When you ask someone to read your work, I suggest that you take the attitude that their criticisms will help you to make your book better. You should look forward to their criticism and understand that the harsher they seem, the better your book will be when you have fixed the problems. It’s better to have the criticism before it’s published than afterwards when it’s too late to fix it.
This is why the best beta readers are the most critical and I always tell mine to be very critical and not to feel that they will hurt my feelings. Here are my suggestions for the kind of things you can ask them to look at.
- If you lose interest, please stop reading & I’ll send you a revised edition later. Tell me where I lost you.
- In general, does the story/plot work? Is there anywhere where it wanders or seems unclear or irrelevant?
- Is the beginning engaging? Does it make you want to read on? If not, why? Do you have any suggestions for improvement?
- Were any of the sections too slow? Were you bored? Where? Any idea why you felt this way?
- Did you like the characters? Why, why not? Were their motivations clear and their actions and dialogue realistic? Were the changes in POV clear?
- What did you think of the ending?
I had some terrific beta readers read my work in progress recently, but even after I’d fixed all the problems they had pointed out, my super-critical husband slammed the middle chapters – and I’m really glad he did.
He said he loved the first half and hated the second half (yes, he was that blatant; if you don’t divorce your critical spouse, it helps you develop a thick skin) so we looked at the crucial middle chapters and worked out why. One of my other readers had said that that part was a little fuzzy and needed to be tightened, but even after I thought I’d done that, according to hubby, it just wasn’t working. So we sat down and worked out why.
I discovered that I was skirting around the real guts of what I was trying to say. I hadn’t given the material the depth it needed to work. I’d skimmed the surface and taken away its power. To him, it came out looking pathetic. We decided that I had to write it more real and direct. I did and now it has the power and clarity that it needs. It’s real and it’s believable, and if I’ve had to bare my soul to do it, then that’s what it needed. An artist doesn’t do anything truly meaningful without taking risks and pushing themselves just that little bit further.
So take your criticisms as the cloth that will make your gold shine, not the hammer that will smash it.
How do you react to what your beta readers tell you?
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