If you’re writing a book, you probably know about editors and proofreaders: they’re professionals who dig into the technicalities of making your writing better.
The Editaurus tweaks words and phrases, rearranges the structure, cuts stuff out and adds stuff in.
The Grammarsaurus Rex hunts down spelling mistakes, typos, and grammatical horrors.
All of which is necessary to take a book from good to fab (and sometimes awful to good).
But professionals are not the only people who can help you write a better book.
Have you gathered a tribe of magnificent beta readers? If not, you should.
The Beta Reader’s Job
Your beta readers aren’t professional writers — or, they shouldn’t be. Your beta readers are a group of people from your target audience. People who’d buy the book to solve a problem they’re experiencing.
Their task is to read the book and suggest ways for you to improve it. They’ll probably point out typos and spelling mistakes, too, because everyone loves to point out typos and spelling mistakes.
What you don’t want to do, though, is simply send them your draft book and say, “Here, read this. What do you think?”
That gives your beta readers a monumentally tough task, and you’ll probably just get variations on, “Yeah it was great! Loved it.”
If you want useful, valuable feedback, put a little effort into asking for it.
In this article, I’m sharing 17 questions you can adapt and use to get useful feedback from your beta readers.
Before I share them, though, let’s help you avoid unhelpful feedback.
Avoiding Unhelpful Feedback
Unhelpful feedback is opinions on your writing style and suggestions to rewrite based on the reader’s writing style. This often happens if you give your draft to a fellow writer. We can’t help it, you see. When we read something, we think, “Oh, I wouldn’t have written this like that. I’d have written it like this…” at which point we make the suggestion.
Unless the reader has trouble understanding what you’ve written, this type of comment isn’t helpful. Your book should be in your voice, with all the quirks that come along with it. It’s okay to include words that reflect your personality and phrases that spotlight who you are, as long as you’re understood by most of your ideal readers.
So when you write your letter to your beta readers, make it very clear you’re not looking for opinions and feedback on your writing style. Explain that you’re including these questions as a guide for feedback, and it would be super-useful if people could bear them in mind when making comments.
- Did the book hold your interest from the very beginning? If not, why not? Where did it lose you?
- Did you understand my reason for writing the book? Did you feel my pain or excitement?
- Did the topic seem exciting if you didn’t know anything about it before?
- Where did the book get boring? What could I cut out?
- Were there any sections that confused you? Or even frustrated or annoyed you? Which parts, and why?
- Did any of the research seem far-fetched?
- Were any details repeated or redundant?
- Could some of the stories and ideas be more lively? If so, how?
- Was there too much information and research, or not enough? Was the information helpful or did it drag?
- Were there enough practical tips and steps to take?
- Were there too many practical steps?
- Was the narrative interesting and did it keep moving? Why or why not?
- Did the book provide helpful next steps?
- Did you notice any obvious, repeating grammatical, spelling, punctuation, or capitalisation errors? Examples?
- Did you notice any irritating words or phrases that made you want to grumble at me?
- Do I need a separate chapter dedicated to [X topic], or does it sit okay in the “XXX” chapter?
- Does I need more background information in the introduction?
Do you have any questions to ask beta readers that you’ve found digs out valuable information? Please share them!
Want more articles about writing a book? Here are three you can check out:
And this one, which you may want to refer to when you send your draft to your beta readers…