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A Writing Journey


Part 3:
Beta Readers and Feedback

Feedback is an essential part of writing a good story. No matter how talented you are, your story will always benefit from an outside perspective. Beta readers allow you to gauge how well you are communicating your ideas, and can help you identify what is working and what is not.

While beta reading goes hand-in-hand with drafting and revising, to keep these segments from getting too long, this month's write-up will focus on just the beta-reading/feedback part of the process!

So what is a beta reader? Essentially, it is someone who reads your book and tells you what they think of it. A beta reader might point out sections they found boring, confusing, or unrealistic, characters they liked and didn't like, issues with the plot or pacing, and so on. Their feedback serves as a guide as you draft and revise your novel.

Although I often share work I'm excited about early on, typically, I wait until after my second draft before I start seeking feedback. I ask family members, friends and coworkers, and look for readers online, either through my writing group or by making a post in the Goodreads writing forums.

Given that I prefer to focus on the story and characters before I worry about the quality of my writing, I tell my beta readers not to worry about prose until later drafts, but rather to focus on characters, world building, plot, pacing, etc. Sometimes, I will have a list of specific questions for them to answer at the end, such as, 'Was the ending satisfying?' or 'Was this character likable?'

When possible, I ask them to leave comments in the text, recording whatever thoughts or questions pop into their mind as they read. These comments are incredibly valuable; seeing when a reader is enthused, annoyed, bored, invested, or confused gives me excellent insight on how the book is being received on the reader's end.

I try to seek as much feedback as I can as often as I can during the drafting process, however, I don't ask all of my potential beta readers for each read. While some people are willing to read a story multiple times, a lot of people don't have the time or interest. I try to space readers out so that I'll have people available for future drafts and revisions. I also find some readers are better suited for different stages of the drafting process, so I take that into consideration when I'm reaching out to readers.

Once a reader has confirmed that they are interested/willing to beta read, I send them my work (plus instructions on what kind of feedback I'm looking for) and ask them when they can have it done by. Sometimes, a reader ends up changing their mind or gets too busy, but usually I start getting feedback between a couple weeks to a couple months.

Now, receiving feedback as a writer is no easy thing. It can be quite intimidating to let someone read your work, and it's hard not to worry about what they'll think of it. Going over feedback can feel overwhelming and discouraging, and it's easy to lose heart in your project. It can also leave you feeling confused about what changes to make to your book, as you will often receive comments that are directly contradictory! One person may feel a section of the story is too short, while the very next reader complains it's too long.

After over ten years of writing, I'm getting better at navigating feedback and the feelings associated with it. I have learned the very crucial lesson that you don't have to agree with or address every comment and criticism you receive. The goal is to write the best version of the book you want to write, not to please every reader. Therefore, you should only accept feedback that is going to help you achieve that goal.

In general, I look for three main things when I get feedback; what elements most readers enjoy (this tells me that aspect of the story is working well), what elements most readers don't enjoy or don't understand (this tells me there is likely a problem that needs addressing), and any feedback which resonates with my vision for the story.

When someone points something out as a flaw and I find myself nodding in agreement, I know that the criticism is going to be beneficial to the story. But when I get a criticism that I feel is missing the point or undermining the story I want to tell, I have learned to give myself permission to set that criticism aside.

It is still important to give all criticism due consideration, as you can have a negative reaction to good criticism, either because you don't want to address it (even though you secretly know you should) or because you're being too defensive of your work. Ultimately, if your book would be improved by addressing a piece of criticism you receive, you should do so.

However, you still need to know when not to take something to heart. This is especially true if you get a reader who turns out to be a poor match for the story. They may be overly critical and harsh in their feedback, and you need to have a thick enough skin to understand that just because someone disliked your writing does not mean that you or your story are trash.

There is a humorous writing meme that discusses the writing cycle, where a writer goes from saying, 'hey, this is really good' to 'hmm, I guess it needs some work' to 'this is trash' to 'I am trash' to 'I guess it's okay' to 'hey, this is really good!'

Each time I receive feedback, I make changes via a new draft, revision, or edit, then look for the next set of beta readers. This cycle continues until I am satisfied with my story. Next month, we will take a closer look at the drafting/revision side of this process!


My first reader for When Shadows Fall was my dad. I only had three chapters ready at the time, but it was enough for him to fall in love with the story. We discussed my opening ideas (including some issues with the third chapter), and have had many similar discussions since. He has now read the full manuscript THREE times (twice as a beta reader and once in preparation for beta reading the sequel).

He is not the only member of my family to have read the story for me; my mother and two of my three sisters have also done the honours, as well as my aunt, a handful of coworkers (including one from a previous job!), a few members of my writing group, and some writers and readers I connected to through Goodreads.

Overall, I’ve had about twenty different readers for When Shadows Fall (three of which read and gave feedback for it twice!), and seven people who did a partial reading. The amount of feedback I received varied from reader to reader (a few people weren't asked officially to be beta-readers but read it out of interest). Many of my beta readers have also answered questionnaires for me, and helped me brainstorm ideas when I've been stuck.

Thanks to the feedback I received, I made many changes and adjustments to the story. This was achieved through what felt like an endless process of drafting and revising...

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