There are no great authors that write a perfect first draft. Heck, there aren’t any good authors who can do that. Every story goes through multiple revisions, and every author who’s serious about writing a great story knows that editing is a significant part of the process. The amount of time, energy, and effort you put into editing your novel is directly proportional to the level of seriousness you take yourself as an author.
As a serious author, beta readers are an important part of the editing process. They are essential to helping you craft a book that you can sell.
Every manuscript should go through multiple beta readers. But to get usable feedback, you (and they) must know what to expect from the process. They have to do more than answer the question, “did you like it?” They must provide specific information about the story you can use to tighten your writing and make it a better read.
Preparing your Beta Readers
When you send your manuscript to beta readers, make sure they know upfront what beta reading means. Give them a time frame for completion and send them all the questions you expect them to answer. I suggest doing this before they even commit to beta reading. This way, they don’t feel blindsided and agree to the terms going in. Even still, only half of your betas are likely to complete the assignment.
The more your betas know what to expect, the more likely they’ll give you valuable feedback. But keep in mind, the greater the burden you place on them, the less likely they are to complete the process. It’s a trade-off, so be sure to know which questions are the most important to you before you begin.
Below is a list of 51 questions. All will help you get valuable feedback, but unless you have seriously committed beta readers, you’ll want to pick and choose from this list. Ten questions is probably a safe number. At the end of the process, once your betas have provided their initial set of answers, feel free to send more as “optional.” This way, you don’t overburden them upfront but can still receive more detailed feedback.
55 Beta Reader Questions
The Opening pages
- Did the first sentence get your attention?
- Is the first paragraph interesting?
- Did the first few pages draw you into the story?
- Is it clear who’s story this is?
- Was the conflict/tension enough to maintain your interest?
- What parts of the unfolding story confused you? Or frustrated you? Or annoyed you? Did any of it seem too far-fetched for the story?
- Were there any parts that you thought were predictable?
- Were you ever surprised by the story going in directions you didn’t see coming? Where?
- Did you notice any glaring plot holes or poor character motivations?
- Did the settings interest you?
- Were you able to visualize where and when the story is taking place?
- Did the settings help draw you into the story or pull you out of it?
- To your knowledge, were the descriptions of real settings accurate?
- What settings stood out to you the most?
- Could you visualize the actions taking place? Were there any places where you lost track of what was happening or why?
- Was there ever too much or too little description?
The Main Character (MC)
- Could you relate to the MC?
- Are the MC’s desires and motivations clear?
- Was there ever a point when you felt the MC’s motivation was unrealistic?
- Did you feel the MC’s passions, pains, fears, desires, etc.?
- What did you most like/dislike about the MC?
The Supporting Characters:
- Could you visualize what the characters looked like?
- What character do you relate to the most and why?
- Who was your favorite character (other than MC?)
- Which character did you hate the most? Why? Is your hate for them good or bad for the story?
- What characters should you have hated more? Why didn’t you?
- Were the characters themselves and their interactions with each other believable? Which ones weren’t and why?
- Did you ever lose track of who was who?
- Was the dialogue believable for the story?
- Did any particular dialogue stand out as unbelievable?
- Did any of the dialogue make you cringe? Where?
- Did any of the dialogue confuse you, or did you lose track of who was saying what?
- What are some of the most memorable lines?
- Did you feel the tension building up to the climax?
- Was the climax itself worth the payoff, or did it feel weak?
- Did the ending bring the story to a satisfactory conclusion?
- Was it believable?
- Did it leave you wanting more, either a sequel or another story in this universe or with these characters specifically?
The Overall Story
- How would you describe this book to a friend?
- Did you think about the story when you were away from it? What did you think about?
- Did any parts of the story lag for you? Where did you lose interest?
- Is it clear where and when the story takes place?
- Did any parts confuse you?
- What parts did you love?
- What parts are the most memorable?
- Did you notice any discrepancies or inconsistencies in time sequences, places, character details, or other details?
- Would you recommend this book to others?
- How does this book compare to others you’ve read in similar genres?
- Aside from the ending, was the overall story satisfying? What could make it more satisfying?
- What parts do you think could or should be cut?
- What are the main strengths of the story?
- What are the main weaknesses of the story? What would you change to make it better?
- Were there any parts where you felt there was too much exposition or description?
- Was there enough conflict, tension, and intrigue to keep your interest?
- At any point, did you find it difficult to want to keep reading?
Take your pick of questions and let your beta’s know they can jot down answers as they read. This will help them remember. I find it valuable when beta readers add comments as they read in the text file. That lets me know what they think as they go through it. But regardless of how they answer, let them know that the more detail they provide, the higher their name goes on the book’s acknowledgment page. 🙂