

When the notes come back, listen to what your betas tell you, especially if different people raise the same issue, and appreciate any feedback given. Sharing something creative with those closest to you is a learning curve for everyone involved and you may be surprised by who ends up becoming your biggest supporter.

In a perfect world, your F&F betas will read the MS as soon as you hand it over, but life gets in the way and you can’t expect it to be read in a timely manner. You’ll also find that some people don’t want to read it, take it but don’t read it, or never finish it.

More often than not, the feedback from F&F betas will center on what they liked (which is a great ego boost) and not any harsh truths. This might be because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, or because they don’t know how to critique in a way that will help you. That is when it’s time to seek the feedback of a professional.

Professional Feedback

Professional feedback is on offer to writers through manuscript assessors, editing services, and professional beta readers—and I’ve done all three.

These services can be costly and leave you feeling that it was worth it, and also that it wasn’t. My advice? Shop around, look at reviews, ask fellow writers for recommendations, and don’t go for a service simply because it’s the cheapest unless it also happens to be the best.

I’d also advise not splashing out on professional feedback before putting your MS through the F&F betas. The professionals should be looking at your final draft, the one you plan on sending to agents and publishers. Paying for someone to read your MS before that stage is a waste of money, and is also something I’ve done.

A good, professional beta will offer genuine, impartial feedback as well as advice about…

  • Voice
  • Pacing
  • Characters
  • Head hopping
  • Tense
  • Settings
  • Descriptions
  • Info dumps
  • Typos (even those ones you were sure weren’t there anymore).

Basically all of the “writerly” things you need to know about that you can’t get from F&F betas. Their feedback will be honest and it may even hurt, but if you can look at it just as impartially, it will help you grow as a writer.

Opposing Feedback

As with anything looked at by different people, you’re bound to gather some opposing feedback. What one beta reader loves, another might not. For example, the following is actual feedback I’ve received in regards to my voice—for exactly the same manuscript.

“Your writing has a distinctive clarity, spaciousness and steady, calm pace.

“The absorbing writing has a dream-like quality.”

“Your tone/voice could be loosened up and more casual for YA. The voice is a bit stiff for this audience.”

When you get feedback that contradicts another, you need to decide what you think is best for the book. It can be hard. I once had a beta tell me the settings weren’t clear enough and to add more spacial description to the house where the MC lived. I did this, only to have the next beta say there was too much detail in this area and that it was slowing down the pace. It’s all a balancing act, which takes many drafts to get right.

What To Do With Your Feedback

Once you’ve gotten your feedback, braved reading through it, cried over the parts that felt like personal attacks (they aren’t, but you’ll feel like they are), and smiled from ear to ear because someone else loved the MS too, it’s time to do something with the notes.

I like to organize my feedback three ways:

1) Make a list of the negatives, plot holes, typos, darlings, confusing sections, etc and then plan how to fix them. I then go from start to finish, chapter to chapter, rewriting.

2) Take the incorrect assumptions, parts that were flagged as issues but had clearly been misread by the beta, and suggestions that I don’t agree with, and forget about them.

3) Copy all of the positive feedback into a notepad file and print it out. I then stick that piece of paper where I can see it so that I can read it as I work through the rewrites. It reminds me that I am capable of writing something that others liked, even when I’m drowning in self-doubt.

No matter which way you look at it, seeking feedback is both a blessing and curse. It can confirm that what you’re writing is on the right track just as much as it can make you feel like a talentless hack. The key is to use all feedback, good and bad, to improve your manuscript. It also pays to keep in mind that you ultimately want others to read your work. After all, you didn’t spend years at the keyboard creating pages that no one else will ever see, right? Don’t be afraid to seek feedback from others. It may be scary, but it’s worth it.

— K.M. Allan

16 thoughts on “Seeking Feedback From Beta Readers (And Why It’s Not As Scary As You Think)

  1. I love your blogs. They’re like a flashlight for me as a try and navigate myself through the underground indie world… so thank you! Also, while on the topic of beta readers, I have a quick question. Is it normal for a beta reader to publish your work on their website without asking first? I write poetry, and I’ve asked for some feedback in the past and later found a poem the reader liked (flattered but still irritated) on their website. Is this normal? It’s kind of put me off the whole beta reader process.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! So glad you to hear you like my blogs 😊. I’ve never heard of a beta reader posting part of a clients work, especially without seeking permission first. I’ve only ever had a beta reader ask if they could use feedback I’d given them about their service as a testimonial to post on their site. Did your beta reader credit you as the writer of the poem? Did you let them know you didn’t want them to post your poetry? Perhaps letting them know will get them to take it down (if that’s what you want).


  2. I am so close to needing this blog, so I have read it, booked marked it and shall be re-reading it. It’s a fantastic post and definitely had some much needed advice. I am so, unfathomably nervous about letting others read my story. My writer’s doubt leaves me in a cringing mess as the thought. But I know it has to be done, and I am excited too. I know I will cry at some of the feedback, and I also know I need to develop a thicker skin.
    Thank you for the post and providing such clear and well structured advice. Eeek! I am all nervous-y already! x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, M. It’s very scary letting others read your work, but it does get easier the more you do it. Yes, some feedback will sting, but then you get the chance to dig deep and improve yourself as a writer. I’m sure I’ve offered to beta read for you before, and I’m still happy to do that when you’re ready 😊.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you 🙂 Yes I am certainly going to take you up on that offer, and once my uni year is over in May and I have more free time I will be more than happy to take a peek and offer feedback on your series too. I know you have already put it out to people, but if you ever want another perspective in the mix I would be glad to. I’ve read the premise on your About section and am thoroughly intrigued!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks so much, M 😊. Would love to take you up on that offer! I’m working on my rewrites now and it would be great to have a fresh set of eyes take a look when I’m done. After May sounds like it’ll line up perfectly 😊.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Back when the internet was just a baby in arms here in Portugal I joined a writers’ forum and we did a lot of critique for each other, as well as beta reading. I can honestly tell you it was the WORST ever experience in my writing career. Never have I wanted to have beta readers again, two of the people I trusted with my manuscripts plagiarised them, stole my words, my writing and placed them in their own work, one of them even won a writing contest with something she did not write, I did. It only came to my attention a couple of years later, from other members of the group who read my work and one of them even accused me of plagiarising one of my former betas – this one person had changed the dates and the names of the characters in her novel, but the gist of it was my story, my words – when the truth was the exact opposite. Since I can’t afford professional betas and my friends and family are unwilling to beta read my work, I don’t have beta readers, I mean, my beta readers end up being the wonderful people who read my novels and then reach out to me and warn me of typos or plot holes and stuff like that. I soon realised that being based in Portugal you must always publish first and seek opinion second, unless you want your worked ripped. There’s an immense gap in the copyright laws in this country, so seeing I’m based in it, I need to be quite careful in that department. It also hurt like a MF, that I had placed my trust on these people and they stole my work, my very self. I was honestly never able to confide in people the same way – this was what, ten, fifteen years ago, and I’m still not over it lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How horrible, Ruth. One of a writer’s worst nightmares has to be others taking your work and claiming it as their own. I’m so sorry to hear that happened to you. Most of my beta readers have been family and friends, so I haven’t had that kind of issue. But they can only help so much, so I have had the ms assessed by editors and a professional beta reader, which has so far (knock on wood) worked out. I can understand why you’d be hesitant to have betas look at things for you now.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Another super helpful post! An in-person writers group has always been so very valuable to me, but it can take a long time to “curate” such a group. I rely on mine so much, I don’t have friends and family read my work–not until it’s published anyway. Thanks for the always sound advice!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome, Rebecca. Lucky you to have found such a group. It sounds like the perfect way to get the right kind of feedback. I was once invited to join a local writers group near me, but the group focused on writing non-fiction and memoirs, so I didn’t think it would be a good fit.


  5. Thank You Alan… I was looking forward for such advises… right now working on the characters as my story is going off track and I really need a professional reader. I already did the beta reader thing, my stories are in first draft so yes there are lots of errors from plot holes to grammatical one. I have story in my mind but no words on paper. That’s why I started reading more books in my spare time. and you blog is a star help for me.

    Liked by 1 person

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