A beta reader is someone who reads your novel – usually after you’ve done several drafts and before it’s been copy-edited or proofread – and who offer their perspective from the point of view of a general reader.
Some writers use fans as beta readers, others use friends and family (always a bad idea; seriously, don’t do it). However, more and more writers are turning to paid beta reader services these days.
If your budget doesn’t stretch to a full developmental edit, then paying a few beta readers to read your novel then collating their comments can be a really useful and affordable alternative to get the feedback you want. Sure, in an ideal world, we’d all get a developmental edit, but frankly with some developmental editing costing upwards of 2K for a full-length novel, it’s not an option for a lot of people when you also factor in copy-editing, proofreading, book cover design, advertising, etc.
The feedback you’ll get from beta readers won’t be nearly as in depth as a developmental edit, of course. And one crucial difference is that a beta reader WON’T offer you solutions to the problems with your manuscript where a developmental editor will. What beta readers will do is give you an idea of the strengths and weaknesses of your writing and hopefully give you a better sense of what you need to work on. But it’s up to YOU to fix the problems in your book.
To avoid generic feedback, you should consider sending your beta readers a list of questions in advance. You want to avoid asking yes/no questions too much, as these aren’t likely to garner much useful feedback. I’ve compiled a list of useful beta reader questions, broken down into categories.
30 Questions to Ask Your Beta Readers
How gripping did you find the opening? Did it immediately hook your attention or did it take a few pages for you to get into the story?
If not at the opening, at what point did you become truly hooked by the story? (If you were hooked at all.)
What were your general impressions on the first few chapters?
If you picked the book up in a library/bookshop/on your Kindle, would the first page make you want to read on?
Did you find the plot predictable or surprising?
Did you feel there was enough conflict in the story? Were the stakes high enough?
Was the climax believable or predictable?
Did you find any elements of the plot confusing? Were there any obvious plot holes you noticed?
Did any of the conflict seem contrived?
Did the story get bogged down in the middle? Did the story seem to grind to a halt at any point?
Was the ending emotionally fulfilling?
Which character were you most invested in, and why?
Which character were you least invested in, and why?
Did you ever get certain characters mixed up? Did you forget who any of the characters were?
Were there too many characters or too few?
Did you feel the main character grew sufficiently throughout the story?
Were there any side characters you would have liked to have seen more of?
Were there characters you’re itching to know more about?
Did the villain come across as cartoonish? Were their motivations clear?
Were the relationships between the characters believable?
Were you confused about any of the characters’ motivations?
Did the dialogue sound natural or stilted?
Were there any conversations you found dull or unnecessary?
Did the characters have distinctive voices or did they all sound the same?
Were you able to follow action scenes – who was doing what, etc. – or did you find yourself confused?
Did the story have a strong sense of place?
Did you feel you were immersed in the world/location?
What genre do you think the book fits into?
Was the book too long/too short?
If you were reading the book of your own free will, would you have finished reading it or DNF’d it?
To avoid overloading your beta readers with questions, you might want to pick out a dozen or so of the most relevant to your novel from the list above. If you know characterisation is your weak point, for example, then it makes sense for you to focus your questions around that issue.
Feel free, too, to tailor the above questions to your own book, for example instead of “Were you able to follow the action scenes?” ask “Were you able to follow the action scene in Chapter 18 with character X and Y fighting on the mountaintop?”
Melanie Kirk is a line editor, copyeditor and proofreader and an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP). If you are interested in her editing services, you can get in touch with her at email@example.com